2015/16 Season Review: Heading Downhill

After a summer of change, which saw a new coaching staff come in headed up by Danny Wilson, had finished, pre-season had been completed and the first Pro12 game of the season had been comfortably won it was time to get into the thick of things. With the 2015 Rugby World Cup now fully underway the Arms Park had been transformed into a fan zone which meant a baptism of fire for Wilson in five consecutive away games.

Season Review Part One – A Promising Start:  https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/14/201516-season-review-a-promising-start/

Now, five away games in a row may seem quite tough, but when the first four are against each Irish province then it becomes a huge challenge. I think if we’re honest as fans we would have taken one win and a losing bonus point or two going into the tour of the Emerald Isle. With international players away and a few injuries, as well as a new coaching team still getting used to running the club, six points from a possible 20 would be a fair return.

First up was Dublin and a visit to the RDS to play Leinster, also adjusting to life under a new coach in Leo Cullen. The team was picked with an experienced edge to it, only wingers Owen Jenkins and Aled Summerhill really lacking in Pro12 minutes and getting a chance in the absence of Tom James and Alex Cuthbert. Neither really got a sniff of the action though as Rhys Patchell scored all of our 15 points on the day.

It was a hard slog up front that would settle the game as both sides relied on set pieces and big ball carrying to make the yards. Manoa Vosawai and Josh Navidi showed up well in the metres made section but there was too many handling errors to make a real impact on the Leinster red zone. Poor fringe defence eventually let us down, a comment that won’t be mentioned for the first time, as we conceded our first try in Ireland.

Another thing that will be brought up again is the shoddy refereeing in the Pro12 and it reared it’s head in Dublin as with a few minutes to go and just a point down, the touch judge spots an infringement from a Leinster driving maul that sees Navidi penalised and sin binned. I watched the incident a lot at the time and when writing this and I still don’t see it. The home side went to the scrum and Ben Whitehouse, a non-neutral referee, ran straight to the posts.

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Rhys Patchell kicked all our points vs Leinster

 

So after having one of the six points snatched from us late in the day at the RDS there was three weeks during the World Cup group stage to think about it and we were off to Galway and to face Connacht, the Irish development region boosted by a healthy sum of IRFU money. Wilson made three changes to the Cardiff starting XV with Richard Smith, Lou Reed and Ellis Jenkins starting in place of Owen Jenkins, James Down and Manoa Vosawai. Following a narrow loss in a forwards battle during the previous game, we were in for a treat here.

Inside 10 minutes Aled Summerhill scored our first try on tour from an interception, before Connacht were allowed back into it through more poor fringe defence, strong mauling and generally good attacking. Either side of half-time we fought back through Josh Turnbull’s carrying and Rhys Patchell’s boot, before a fantastic piece of individual skill saw Dan Fish dribble soccer style over the line.

Of course we let Connacht take the lead from us again with two tries in five minutes before a late missed Gareth Davies penalty, followed by a successful home side kick meant we were staring down the barrel of no points in two games. It came down, as it so often does against the Galway side, to a late score and this time it was Sam Hobbs providing the goods. As he burrowed over from a yard he not only secured a losing bonus point, but also a try scoring bonus point!

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Dan Fish finishes off his solo try

 

Although Connacht was probably the game we should have pinpointed to win, two bonus points wasn’t a total disaster of a return. There were some encouraging signs at the halfway point of the tour as for the twenty minute period either side of half-time in Galway we were easily the better team, the set piece was looking decent and the carrying from the forwards was strong. However, inconsistent performance and lazy defence meant work was still to be done before the visit to Munster in mid-October.

A further three starting XV changes were made with Garyn Smith and Matthew Rees starting alongside the returning Manoa Vosawai as the injured Aled Summerhill, Kris Dacey and Josh Navidi missed out. You may have thought the lessons of the last two games had been learned, but you would have thought wrong as a strong start saw a try for Tavis Knoyle before Munster were allowed to take the lead with back-to-back tries.

A half-time salvo saw tries for Richard Smith and Tommy Isaacs both from well worked attacks but, yet again, the opposition are allowed back into the game cheaply. At the time it was deeply frustrating to watch and even writing about it now it still gets to me how easily we would roll over and let teams into games which we should have been controlling. On this occasion we go from twice leading the game by 10 points to missing out on a losing bonus point by a single score.

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Tavis Knoyle reaches for the line to score against Munster

 

The final game of the tour of the Emerald Isle took place in Belfast and it seems like a waste of your time to tell you what happened, but let’s just say Patchell’s boot put us ahead, we stopped playing to allow Ulster to all but win the game before a Navidi try and Patchell penalty salvaged a losing bonus point. A better way to end the Irish trip but it was just painting over the cracks of gaining three points and never playing well for more than 20 minutes at a time.

Over the four games in Ireland Danny Wilson used 34 players in his squads, a lot when you consider ten players were missing due to the World Cup. We came back with an overall score aggregate of 118-90, eight tries scored to fifteen conceded, four yellow cards received, a three week ban for one players and just three league points. The stats don’t make particularly great reading.

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Josh Navidi breaks a tackle against Ulster

 

In review of the whole tour we know now that actually the time in Ireland was certainly a character builder, and gave Wilson a good chance to assess his wider squad. In the long term I think we’ll look back on that month or two as a pretty solid foundation for Danny’s reign. However that doesn’t take away from the disappointing performances at the time and left us largely on the back foot when it came to competing in the Pro12 already, but worst was still to come…

A review of the Irish tour at the time: https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/30/an-ireland-tour-the-review/