Rags rollercoaster recovers from early dip

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Cardiff brought their lengthy December/January Indigo Group Premiership fixture block to a close with a good win over RGC at the Arms Park on the Saturday before last.

The victory maintained the Rags’ outright lead at the top of the table, knowing that Llandovery in second place could not leapfrog them even with maximum points from the two games in hand the Drovers have, although a trip to Church Bank still awaits later in the season.

It was in deepest darkest Northern Carmarthenshire that the last block actually got underway back in the first week of December as, while a losing bonus point was enough for the Blue and Blacks to progress to the semi-finals of the Welsh Cup, it was a first loss in any competition since March bringing an end to a 13-game winning streak.

Whether that, a short turn-around to a Thursday night televised game, or sub-zero temperatures in Port Talbot contributed to what follows is unknown, but that was backed up by a second consecutive loss as Cardiff never really got going against a physical and resilient Aberavon side.

The Wizards have been consistently tough opposition for a number of years now thanks to the quality of their pack, with starting props Rowan Jenkins and Geraint James well known at the Arms Park as heroes of the Blue and Black Barbarians from the Heineken Cup fortnight in December 2021. Turning the screw at the set piece that night they out-powered the Rags for a deserved victory.

Two defeats on the bounce, Aberavon and Llandovery breathing down our necks and huge run of games on the horizon, so what better way to return to winning ways than an 82-0 win, I hear you say? Carmarthen were poor, admittedly, but it was a clinic in incisive attack from the Rags, carried over into the victory over Pontypridd on Boxing Day.

With physical work up front from the likes of Rhys Barratt, Efan Daniel, Sean Moore, Ellis Thomas and Morgan Allen, to the playmaking of Tom Habberfield and Dan Fish, the hard running of Arron Pinches, and the clinical finishing of Joe Goodchild and Dewi Cross, the Blue and Blacks were purring in attack and well out in front in the scoring stats.

Into the new year and a new focus; defence. A trip to Merthyr drew a physical and organised defensive effort, even turning defence into attack with a loose ball hacked ahead and pounced on, before a battling display against Newport at the Arms Park was so close to making it four wins on the spin until a late drop goal left us with just the one point.

As a trip to Ebbw Vale was delayed until sunnier times return to the Gwent Valleys, it came down to RGC’s visit to the capital to round off the fixture block after a week’s break and thanks to tries from Marc Thomas, Will Keep and the excellent Nathan Hudd, as well as the boot of Fish, it means Cardiff sit top of the Premiership and will stay there even when games in hand are settled.

As injuries and first team call-ups struck the team selections took on a somewhat mixed-up feel, but the level of performance remained at a high level after that tough loss away at Aberavon in a credit to the players and the culture fostered by the coaching staff.

Over the next six weeks the Rags will face more turbulence with international call-ups added to the mix, and a fixture list that isn’t too conducive to the semi-professional level with Sunday and Thursday matches on the cards, but remaining consistent will be key in order to maintain that push for the Premiership title and take momentum into the Cup semi-final.

The relentless nature of the rugby season rears it’s head as, while the players take a well-earned rest during the first two weeks of the Six Nations, big games stay close on the horizon. The Blue and Blacks continue to battle on…

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