Monthly Archives: December 2017

Cardiff Blues vs Scarlets Preview

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Head to Head

The Scarlets have a 38% win record in Cardiff since 1997 – one of their less happy hunting grounds. Last season, Cardiff were aiming for five wins on the trot – a remarkable statistic considering the relative standing of the two teams. But this season, the pendulum has swung heavily to the Scarlets – Pro14 Champions and in top form in the league. But all is not lost for the home team. Following early defeats to Edinburgh and Glasgow, they will be aiming to extend a three game winning run at the Arms Park in the Pro14. In the reverse fixture in Llanelli in October, the home team were victorious by a 13 point margin. But Cardiff restricted the Scarlets to their fewest passes in a game this season, as well as the fewest number of runs.  The game hinged on poor tackling from Cardiff – the 58 tackles made in that game by some margin their worst performance of the season.

The Coaches

Ex-policeman Wayne Pivac was recruited to work in Llanelli when coaching Auckland in the ITM Cup. He has now been in charge for 115 games (all fixtures), and with a win ratio of 55% he’s the most successful coach for the club in the modern era. If we exclude friendlies, looking at all four Welsh professional teams, he’s the fourth most successful coach in the modern era. His focus on improving the Scarlets discipline and defence has seen his team concede on average only 2.32 tries per game – a big difference from Danny Wilson‘s record of 3.03.

The Referee

This fixture will be George Clancy’s 96th game in the Pro14 – a recording running back to Netherdale in October 2004 when he ref’d a Dragons away win. Only Nigel Owens has officiated in more games and only Owens and John Lacey are older. He’s refereed Cardiff 21 times with only 38% of games resulting in a victory for the capital-city based team. By contrast, the Scarlets have won 72% of their games when the Irishman was the referee. He ranks as the referee whose adjudication has resulted in the greatest percentage of victories for the team from Llanelli. Clancy is traditionally one of the more lenient referees usually averaging 0.3-0.4 cards per game. This game will be his second visit to the Arms Park this season, and he remains one of the refs least likely to be influenced by home crowds.

Attack

The Scarlets have secured “four try” bonus points in six of their eleven Pro14 games this season. Two seasons ago, they were in a similar position to Cardiff – struggling to turn three tries into four and secure that crucial bonus point. But under Pivac, they have become a far more ruthless team. Last season, Wilson’s Cardiff reached three tries on twelve occasions, and on nine of those failed to secure a bonus point. The Scarlets also have one of the better offloading games in the competition, but rather than excelling in any particular facet of attack, they are solid across the board. Cardiff, meanwhile, have carried the ball 681m less than their visitors this season, and rank towards their bottom of the table. Their offloading game is average, but they have the players who can make the clean breaks – indeed, they lead the competition in number of breaks made. Their challenge is a cohesion in attack that can capitalise on these breaks.

Set Piece

The Scarlet’s lineout is a stand out as one of the best in the league, though to be fair the high number of throw ins could be because teams opt to kick to touch against them. Only Munster have thrown in to more lineouts.  Both teams have solid set pieces and other than the home team’s renown weakness at defending driving lineouts, this facet of the game will not be the deciding difference on the day.

Defence

Only Leinster and Glasgow have conceded fewer points this season than the Scarlets, and only Glasgow have conceded fewer tries. Conceding turnovers are a problem for the Scarlets. Only Glasgow have turned over possession more frequently this season, so the home side should expect chances to come their way. Conversely, Cardiff have coughed up possession infrequently – only Treviso being more frugal. They’ve also made 248 tackles more than the Scarlets this season, and sit third in the league for tackle success rate.

Discipline

No team has been penalised more in the Pro14 than Cardiff (120 penalties) this season and no team less than the Scarlets (76). The visitors to the Arms Park average less than 7 penalties per game – only Exeter have a better record across the three major European leagues. Look a little deeper and Cardiff’s stats reveal a big discrepancy in penalties conceded away from home (75) as opposed to games at CAP (45). It is the Scarlet’s remarkable discipline away from home (41) that is behind their total low penalty count. Two seasons ago, the Scarlets had a major problem with discipline. During the 2015-6 season, no team received more yellow cards (18) and they were averaging almost one card per game.  This season to date, no team has received fewer cards.

Prediction

The visit of the Scarlets will probably be Cardiff’s toughest home game this season, and the key factor – as with most local derbies – is how the players respond mentally to the pressure to perform well. Cardiff’s weakness in the corresponding fixture last season was an inability to capitalise on an advantage in territory and possession. Whilst this still remains a weakness in their game, expect the players to rise to the occasion and win 20-16.

