Long live King Nicky!!

If there was one positive to the injury crisis that plagued Cardiff Blues throughout December and January of last season, it was the re-signing of Nicky Robinson as cover. The great homecoming, you could say.

Brought in with Gareth Anscombe and Jarrod Evans both in the treatment room, the fly-half made his second Cardiff debut at home to Ulster, coming off the bench to beautifully set up one try, before getting charged down to concede another. We’ll gloss over the latter part of that though.

King Nicky went on to feature in six more games in that middle part of the season, before seeing his playing time slowly lessen as Anscombe returned to fitness for the last few months.

Nicky Robinson Ulster
King Nicky in action on his second debut

The 13-time capped Wales international did continue to play an active part in and around The Vale training complex though, taking on additional coaching responsibilities and even appearing on the touchline wired up during some of the games in the latter part of the season.

Robinson is quite possibly one of the best passers of the ball to grace the game over the last 15 years. Off both hands he can pick a player out from first receiver, as well as being a danger himself, that sort of experience can be imparted onto any player in the squad.

As well as that, with over 2000 career points there is certainly some kicking knowledge that can be passed on to the likes of Anscombe, Evans and Steve Shingler as well as academy players Ben Jones and Ben Thomas.

Nicky Robinson Llanelli
You’ll struggle to find a better passer of the ball than Robinson

So what of next season? Well, the King only signed until the end of the season back in November, but he looks set to continue his reign over the Arms Park in a more official player/coach role.

The departure of Paul John has opened up a vacancy for a skills coach, and Robinson certainly hasn’t been short of them in his career. The chance for him to work with Jones, Thomas, Owen Lane, Garyn Smith, Dane Blacker, Aled Summerhill and the other young guys who are the future of Cardiff Blues will be massive for the club.

Ben Jones Exeter
There’s certain parallels between left-footed Ben Jones and King Nicky

There is nothing confirmed yet, but Nicky commented a few week back that he is “helping out a bit with the coaching side…it wasn’t something I really wanted to pursue as I haven’t done a huge amount of coaching.

“This just worked nicely as a nice opportunity to gain experience and see if it was something that I wanted to pursue long-term or not.”

Crucially on top of that “if there are any injuries like there were earlier in the season. I am there and raring to go.”

With 132 appearances across seven seasons we may not have seen the last of Robinson in action on the Arms Park pitch yet, and we certainly haven’t lost the effect he can have on the jersey, through the future performances of the players he is helping to mould.

It would be a shrewd move to match developing our players from within with developing our coaches from within. Talented, experienced and knowledgeable men who can instil a culture in the players, as well as impart their wisdom.

As well as that, it keeps the romantic in me happy in the hope that Nicky Robinson will rise off the bench to kick the match winning drop goal in next season’s Pro12 final. Long live the King!!

Nicky Robinson Gloucester
This is someone who knows what the blue jersey means

 

 

 

Five things learnt from Wales’ tour

Wales wrapped up a southern hemisphere tour of their own on Friday morning, with a 17-19 victory over Samoa in Apia following on from the 6-24 defeat of Tonga in Auckland last week.

As ever in a Lions year it was an experimental squad, with 12 players missing in New Zealand, while a further four joined them between Wales’ two tests. With Warren Gatland and Rob Howley also not available, Robin McBryde led a coaching staff made up of regular defence coach Shaun Edwards and guest coaches Matt Sherratt of Cardiff Blues and Wales 7s’ Gareth Williams.

With the team flying home and the players preparing for a well deserved break, I’ve had a look at what the Wales coaching staff would have learned from two weeks down under.

New boys come good

Despite the management’s continued insistence that this tour was not a development tour, there was certainly an experimental feel about the side as McBryde’s squad included 14 uncapped players.

11 of those made it onto the pitch at one point across the two games, and it’s fair to say that those with any decent quantity of game time certainly did themselves no harm in terms of their future selection chances.

Ryan Elias was solid in the set piece against Samoa, while Dillon Lewis won a number of scrum penalties as well as assisting the match winning try. Seb Davies did himself no harm at all with some committed defensive performances, and formed a solid lock partnership with Rory Thornton that was encouraging for the future.

