Monthly Archives: February 2018

Zebre vs Cardiff Blues

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Head to Head

Cardiff have faced Zebre five times since the Italian team joined the then RaboDirect Pro12 in 2012 with honours split marginally in favour of the Welshmen. Cardiff have three victories to two by their hosts. Games are usually close with only a score or two between the sides. This weekend’s fixture will be the fifth time an Irishman has taken the whistle in this fixture. Unfortunately for the Italians, Stadio Lanfranchi remains the easiest place to register an away win in the Pro14, and this season, the Scarlets inflicted Zebre’s 5th biggest home defeat ever at the stadium.

The Coaches

Michael Bradley – ex-Connacht scrum half – was appointed coach of Zebre in August last year. So far this season, his team has registered four victories, already only one behind their best ever showing in the league. Whilst the team’s progress has been gradual, there’s been a general improvement in their win-ratio as the season’s pass.  Meanwhile, Danny Wilson’s team are looking for their third victory on the trot in the Pro14 – something of a novelty for the Welshmen.

The Referee

Frank Murphy will referee his twelfth Pro14 game this weekend. A scrum half at Connacht at the same time as Michael Bradley, he is one of the biggest homers in the league with an 82% win ratio for the home side. He’s refereed Zebre twice before, in their narrow loss to Cardiff towards the end of last season (where he awarded three yellow cards to Cardiff players) and in their home win over the Dragons. Murphy is mid-table when it comes to the number of penalties awarded per game. Cardiff have a 50% win rate when he’s reffing, as do Zebre. Frank Murphy averages only 0.7 cards per game this season, which puts him at the lower end of the table.

Attack

Both Zebre and Cardiff have proved somewhat adept at failing to convert three tries in a game to a bonus point. This season, the Welshmen have done so on five occasions, whilst their hosts have done so four times. Both teams have registered only five bonus points in games played so far – only the Kings have a worse bonus points showing.  If only Leinster have made more clean breaks than Cardiff this season, Zebre’s strength lies in the number of defenders beaten where they rank third in the league. Offloading skills are essential to keep defenders guessing, and again Zebre excel in this facet of play – only Glasgow rank above them. In terms of meters run, Cardiff’s total this season so far is 5021 – almost 1,000m fewer than Zebre’s. When it comes to tactical kicking,  Zebre do so on a fewer number of occasions than do Cardiff by some margin.

Set Piece

Neither team has particularly impressive scrummaging stats this season. No team has lost more scrums against the head than Zebre, though Cardiff themselves are little better, ranking second in the number of lost scrums. However, if their scrummaging is suspect, the Italians lineout is worse. They are the only team in the Pro14 with a success rate of less than 80% at the lineout and this is sure to provide an Achilles heal for the home side this weekend.

Defence

Zebre major weakness continues to be in tackling. No team has made fewer tackles this season than Zebre (1372).  And whilst the data for number of tackles missed is good – they are simply not attempting a sufficient number of tackles per game. At home, Zebre have attempted (on average) only 98 tackles per game – that’s 15 fewer than their nearest rivals. Away from home, only the Dragons and Treviso average more completed tackles per game than Cardiff. Unsurprisingly,  Zebre’s 91% tackle completion rate in Galway was one of their best in recent seasons – a key factor in their victory.

Discipline

Zebre have conceded only two yellow cards at home this season which places them near the top of the league for discipline.  Cardiff – by way of contrast – have received seven cards away from home rank third in the league for number of penalties conceded. Both Cardiff and Zebre are averaging a similar number of penalties per card received this season.

Prediction

This fixture rarely sees much daylight between the two teams and is always a tight contest when the game is played in Italy. Once again, there won’t be too much between the two sides. Cardiff’s superiority at set piece and in defence will be pitted against Zebre better attacking skills. But confidence will be high in the home team and with the referee’s influence, they will run out narrow victors by 23-18.

Cardiff Blues vs Munster Rugby

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Head to Head

Cardiff and Munster have a long history of fixtures stretching back to the first European game between the two teams in October 1996. The early years saw big scores for the Welsh team as Munster struggled and until recently the 60-14 victory in 2004 was Cardiff’s biggest victory in the many guises of the Pro14. But in recent years, the advantage has shifted in the Irishmen’s favour. Whilst the games are invariably close, the home team have won only once in eight recent outings against Munster at Cardiff Arms Park.