Dragons vs Cardiff Blues Preview

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Head to Head

The Dragons scored their biggest victory over Cardiff shortly after the visitors took on the “Blues” moniker in 2004. Coming off one the best seasons ever for Newport, the home team secured a 23 point victory – a performance that has yet to be bettered. In recent years, with both teams languishing nearer the bottom of the league than the top, games have been much tighter, and the overall comparison of points and tries scored, reflects this. The head to head stands at 8 wins each at Rodney Parade since 2003.

The Coaches

This season is Bernard Jackman’s first in Newport, and Danny Wilson’s last in Cardiff. Despite a very poor away record (somewhat matched by his previous record in Grenoble), Jackman has a more respectable record at home. Much of the reason for the club’s poor standing in the league is down to bad away performances where his team has conceded on average almost 40 points a game. So far this season, the Dragons record is the second worse for any team in the history of the competition (only the Borders recorded worse results, and we all know what happened to them). By way of contrast, average points conceded per game less than half those conceded away from Newport. Wilson’s record in away games isn’t much better (standing at 33%), and Cardiff haven’t won on the road since the victory in Toulouse, more that two months ago.

The Referee

Ex-Cardiff Blues employee Andy Brace will take charge of his 30th Pro14 game on Boxing Day. At 29, he’s one of the youngest referees in the league.  This season, he’s averaging just under 20 penalties per game, not too dissimilar from his record last. Cardiff has a P7 W4 L3 record with Brace in charge, with the Dragons having only won once when the Irishman took the whistle. Brace is averaging 1.7 cards per game in the Pro14 – the highest of any ref who has officiated more than once this season (and more than he awarded last season).

Attack

Only Treviso and the Scarlets have made fewer clean breaks per game in the Pro14 than the Dragons, and it’ll be a point of concern for Jackman that the visitors have made more than any other team. Turning to defenders beaten, neither team has registered impressive attacking results here, with both averaging only 15 per game – some way behind Leinster and Glasgow’s record of 20 per game. Off loads and meters run are similar for both teams.

Set Piece

At the set piece, Cardiff’s lineout shows better stats that the home team’s, with both the Dragons and their visitors have similar records for the scrum. Wilson’s selection of a more lightweight starting XV and a heavier bench suggests that the visitors will aim to play the game at pace.

Defence

This season, only the Kings have conceded more points than the Dragons, but this is not down to individual player’s mistakes. The Dragons have the best home tackle completion ratio in the league – standing at 91%. Against the Ospreys in October, they made 211 tackles – a figure only bettered by Cardiff’s 233 in Galway. The Newport-based team also returned outstanding tackle stats in the recent draw with Ulster and in their home victory over Connacht. So if individuals are working extremely hard and making their tackle, why is the team conceding so many points?

Discipline

The Dragon’s discipline is good this season – by some margin better than Cardiff’s. Last season was the reverse. The Newport-based team are averaging only 8.8 penalties per game, whilst their big city neighbours are pushing 11. Both teams have been carded six times this season, though the Dragons have conceded 4 yellow cards in Newport – the highest number of cards at home of any team in the Pro14 this season.

Prediction

The Dragons go into this game having chalked-up an excellent performance against Ulster and also pushed under-rated Newcastle hard in the Challenge Cup in Newport. Cardiff, meanwhile, have put in two less-than-impressive performance against Sale. The momentum is with the home team and they will win 25-16.

Cardiff Blues vs Sale Preview

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Head-to-Head

Since the rebel season, Cardiff have faces Sale six times in the Welsh capital, each game going the way of the home team. Games tend to be fairly high scoring affairs, which should suit Cardiff’s search for an essential bonus point on Sunday. This fixture will be the first time for the teams to meet at the Arms Park in a competitive fixture in over 10 years.

 

The Coaches

With the sacking of Jim Mallinder in the week, Rob Baxter’s current tenure at Sale is now the third longest amongst current coaches in the Aviva Premiership.  Only Mark McCall and Dai Young have been around longer. Sale are a very different team away from their home patch. This season, they’ve only won two games on the road – the sum total of away victories for the whole of last season. Both victories this season came against Worcester, at Sixways. Whilst Cardiff’s home record is also far from impressive – only four wins this season at the Arms Park, they can justifiably claim to present a different proposition at home.