In the backs we saw Aled Davies look sharp at scrum-half against Samoa, while Steff Evans’ two tries won the game. Easily finished but you have to be in position to get the easy run-ins, and he looked threatening when he kept ball in hand too.

Wyn Jones, Adam Beard, Ollie Griffiths, Thomas Young and Owen Williams all made debuts too, very encouraging for the future, but more importantly building strength in depth to boost the current squad ahead of the 2019 World Cup.

Seb Davies Wales
Seb Davies made his debut on tour

An embarrassment of back row riches

It’s fair to say that most national sides would struggle if their four best back row players were unavailable, or all featuring for the Lions as is the case in this instance, however in Wales’ case there’s no concerns at all.

With Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau and Ross Moriarty away, we were still able to call on one of the Aviva Premiership’s players of the season, Thomas Young, a Pro12 winner in Aaron Shingler, Mr. Consistent himself Josh Navidi, and two of the brightest young prospects in the Northern Hemisphere, Ellis Jenkins and Ollie Griffiths.

In fact, Wales were even able to leave arguably the Pro12’s in-form player at home, despite much fan and media clamour for James Davies to be involved.

This tour added a lot to the back row depth, and crucially has added some diversity to the options. The very impressive Shingler was a defensive rock and proved very mobile, while Navidi offers a lighter but more mobile option at number eight, as opposed to the heavy carrying Faletau or Moriarty.

Add in Griffiths, Jenkins and Young, the new style all-action flankers who carry, jackal and tackle, and you have a diverse and effective pool of back row players to select from.

Thomas Young Wales
Thomas Young tried to translate his Wasps form into the Wales jersey

A whole lot of heart

The worry heading into this tour was that two games in a week against big, bruising Pacific Island opposition might be a big challenge for a generally young and inexperienced Wales squad. Especially considering no Welsh side had ever won on Samoan soil.

However, two battling performances in less than ideal conditions later, to come home with two wins is certainly testament to the heart shown by the players. Especially in Samoa, they battled away for 80 minutes and overcame a fairly lacklustre first 40 minutes to get the win.

With the news that broke after the game of illness targeting the Welsh camp, and causing players to be sick even at half-time in Apia, it just underlined the desire of the players to impress in the jersey, again boding well for the future custodians of the three feathers.

Wales Tonga
The players pulled together to battle as a team well

Doc’s swansong?

When Jamie Roberts was named captain for the tour there was a general response of sympathy, after he was so strongly linked with a surprise Lions call-up the day before the initial squad announcement, before being brutally ignored by Warren Gatland who has modelled a team around him for so long.

Instead he led the young Welshmen to the Southern Hemisphere, but all that’s been left is a feeling that perhaps the time has come to move on from Jamie Roberts.

With just one pass completed across both games, the feeling that he’s a one trick pony in attack has been somewhat proved, especially when you consider that there were no clean breaks or defenders beaten by the inside centre. Not particularly great stats to prove that you can be part of a dynamic attacking side.

His presence in the 12 shirt was also frustrating in that it forced Scott Williams to outside centre in the first game, when he is clearly the in-form inside centre and arguably should’ve been on the Lions tour, while the chance to look at Owen Williams as a footballing second five-eighth was totally missed.

As Jonathan Davies proves that he is one of the World’s best outside centres up against New Zealand, the need for an inside centre with distribution skills becomes ever more apparent, to feed the likes of Foxy and the talented Liam Williams and Steff Evans in the back three. Jamie Roberts has been a great servant to Welsh rugby, but the time for change is coming.

Jamie Roberts Wales
Jamie Roberts’ crash ball days could be coming to an end

The missing men

Wales under the Warren Gatland regime have never been a side that particularly takes any notice of fan or media pressure. The coaching staff do things their way and you can either like it or lump it.

This tour, despite being under McBryde’s stewardship, was no different as Wales managed to go both games without including either Rhys Patchell or Keelan Giles in their matchday squad.

Now, whether Giles would have made an impact against the bruising Pacific Islanders is up for debate, but off the bench against some lumbering Samoan players he may well have found some space to run into, and with Scott and Owen Williams covering roughly the same positions on the bench there would’ve been no harm in giving the young Ospreys 25 minutes to show his pace.

