There’s a lot to make Welsh rugby a surreal place at the moment, and it certainly felt like rugby was secondary at the Arms Park on Saturday night.
With news of Willis Halaholo’s injury in the week and the realisation of what it potentially means for his future and that of his family there was a reminder that a number of Cardiff players took the field against Ulster knowing that any injury could have major consequences if their contract was up in the summer.
There was also the celebration of Rey Lee-Lo on his 150th appearance for the club, with the heartwarming moment his family came out onto the field to lead the team out, after what had been spoken about as a difficult time for the off-the-field for his family over the last few months.
And then once the game began there was the concerning sight of an Ulster fan suffering a medical emergency in the North Stand, having to undergo CPR and being revived thanks to fast acting fellow supporters, stewards and St John’s paramedics. Huge credit to them and best wishes to the gentleman who suffered the medical episode, with reports stating he is now stable in hospital.
In amongst all that some rugby did actually take place, and for Cardiff it was a heavy defeat largely thanks to a problem that has not reared it’s head much this season.
Throughout the early part of the 2020/21 season, up until John Mulvihill’s departure, and then again in the second half of last season when legs started running out thanks to enforced periods without games, the Blue and Blacks regularly lost the kicking and aerial battles resulting in a territory loss that kept us almost permanently under pressure from the opposition.
Cardiff kicked 18 times in-play, not a huge amount, but the majority of those were to compete. The quality of the kicking was good on the whole, but the work in the air left a lot to be desired with only one aerial battle won and one loose ball recovered.
The result was having just 32% territory as Ulster gained possession in our half on too many occasions and used that momentum to play their fast-paced, direct attacking game which nullified our defensive breakdown work. Front foot ball was easy to come by allowing the Irish side’s pack to score direct tries, or creating edges for their back line to attack as the Blue and Blacks defence narrowed dramatically.
A lot of focus was put on the Cardiff defence after the game, but when it’s on the receiving end of a sustained onslaught that results in 220+ tackles having to be attempted then the attention has to be turned to what the cause of that is. The answer in this instance is undoubtedly that aerial defeat.
Frustratingly for the home side, when we did manage to make our way up the field and get our hands on the ball in the Ulster half we played some good rugby. Ellis Bevan was impressive stepping in at scrum-half after Lloyd Williams’ early departure, Lopeti Timani, Josh Turnbull and James Ratti carried well, and the 150 appearance man Rey Lee-Lo was on fire.
With Owen Lane and Aled Summerhill in typically devastating try finishing form the scores that the Blue and Blacks put on the board were seriously eye catching, but unfortunately the opportunities to produce that were few and far between.
Another wild ride of a week and night in the world of Cardiff and Welsh rugby, leaving Dai Young’s men with plenty to do in order to earn that top spot in the Welsh Shield after the Six Nations.
Who knows what twists and turns are left!