The Referee

Sunday’s game will be refereed by Dr Thomas Charabas, who at 37 is one of France‘s more experienced referees (by age). He’s refereed at CAP before when Calvisano were the visitors in January 2016. That game saw the home team run out convincing winners, but it’s unlikely we’ll see a similar result this weekend. This will be his eighth Challenge Cup game, and the first time he’s refereed Sale.  Last season, he was averaging 23 penalties per game, and was one of the most officious referees in France. But this season, things seem to have changed. He’s now averaging only 17.2 penalties per game and has a remarkable record of only issuing three yellow cards in the six Top 14 games he’s ref’d this season. This makes puts him firmly at the bottom of the yellow card table. Furthermore, his 66% home win record puts him below the Top14 average of 74% for home victories this season.

Attack

Cardiff’s anemic performance last week in Manchester was defined by desperately poor stats. They managed only two offloads during the game (one each from Seb Davies and Rey Lee-Lo) – one of their poorest performance in the last three seasons (if not longer). Similarly, the team only made two breaks during the game (one each from Aled Summerhill and Matthew Morgan) – again, their worst this season. Only against Glasgow, did the team beat fewer defenders this season, and their meters run was also one of the lowest recorded. It makes for grim reading. Ironically, despite the margin of victory, Sale’s figures are also far impressive, but their seven offloads stands out as the biggest difference in attack between the two sides.

Set piece

Although Cardiff secured 100% of their ball from the scrum last week, so did the home side. Meanwhile, at the lineout, Sale recorded a 100% success rate, whilst the visitors only managed 89%. Only the Scarlets this season have kicked more to touch when facing Cardiff, and Sale’s 34 kicks in the game was their second highest kick count of the season. So far this season, Gethin Jenkins has only played 57 minutes of rugby, so without doubt he will be looking to lead from the front in the tight and the return of a rested Josh Navidi will also boost the pack.

Defence

Danny Wilson will be pleased with Cardiff’s 94% tackle completion rate last week and also with the number of turnovers the team won – 16 is their 4th best figures for the season. The greatest problem was their use of the ball. With almost an entire team out with injury, Wilson’s options are limited, but he’s chose to make only two changes to the back line, with Tomos Williams coming in at scrum half for Lloyd Williams and Willis Halohalo replacing Rey Lee-Lo in the centre. Both “rested” players feature on the bench. In the pack, five changes see a major rejigging of resource.  Josh Turnbull slips to the bench for a well-earned rest – he’s spent more time on the pitch (801 minutes) than any other player in the squad this season.

Discipline

Sale are the most carded team in the Aviva Premiership so far this season, and so despite Thomas Charabas’ leniency expect at least one player to take a 10 minute rest. This is nothing new, they were also the most carded team last season as well. This season in the Pro14, Cardiff are conceding on average 10.7 penalties per game, with Sale at 10.2 penalties per game in the Aviva Premiership.

 

Prediction

Expect a much improved performance from Cardiff this week with the home team set for a 29-14 victory. However, once more, they will fail to secure a bonus point which could prove costly in their bid to secure a home quarter final.

Sale vs Cardiff Blues Preview

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During the professional era, Sale Rugby Union Football Club were at their peak during the mid-2000s. During the 2005-6 season, they finished top of the English Premiership by a margin of five points. Well funded, they ranked as one of the richest clubs in England, thanks to the support of Brian Kennedy. But when the money dried up, the club’s turnover fell from £9.3m in 2005-6 to £7.9m in 2009 (ironically, the same at that registered by the Cardiff Blues in that season), and the club were almost relegated from the top tier. Since then, they’ve been a solid mid-table performer, sometimes reaching the Champions Cup, but never really making an impression. Last season, Sale registered 20 defeats – only one less than their all time poorest season. Cardiff’s record was little better, with an increase of 3 defeats on the previous season and on 18 occasions the club registered a loss.

This season, Sale have yet to record a victory in the Champions Cup, with a draw against Toulouse at home and an away defeat in Lyon. Cardiff – meanwhile – stand at the top of Pool 2 with a home victory over Lyon and an away victory in Toulouse.

Head-to-Head

Cardiff have faced Sale away from home on a total of seven occasions in the modern era; two friendlies, twice in the Anglo-Welsh Cup and three times in the Heineken Cup. Only once – in 2008 – did the register the narrowest of victories.