With Patchell he’s certainly one of the most naturally gifted players that Wales has produced in a long time, and with height, strength and long kicking attributes to go with it he may well have made an impact in one or both games.

Instead he was merely a tackle bag holder, and on the subject of Scarlets players, don’t even get them started on the exclusion of James Davies in Llanelli! A few opportunities certainly were missed this summer.

James Davies Scarlets 2
Pro12 winner James Davies was left at home

All in all though it was a positive tour, and one which certainly gives cause for some cautious optimism when looking ahead to the 2019 World Cup and definitely the 2023 World Cup.

Whether the young players will be given a chance to get some minutes in when the full coaching staff return remains to be seen, as does whether those in the matchday squads during the Autumn Internationals will be able to play a free-flowing, attacking brand of rugby, but one thing we do know is that the players are capable.

Now it is all eyes on the management, and if they can adapt their deep set habits.

Third year of the plan

The 2017/18 season will be one of great intrigue for Cardiff Blues, both on and off the field. In some respects it could even be regarded as a make or break year for a lot of people, none less than Danny Wilson.

When the current head coach arrived from Bristol in the summer of 2015 there was a lot talk surrounding a ‘three year plan’, including from the man himself, “I have been given a three year commitment by the board and I think that in itself gives you some time to build.

It gives you time to assess the situation, make the relevant changes and then grow. These things don’t happen overnight in any business. We have got to make sure we make the right decisions. Whoever is in this job needs time to make the relevant changes and decisions and three years gives you that.”

And make the changes he certainly has, as the former Wales U20s boss has released 28 first team players in two seasons, bringing in 12 of his own choosing as a concerted effort was made to slim the senior squad down. An approach that would ultimately lead to an increased quality depth within the squad.

Coming into the new season Wilson has a squad which he can say is truly is, and now needs to translate these setup changes into results on the pitch. Next May will be the first major performance review, with little to show for on-field improvement thus far.

Two seventh place finishes and one heavy European quarter-final defeat haven’t exactly gone down as successful seasons, despite encouraging the encouraging runs of five wins in six games to finish the first season under Danny, and four straight wins that kicked off 2016/17.

The Pro12 will be the major indicator of progress, with the signals from the club again indicating a top six finish is the aim for 2017/18, and subsequent qualification for the Champions Cup being crucial.

Performance in Europe is important for Cardiff Blues fans, with a great pride being attached to previous continental triumphs, but with a tough Challenge Cup group on the table there will be few realistically demanding a visit to Bilbao next May. Eyes will be firmly focused on league position and a return to European rugby’s top table.

How will we get there? The appointment of a quality defensive coach will be a big part of the puzzle, as the Blues suffered one of the worst seasons defensively in many years in the recent campaign, as will avoiding the catastrophic injury problems that were faced during the middle of the season.

Securing bonus points will also be a major factor, as missed opportunities to add the extras against Edinburgh, Treviso, Zebre twice and Dragons twice meant missing out on challenging Glasgow for sixth place, who only finished five points ahead of Cardiff.

There is a positivity simmering at the Arms Park, with the squad looking strong and a new stadium tentatively appearing on the horizon, but there’s always the threat that the hope will kill us.

League position targets and European knockout qualifications aside, what will really make Danny Wilson’s three year plan a success is if he can keep that hope alive, and return some optimism to the deserving Cardiff Blues fans with their undying support.

 

The start of something new

When we look back on the 2016/17 season, as Cardiff Blues fans, the overwhelming emotions will be ones of frustration and disappointment. Injuries, missed opportunities for bonus points and disappointing performances have been aplenty, but amongst it all there is a glimmer of hope.

Off the field it’s been a whirlwind of a few weeks, with the future of the club swinging from being fully WRU owned, to no Union ownership at all. In the meantime the re-building of Cardiff Arms Park is waiting in the wings, varying from very close to taking place, to nowhere near being agreed, depending on which party you ask.

Without the WRU there is very likely to be a vast financial shortfall at the Cardiff Blues over the next few years while the redevelopment lease is agreed with Cardiff Athletic Club, the ground’s owners, and then when the team will have to play on the road for two or three seasons during the building work.

