Cardiff 7-31 Ospreys

There was a second Anglo-Welsh Cup loss in five days for Cardiff as they went down to a bonus-point defeat at home to West Wales rivals Ospreys, with the game turning on a 46th minute red card to Georgian prop Anton Peikrishvili, making his first start for the club.

After last week’s heavy 62-25 defeat to Exeter acting head coach Richard Hodges rang the changes with nine new faces coming in, the experience of Matthew Rees, Jarrad Hoeata, Macauley Cook, Cory Allen and Dan Fish joining the younger players who struggled badly at Sandy Park. There was also a late change to the advertised XV with James Beal replacing Rhun Williams on the wing.

Despite a restructured team and the forwards especially being loaded with senior players there was a certain deja vu feeling after just two minutes of the game when Cardiff infringed on the floor, Ospreys kicked into the corner, and promptly pushed hooker Scott Otten over the line at the back of a rolling maul. Phil Jones kicked the conversion and a long evening awaited!

However, despite Ospreys probably edging the possession statistics, handling errors and better work at the breakdown from Cardiff stopped them gaining any momentum. Cardiff themselves had a fair share of territory, with scrum half Rhodri Davies looking particularly lively providing quick ball for the backs.

It was this quick ball that got Cardiff back into the game as possession moved quickly to the left wing where Dan Fish released James Beal. The winger couldn’t beat the last man but Ospreys were penalised for failing to roll away and quick thinking 9 Davies saw the opportunity to tap and go from 10 metres out as the defence couldn’t touch him and he reached over the line.

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Rhodri Davies reaches to score his first Cardiff try

 

Young fly-half Ben Jones, clearly benefiting from being able to prepare for lengthy game time, kicked the conversion and Cardiff were level after 17 minutes. The team took great confidence from this and looked to kick on but were met with some fierce Ospreys defence, failing to turn chances into points.

Owen Lane looked particularly good in both carrying and chasing high kicks, Shane Lewis-Hughes was always keen for work, either carrying, tackling or jackaling, despite playing out of position, while the front row of Brad Thyer, Matthew Rees and Anton Peikrishvili were the basis of an extremely strong Cardiff scrum.

We were also let down by a few handling errors and stray passes that largely came from players not used to playing together. Attacking pods were quite disjointed and one or two players slightly too keen to impress went for the miracle ball too often.

The other point I’d like to make from this section of play is that Garyn Smith, despite the insistence of the coaches to continually pick him at 12 whenever possible, is definitely a 13. He doesn’t particularly have the size to play inside centre or the creativity, however he has the pace and positional ability to operate at outside centre with ease.

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Owen Lane impressed against Ospreys

 

In terms of actual match action, there was little to report on for the last 20 minutes of the first half. Both teams flirted with the red zone but never really threatened, and in fact it took until the last kick of the half for Ospreys fly-half Jones to have a clear shot at some points, but his penalty drifted wide.

Richard Hodges used half-time to bring in Seb Davies in place of  Macauley Cook, presumably with Connacht away in mind next week, while Hemi Barnes of Pontypridd was also given a chance to have a decent crack at professional rugby, coming on for James Sheekey, who did little to harm his reputation in both Anglo-Welsh fixtures.

The second period started much as the first had ended with both sides largely cancelling each other out, and it seemed we would be in for an incredibly tense climax to the game as the scores remained solid on 7-7, but by the 48th minute everything had changed.

In terms of the actual incident which saw Anton Peikrishvili sent-off I’m afraid I can’t offer a huge amount of insight. I only became aware something was wrong when play stopped and the Georgian was scrapping on the floor with an opposition player, which at the time seemed like the Ospreys man was the main instigator of.

However the red card soon came out for the tighthead making his first start for the club, after Ben Whitehouse had consulted with his assistant referee who was on the far side of the pitch from the incident. Nigel’s boy told WalesOnline’s Simon Thomas that Peikrishvili was dismissed for a bite post-match and I guess we have to take his word.

Questions remain over who saw the incident. If it was the assistant he was a good 40/50 metres away, while if it was the referee then why didn’t he stop the game as soon as the bite occurred? Rather than waiting for the game to naturally stop and let the players start brawling?

Anyway, if Peikrishvili is charged and found guilty he could well be looking at a few weeks off, and with him only being a game into his Cardiff career and on a short-term deal until the end of the season, there are serious questions being asked about whether his contract is worth honouring.

A non-Welsh qualified spot in the squad being taken up by a player who could be sitting out a month or more, and who plays in a position where Fa’ao Filise is still operating as well as he’s ever been, Scott Andrews is enjoying the form of his life, Dillon Lewis is a very hot prospect and Kieron Assiratti is waiting in the wings.

The extra annoying thing about Peikrishvili’s ill discipline is that he was having a good game until the red card. He carried well, put in a few big hits and most importantly he was sending Ospreys loosehead Gareth Thomas backwards at each scrum time. Is that enough to justify a second chance? We shall see.

Going down to 14 men unfortunately undid all of the good work of the previous 55ish minutes and soon Ospreys were running in their third try. With two subs already made, the bench stocked with teenagers, and a whole host of young players left on the field not quite fit enough for 80 minutes of senior professional rugby, a recipe for disaster was ready to be taken advantage of.

