As the red mist cleared over the refereeing of Sam Grove-White and TMO Andrew McMenemy, there was a distinct sense that Cardiff’s showing in Connacht on Saturday was a sad sign of what is to come over the next few years.
For Dai Young to come out and criticise the officiating in his comments to the media post-match is a sure-fire sign of the frustration the Blue and Blacks had with the men-in-charge. Despite other occasions when Young could have legitimately voiced complaints with the refereeing over the last 18 months, he rarely chooses to do so.
The breakdown was a lawless mess, the scrums saw Grove-White overruling his assistant on who was infringing, and the high shots missed on Max Llewellyn and Taulupe Faletau were major in terms of the momentum of the game, but also concerning from a player welfare point-of-view. There will be no behaviour change in terms of tackle height without competent refereeing.
Nevertheless, as Young was also right to say, the refereeing did not lead to Cardiff’s defeat.
Yes, there is an element of difficulty when the refereeing is going against you. There has to be a change of attacking focus when you feel the other team can slow you down and win turnovers illegally on the floor, while the pressure comes on at attacking five-metre lineouts and in attacking sets inside the opposition 22 if you feel they are your best chance to score.
That does not completely excuse the skill execution level shown by Cardiff though as the lineout almost completely disintegrated during the final 30 minutes, costing three try scoring opportunities, while key handling errors cost a further two try scoring opportunities.
With Ospreys losing heavily away at Edinburgh, just two of those opportunities being taken would have secured a try bonus point and seen the Blue and Blacks in an even stronger position at the top of the Welsh Shield table going into Judgement Day, but unfortunately it wasn’t so.
As players head for the exit over this summer and beyond, with Welsh rugby having to tighten its belt due to decreasing payments from the WRU, the natural progression is that Cardiff’s squad will reduce in quality. If that level of skill execution is before the exodus begins, then what should the expectation be for the next few years?
The concern is that Saturday was just a window into the struggles that the Blue and Blacks will face going forward, to the point that United Rugby Championship games against non-Welsh opposition will effectively be forfeited in favour of getting the best players remaining in the squad ready for the Welsh derbies and the European Challenge Cup.
Before that though The Last Dance comes to an end at the Principality Stadium next week, and hopefully the players will turn up with a reaction in order to get what is needed from the clash with Ospreys and secure that coveted hubcap/shield, as well as the Heineken Champions Cup qualification.