However, without the WRU there is also a very bright outlook when the new stadium, which will double as a concert venue, is built and the revenue starts coming into the club from that and surrounding commercial developments. As an independent organisation the benefits will be felt greater than if Union control was still in place.

This is where the positives come in from this season, and where we need to be looking over the next few years to set the basis for improvement once the new stadium is built.

Injury frustrations have been massive at Cardiff this season. In Pro12 and European games over December and January, head coach Danny Wilson had to contend with injury lists of at least 11 players each week, with a quarter of the squad stuck in the treatment room throughout that period.

Those injuries laid bare the distinct lack of squad depth that we suffer from, as we very quickly were dipping into the pool of players made up from recent graduates to the senior squad, and senior academy members.

Corey Domachowski, Brad Thyer, Ethan Lewis, Kieron Assiratti, Seb Davies, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Tomos Williams, Garyn Smith, Aled Summerhill and Rhun Williams have all been utilised in either the Pro12 or Challenge Cup despite being 23 years old or younger.

Jarrod Evans and Dillon Lewis also fit that age category and would have been involved had they not been caught up in the injury issues themselves, and with none of the players showing any obvious signs that they were not cut out for the top level of club rugby, there’s positive signs for the future.

With Exeter Chiefs winning the Aviva Premiership and Scarlets winning the Pro12 there are good examples to follow in terms of creating a winning side and a team culture, something Cardiff now have a great chance to develop.

Financial cuts will see players leave, but with foreign and bit-part senior players at the top of the departure lists, young players will get a chance at Pro12 playing minutes that many clubs are not in a position to offer.

The players listed above, as well as a number of exciting young Cardiff Blues on Wales U20 duty at this summer’s Junior World Championship, and even younger than that at U18, are the most exciting batch of homegrown products we’ve seen in many years.

If they can take advantage of the experience they will gain while the belts are tightened for re-building work, then the club will be ready to enter the new stadium with the basis of a squad sorted. A group of talented home grown players, marshalled by a few senior club players and Wales internationals.

Money brought in by the new stadium can add a sprinkling of foreign class, as well as a few Welsh players playing abroad, and suddenly the full squad is ready to compete, underpinned by the team culture created by the group of players being brought through in the lean years.

Of course, everything that could happen after the stadium is built is based on hope, but there is expectation that this crop of young talent can set Cardiff Blues up for a return to the top table of European rugby and a challenge in the Pro12 play-offs.

There is now a responsibility upon the coaching staff, and the players themselves, to reach that full potential and develop that club culture. If that can be pulled off, and the off-field aspects fall into place over the next few years, then there’s no reason that Cardiff Blues can’t be achieving what Exeter and Scarlets have this season.

 

 

Analysis: High risk, little reward

So, the season is over thanks to a defeat in Paris, and we now head into a long summer of looking back at the mediocrity of 2016/17, and uncertainty over off-the-field issues. However, the Stade Francais game did give one reason for positivity, and it came in the form of the tactic that played a major part in costing us the win in the play-off.

There was a clear shift in game plan from Danny Wilson and his coaching staff for this game, which there’s no doubt that Cardiff Blues went into as massive underdogs, and that was to go all out for the win.

Attack from everywhere, mix the game up as much as possible and generally use any high risk strategy that was either going to bring huge success, or crash and burn in an ugly heap.

Creating problems for ourselves

From early on in the game it was clear Cardiff had come to play, but it was quickly obvious that this tactic had it’s downsides.

Stade Analysis 1

Stade Analysis 1 2

The quick line-out is a perfectly reasonable option, it puts Cardiff on the front foot, but it’s how you take advantage of that which is key. When the ball comes in from Alex Cuthbert, I’d expect Matthew Morgan and Gareth Anscombe to look up, see that the only obvious path through the defence is hardly reachable, and put a kick in.

An early kick, if executed well, can provide the best opportunity for field position, or to get possession back should it be an up-and-under as the Stade back three won’t have recovered shape yet. Instead Anscombe takes the ball to the line, is met by 10 pink shirts, and kicks away to a ready and waiting home back three. Quick ball wasted.