Ospreys played the extra man cleverly, moving the ball wide early, and with speed. Winger Tom O’Flaherty in particular showed the Cardiff defence a clean set of heels twice, albeit the final one coming slightly fortunately as a Ben Jones chip fell straight to him, but nevertheless four tries later the away side had a 31-7 victory to take back down the M4.

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Tom O’Flaherty sprints away for a try

 

The scoreline told the story of a red card, in all honesty, as the game completely turned on it’s head after Cardiff went down to 14. It was actually a great shame as it was such a close encounter before that, and just became an Ospreys rampage afterwards. Taking the first 55 minutes into account though, it was a positive night.

Cardiff were very competitive and it was encouraging to see that the young players had not lost any confidence during last week’s hammering. Anglo-Welsh Cup dreams are over for this year, but with Pro12 riding high above all other competitions as the main aim this season, and still two games to allow youngsters more exposure to professional rugby, there’s no great failure here in terms of development.

Hopefully in the games away at Sale and home to Worcester after Christmas we can keep all XV players on the pitch and compete for the full 80 minutes. Fingers crossed, come on Cardiff!!!

 

Exeter 62-25 Cardiff

Richard Hodges’ young Cardiff Blues side were on the end of a hammering at the hands of Exeter Chiefs on Sunday, with the home side running in 10 of the game’s 14 tries. It will be a steep learning curve for the players and coaches alike and sparks a debate over whether the club were right to approach the game in the way they did.

The average age of the side was 21 as only Rhun Williams survived from the Pro12 trip to Treviso last week. There were debuts for eight players, while James Beal, Hemi Barnes and Jack Davies were given a chance to step up from semi-professional rugby. Rhodri Davies was amongst the debutants, an injury cover signing at scrum-half during the current international call-up and injury crisis.

Cardiff got off to a flyer with Jarrod Evans kicking us into the lead inside a minute thanks to Exeter knocking on and an offside player collecting the loose ball. Then just two minutes later, after we recovered the ball from the kick-off, Kirby Myhill created a try from nothing, drawing in two defenders and popping a pass for James Sheekey to cross unopposed. Evans added the extras for a 10-0 lead.

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James Sheekey scored inside five minutes

 

That, however, was as good as it got for the Cardiff side who went on to concede a try bonus point in 20 minutes, lose Myhill to a yellow card for maul collapsing, Evans to a nasty looking facial injury that required hospital treatment and overall leak 31 points in the first half to have already lost the game by the time the interval came around.

Without going through every try play-by-play it’s easier to look at what went wrong as it was the same story for most of the tries. It started with Exeter being completely dominant with their rolling maul. There was nothing the Cardiff pack could legally do to stop it and that coughed up a penalty try which resulted in Myhill’s sin binning. Although Myhill and James Down were included as senior players they’re not the biggest and even if they were there would’ve been nothing they could do.

The size was a general problem across the pitch as Exeter enjoyed a freedom to offload and get over the gain line at basically every opportunity. The tackling was just not strong enough to stop the home side’s players freeing their arms to get the ball away, while a back row forced totally onto the back foot were almost entirely ineffective at the breakdown to prevent quick ball.

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James Down was powerless to assist the many youngsters around him

 

In what little attack we could muster as Exeter took a breather from dominating possession there was such a focus on retaining the ball post-tackle that the backs were almost entirely outnumbered and found it difficult to launch any sort of move, also thanks to the lack of training time these players have together.

Individual mistakes from young, inexperienced players, or those more used to semi-professional standard, didn’t help the cause and that would continue into the second half as five more tries were run in after the break. With the game getting more open it was only inevitable, especially with a bench full of debutants most of which were playing their first ever senior professional game.

There was a silver lining though as the team never gave up and managed to score three tries of their own to secure a try bonus point during the second half. James Beal crossed first, touching down a superb Harri Millard grubber kick through after Seb Davies had run 60 metres to make the original break.

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James Beal touches down for a consolation

 

Then Rhun Williams made his professional rugby record three tries in two games with a brace here. For the first, Dane Blacker scooped up a loose ball after an excellent Ben Jones high kick, only to be brought down at the last second. Fortunately he had the awareness to offload to the full-back on his shoulder, before Williams took advantage of some comical Exeter defending as two men failed to collect a loose ball over the try line.

At one point, with the scoreline 38-25, it seemed like we might see something incredible, but in hindsight that was just being incredibly optimistic. The team as a whole was outclassed and outmuscled which was well reflected in the scoreline and raises the question about whether going out and getting thrashed by superior teams with vastly more experienced squads is a worthwhile exercise in the development for these young players. I feel a blog coming on!

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Rhun Williams finished with a brace

 

I will say though that there was some encouraging points. I thought number eight James Sheekey was a willing and strong ball carrier, Rhun Williams again impressed as did the young half-back pairing of Dane Blacker and Ben Jones considering it was their first senior appearances and they were permanently on the back foot. Replacement loosehead Rhys Carre just looks like a prop while Seb Davies got through a lot of work on the blindside but is definitely more of a lock.

So pros and cons to a tough day at the office, but hopefully the coaches can spin this into a learning curve and away from a confidence destroyer. It will be interesting though to see what sort of team is sent out to face Ospreys on Friday at CAP in the second Anglo-Welsh group game. With a few injuries and some tired legs I’d expect to see a few senior faces return to the matchday squad and provide some stability to the youngsters, that would be a good balance. Come on Cardiff!!!

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Ben Jones was rather thrown in at the deep end after Jarrod Evans’ injury