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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.