Stade Analysis 7

Stade Analysis 7 2

It wasn’t the only time either, as later in the first half it’s Morgan taking the ball on, Stade form the pink wall again and he’s brought down with the majority of the Cardiff support on the wrong side of the home side’s defensive line.

The other switched up area of play was penalties, where twice in the game we opted to take a tap penalty and play, rather than kick the ball into Stade territory and attack from there.

Stade Analysis 3

Stade Analysis 3 2

This tactic worked successfully against the Scarlets at the end of last season, but on this occasion just wasn’t on, as Stade outnumbered the Cardiff attack and were able to restrict us to just 10 metres gained, and were able to recover their defensive shape quickly, rather than conceding 30m+ from the kick to touch.

Stade Analysis 10

Stade Analysis 10 2

Without learning the lessons, we use exactly the same tactic right at the end of the game. From a forward position where the ball could go easily into the corner, Anscombe takes the tap penalty and spins the ball wide.

The issue is that at the end of a lung busting game, where we are a man down, we are looking up and turning down an easy kick into the corner to try and spin the ball wide through two tired forwards where there is no obvious overlap, as per the second picture.

What made it extra tough on the legs was how the high risk game plan manifested itself in open play through a ‘run from anywhere’ tactic.

Stade Analysis 6

Stade Analysis 6 2

Judging by the example of the rest of the season, any ball in or around our own 22 dealt with via an exit strategy. Against Stade though the idea was to run from deep, unfortunately that left us in situations like the one pictured above, whereby Halaholo just ends up punting the ball through to the home side’s covering defenders who can counter-attack with greater ease than they would be able to from a high kick.

Stade Analysis 8

The other issue is that when the attack from deep is on, as it is here, it has to be executed well. Unfortunately Anscombe does not find Shingler with the pass, the ball is knocked on and from the resulting scrum Stade score in the corner. The definition of bringing danger upon yourself.

Creating problems for Stade

However, the high risk tactic does sometimes pay off, and when it does it more than likely comes with excellent results.

Stade Analysis 9

Stade Analysis 9 2

Willis Halaholo takes the ball on Cardiff’s own five metre line, but acknowledging some space on the short side, he has gaps to attack which he does with ease and sets up quick ball a decent distance outside of the 22 in the end.

Stade Analysis 11

Stade Analysis 11 2

The short lineout in a tight area sees Ellis Jenkins release Matthew Morgan and the lack of time Stade have to re-group sees the full-back leading 10 Cardiff players downfield with no sign of the pink wall. A huge yardage gain, and really should be a score coming from that position.

Stade Analysis 5

Stade Analysis 5 2

What does lead to a try though is this quick lineout which, although doesn’t lead to any sort of overlap, it does give Alex Cuthbert a one-on-one with space on the outside, which is as good as any overlap. The winger promptly ditches his man and feeds Halaholo who should’ve scored, before Nick Williams did.

The lesson

I have to say that, although we took an absolute hammering, I struggle to think of a second half I enjoyed more this season than that which we saw in Paris. The Cardiff players were well and truly beaten, but they went down playing rugby and putting 110% effort into the jersey, and you can’t ask for much more than that.

Although the very high risk game plan failed to come off, it did offer plenty of positives to take into the off-season and subsequently 2017/18. Those three breaks created from mixing the game up are certainly something to cling into.

Unfortunately, a long season where Cardiff Blues had actually broken the world record for most box kicks in a season by November* meant this new tactic was a stark change to our playing style, and when it was employed too much it created more problems for us than it did for Stade Francais.

However, there’s a happy balance to be found somewhere between the safety of the exit strategy, and the confidence to back ourselves to go from deep when it’s on. The talent is there, the decision making just isn’t yet, but a summer to develop an understanding in that backline, and there’s no reason why Champions Cup rugby can’t be Cardiff’s again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

100 Club: #THEBIGHORSE

As the season drew to a close on Friday there was just time for an individual honour to reach a member of the Cardiff Blues squad, with Alex Cuthbert reaching 100 appearances for Wales’ Capital Region.

This may come as a surprise for some people as it feels like Cuthy has been around for quite a long time. Indeed, it is almost six years since the winger made his try scoring debut against Treviso, and at 27 he seems relatively old to be entering the 100 club when you consider he’s been at the region his whole career.