The Coaches

Sale’s current director of rugby is Steve Diamond, an ex-player at the club with experience coaching at Saracens and the man who led the Russian national team to the 2011 Rugby World Cup. His current stint at the club began in October 2012 and he’s now been in charge for 165 fixtures – only Jim Mallinder, Rob Baxter, Mark McCall and Dai Young have been around for longer at the top of the English game. Diamond’s coaching has seen a focus on home victories, with a respectable 63% win ratio. Away from home is another story and Sale are one of the worst travellers in the Aviva Premiership. Danny Wilson’s results from his 76 games in charge show a close similarity to Diamond’s. His team also struggles away from home with only a 33% win ratio.

The Referee

Saturday’s game will be refereed by Pierre Brousset, a relative newcomer to the ranks of professional referees. Still only 28 years old, he began his career in the Top 14 in France last season. He is the youngest referee currently active in the Top 14. In 84% of the games he’s refereed, the home team has been victorious. This compares with the competition average of 74%. He has yet to referee either Sale or Cardiff. This season, Brousset is less likely to award penalties (averaging 17 per game) than he was last season (when he averaged 23.2 penalties per game), and as for awarding yellow or red cards, last season he averaged 2.3 per game, whereas  this season, it’s 1.8 per game.

Attack

Sale have scored 32 tries in the Premiership so far this season which makes the team one of the more formidable in attack in that competition. Cardiff have scored 10 fewer and a porous defence means the Welsh team is somewhat off the pace in Conference A of the Pro14.  Sales’ success is built on a strong carrying game, with an emphasis on running hard with ball in hand over kicking and passing. Only Exeter and Saracens have run more meters this season.  However, the teams offloading game is not the strongest, nor is their ability to make clean breaks. Meanwhile, Cardiff’s offloading game is equally unimpressive. No team has made more clean breaks than Cardiff in the Pro14 this season, and perhaps one can point at an unsettled back row as a reason why the team has failed to capitalise on this facet of their game. Although Cardiff’s tactical approach to kicking remains virtually the same whether playing home or away (averaging 20 kicks per game), Sale’s data shows a some differences. Looking at data over the last two seasons, we can expect Sale to kick between 26 and 28 times during a home game.

Set piece

Sale’s scrum is one of the strongest in the league, and only in the games against Worcester, Newcastle and Northampton did they fail to record a 100% success rate. However, their lineout is one of the weakest (with a success rate of only 82%) and both Newcastle and Exeter’s victories at the AJ Bell stadium this season were built on attacking the home team’s lineout. Sale have pinched 21 lineouts this season, with Cardiff managing 19. Cardiff’s lineout success is one of the highest in the Pro14, with a scrum success rate firmly mid-table.

Defence

Both team’s tackle stats for this season show a remarkable similarity, with Cardiff averaging 118 tackles attempted per game – exactly the same as Sale‘s. Completion ratios are equally similar. Turnovers remain a vital part of the game and provide a launch pad from which teams can counter attack against disorganised defensive patterns. Cardiff’s form in this facet of the game last season was unaffected by whether they played at home or away from home – conceding on average 14 turnovers per game. Meanwhile, Sale’s record showed a difference between home and away.

Discipline

Last season in the Aviva Premiership, Sale received more cards than any other team at home – a trend that has continued into this season. Last season in the Pro12, only Zebre were carded more often than Cardiff, though this season has seen a slight improvement.

Sale are one of the most penalised teams in the Aviva this season – averaging 10.2 penalties per game. Last season, discipline was also a problem and they topped the table with 10.5 penalties per game. Cardiff’s discipline was of a higher standard in 2016-7, conceding only 8.6 penalties per game, though this season the data reads an ugly 10.7 penalties per game on average.

In the Pro14 this season, Cardiff are a mid-table team who are carded every 18 penalties they concede. Last season, they were more likely to be carded, conceding a card every 12 penalties. This figures are close to those recorded by Sale, who – during the 2016-17 – received yellow cards at a rate faster than any other team. The situation is no better this season, where their rate of conceding a card is the highest in the league again (discounting Saracens, who have yet to concede a yellow or red card in the Aviva Premiership this season).

Prediction

This fixture promises to be a tough one for the Cardiff Blues. The outstanding away win in Toulouse aside, results away from home this season has been poor. With Pierre Brousset in charge, there will be plenty of penalties and cards and Sale remain a force at home. The home team’s set piece is strong and they will kick the penalties that the ref awards. Expect pressure from driving lineouts, and Cardiff’s defence is a real weakness in this facet of play. The home team will win this game with relative ease, 33-19.

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