Alex Cuthbert Debut
Alex Cuthbert scores against Treviso on his Cardiff Blues debut

However, such was the meteoric rise of Cuthbert, he was making his Wales debut after just eight first team Cardiff Blues appearances, and we all know how often we find ourselves without our Team Wales players during the international windows.

45 Wales caps and 15 Wales tries later, as well as a solitary B&I Lions cap and try, he has still managed to ably represent the Blues though, never making less than double figures in appearances and scoring 44 tries along the way, behind only Tom James in the post-2003 stats.

Alex Cuthbert Lions
Helping to continue the long link between Cardiff and the Lions

Those tries have certainly made Cuthbert an Arms Park favourite, but in recent months he has taken considerable strides to elevate himself towards legendary status.

It all started with his most recent Welsh cap in the Six Nations defeat to England. The fallout from a missed tackle towards the end of the match was vitriolic and entirely unfair, however, the way the winger bounced back from that was absolutely superb.

Defence

Starting with the area of his game that has often come under such scrutiny, but these last few weeks has been one of his greatest assets. Rewind to the away game in Ulster and, up against Charles Piutau who had set Europe alight with Wasps last season, he was on top form.

Ulster Cuthy 2.gif

Ulster Cuthy 5.gif

Two potentially try saving tackles showing off not only his defensive work, but also the out-and-out pace he possesses for a man standing at 6ft6 and weighing over 16st. Against Zebre he used that frame to full effect to deny the Italians an almost certain try.

Zebre Cuthy 4.gif

To hold man and ball up from that possession is an almost unbelievable piece of play, but it goes to show the all-round game he can count on, underpinned by a fantastic work rate.

Grafting

It’s that work rate which has really seen the Cardiff fans get behind Cuthbert in such a vocal way these last few months. All we really demand is 100% effort in the blue shirt, and that’s precisely what #THEBIGHORSE has offered.

From chasing down kick-offs and causing havoc…

…to fielding long kicks and getting us back on the front foot…

…and sticking his head in where it hurts, Alex Cuthbert has lead by example with his excellent work ethic and dedication to the cause.

 

Attack

Finally, onto Cuthy’s bread and butter, going forward. Three tries in nine games is not a particularly stand out record in itself, but he’s offered so much more than just going over the line.

Cardiff Blues have had no trouble creating line breaks for most of this season, but converting them to scores has been a big issue. Cuthbert breaks that mould though with excellent awareness and handling on the move, with one try created and a further chance only stopped by an early tackle on Tomos Williams.

Even when he’s not fashioning line breaks he’s still making yards though…

It’s a real trademark Cuthbert line to come from the blindside of the scrum half, but it works so effectively thanks to his pace, power and dedication. Add in some mega fends and he’s a carrying machine. This works well when he has possession, and is now even a weapon when he’s not…

Ulster Cuthy 6

Just watch the Ulster inside centre plant is feet and focus entirely on Cuthbert on that classic line, while completely ignoring Rey Lee-Lo running from out-to-in and heading straight through the vacant space. Great play from Gareth Anscombe and the Samoan, but a try not possible without #THEBIGHORSE, who doesn’t mind a try of his own…

Gloucester Cuthy 2

Treviso Cuthy 2

Gloucester Cuthy 1

One try off his favourite line, one showing off the pace, and another from pure power and desire. A confident and in-form Alex Cuthbert really is a top class winger.

So it’s a big congratulations to #THEBIGHORSE on joining the 100 club at Cardiff Blues, and here’s to many more caps and tries!

 

 

 

Analysis: Running sideways, scrummaging forwards

Rugby finally returns as Cardiff Blues travel to Stade Francais for the semi-final of the Champions Cup play-off. A mammoth task lies ahead to secure a win in Paris, but there was some encouraging aspects from the last game against Newport Gwent Dragons to work on.

The Scrum

After a very weak showing against Zebre in the last home game of the season there was a big emphasis on the scrum in Caerphilly, and the old stager Matthew Rees really stepped to the fore.

NGD Scrum 8

NGD Scrum 6

Two huge efforts from the pack causing the Dragons to either collapse or run backwards and each resulting in penalties, and it wasn’t just on our ball either…

NGD Scrum 5

Big disruption caused and it’s such a boost to the whole team to know that the scrum is dominant, but more than that it puts real pressure on Dragons to avoid scrums and not make errors when they have possession.

Matthew Rees was the real anchor in the scrum, ably supported by a second row that out-weighed their opponents which always makes a difference. The really pleasing aspect though was that even with Corey Domachowski and Kieron Assiratti, both aged under 21, in the front row the scrum continued to drive forward.

NGD Scrum 4

This was their first scrum after Assiratti came on and, for him personally after a tough senior baptism in Gloucester, this was a massive confidence booster to drive Dragons pack backwards and win the penalty. The future is bright in that respect, we just need Matthew Rees to play forever now.

Stade Francais will be a whole new kettle of fish in Paris, as their Challenge Cup set piece domination showed. Cardiff’s pack will need to be very clever in terms of not using their weight too early, as we’ve been guilty of recently, and scrummaging as a pack rather than hitting and chasing.

Despite the scrum dominance for Cardiff at Caerphilly, there was little decisiveness behind the pack…

Lacking Directness

The big problem with our performance against NGD was that we posed very little danger in attack. In fact, we rather stumbled to victory as a result of the scrum dominance, Gareth Anscombe’s boot and the generally poor quality of the opposition.

We managed to create just three clean breaks in the 80 minutes, scoring only two tries and only just carrying for 300 metres. So why was that? Well it comes down to adapting to the type of defence that the opposition are going to use.

Cardiff came with the intention to utilise the full width of a very wide Caerphilly pitch. Nothing wrong with that when you have the likes of Rey Lee-Lo, Matthew Morgan and Rhun Williams ready to use their pace on the flanks, but not if they have no space to work in.

NGD Poor Attack 5

NGD Poor Attack 1

Two video clip examples of Matthew Morgan and Rhun Williams being crowded out by the Dragons defence, and here’s why this happened on more than two occasions in a bit more detail.

Dragons utilised a very simple drift defence system against Cardiff, and it worked very successfully in that it stopped us moving the ball outside them at any point in the match.

The first picture shows the overlap as it should have been, but by the time the ball has been shifted sideways down the line, the home side are in place to cover Morgan and Sion Bennett.

Once again we see plenty of numbers out wide, but a lack of straight line running and committing of defenders, as Cardiff try to move the ball out wide as quickly as possible, means that Rhun Williams receives possession under close watch from a defender in just a yard of space.

Why did Dragons have so much more success in the first half then? Well Cardiff ran with a blitz style defence in Caerphilly, and the home side played us brilliantly.

Dragons used the speed of the Cardiff defensive line against us, shifting the ball beyond the initial blitz quickly and sending us into scramble defence before they’d even made a line break.

As you can see in these pictures they get Tyler Morgan outside of Willis Halaholo on the outside blitz, meaning Rhun Williams and Rey Lee-Lo have to come inside to stop him breaking and Pat Howard has plenty of space to travel up to the Cardiff 10m line.

The Blues did at one point work out how to bypass the Dragons defence, and it was in the form of Willis Halaholo.

NGD Try 2.gif

What he does is take the ball to the defensive line and use the Dragons drift defence against them, forcing them to commit to tackles and creating space as a result.

NGD Analysis 8 2

You can see from above that Halaholo running straight and then stepping back inside means the drift defence have moved past him, he catches T Rhys Thomas who has his shoulders facing completely the wrong way and the space created behind him is more than enough to ghost through and score a vital try.

Unfortunately this direct style of attacking was rarely utilised again, underlining a persistent problem amongst the Cardiff ranks this season in that there has been a lack of adaptability on the pitch, stemming from a lack of leadership amongst an injury affected group of senior players.

The big test of a number of squad players ahead of next year will be to improve their rugby knowledge, but ahead of the Paris trip the wise move would just be to go back to basics. The same attacking simplicity that served us so well against Ospreys.

Carry cleverly for quick ball, rather than yards. Run direct and at pace, and kicking will have to be spot on. It won’t be easy, as we’ll likely give up dominance up front, but if we can use any possession we do have wisely and be on top counter attacking form then we could cause some problems.

Then it will all come down to our defence. Oh dear…