The Coaches

Since his appointment in October 2016, Rassie Erasmus has the best coaching record of any of the current top coaches in Europe. His team has only lost six games away from home and only three outside Ireland.  His 74% success rate is up there with Mark McCall and ahead of Munster’s greatest rivals Leinster’s Leo Cullen.

The Referee

Thirty-five year old South African Stuart Berry will be refereeing his ninth Pro14 game this week and his second of the season featuring Cardiff. Never far from controversy in his Super Rugby days, he’s managed to avoid the limelight so far in the Pro14. Averaging over 21 penalties a game and 1.5 cards per game, he’s one of the more whistle-happy officials in the league.

Attack

Munster lack line breakers in their team and have the worst record in the league for line breaks.  Neither Cardiff nor Munster returns good stats for defenders beaten, and there’s little difference in the offloading stats between the two sides.  Munster are running 377 meters per game on average, whereas Cardiff’s figure is near the bottom of the league with only 341 meters per game. But on the scoreboard – where it counts – the Irishmen have score 116 points more than Cardiff in the Pro14 this season.

Set Piece

Only the Cheetah’s scrum stats are better than Munster’s in the Pro14 this season. The Irishmen have only lost five times against the head so far – half that of Cardiff. However, the figures are almost reversed at the lineout, where Cardiff have the best lineout in the league and Munster have conceded twice as many lineouts on their own throw as the Welshmen.

Defence

Cardiff’s 87% tackle completion ratio this season is one of the best in Europe and some way ahead of Munster’s 83% (though of course Munster have faced tougher competition in the Champions Cup). Looking closer, we can see that Munster’s 86% is little different from Cardiff’s 87% across all games in the Pro14. The Welshmen’s 233 tackle in one game (vs Connacht) still stands at the highest number made in one game this season.  But for all this highlight figure, Cardiff have conceded almost twice as many tries (44) as Munster (27)  in the Pro14. So despite individual excellence, defensive organisation remains a weakness at the club.

Discipline

It’s been some time since Cardiff faced a team with a worse disciplinary record this season, but for the second week in a row, the opposition have been carded more than the home team this season. With three away reds this season, no team has been red carded more than the Munstermen. Indeed, there is a marked difference between discipline at home – where they’ve only received two yellow cards, and the 8 cards they’ve received away from home. Cardiff have also only been carded twice at home. Only the Scarlets and Leinster have been penalised on fewer occasions at home than Cardiff this season, and Munster’s away record is equally impressive, having conceded only 62 penalties in 6 away games. All this means that Munster players are receiving cards once every 13 penalties (only Treviso have a lower figure).

Prediction

Munster’s much bigger playing budget affords them greater cover in depth during the Six Nations, but the home side will take heart from last week’s narrow victory over the Cheetahs. Wilson has the luxury of naming only one change in his starting XV and a stronger bench than he did against the Cheetahs. Munster struggled on the synthetic turf in Glasgow, making only 52 tackles all game. With dry weather forecast, expect the home team to make better use of the conditions and squeeze home with a narrow victory of 22-17.

Cardiff Blues vs Toyota Free State Cheetahs

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Head to Head

This is the first time for the two teams to meet in a competitive fixture though Cardiff did tour South Africa in 2012 when they narrowly defeated the Cheetahs.

The Coaches

Cheetah’s coach, Franco Smith, spent a season with Newport during 1999-2000 before taking up coaching in Bloemfontein in 2005. He went on to be appointed head coach of the then Super Rugby franchise for the 2016 season. In two seasons in Super Rugby he lead the Cheetahs to a total of eight victories –  six of those against the Kings and Sunwolves. In his 33 games in charge, his team has only won 4 games away from home. In the Pro12, a one point victory in Parma is the team’s only away win this season.

The Referee

Amongst the more senior referees in the Pro14, only Clancy, Lacey and Owens are older than Ian Davies.  This weekend will see Davies referee his 70th game in the competition, and only Owens, Clancy and Mitrea have officiated at more games. With a home-win rating of only 56%, Davies’ record reveals a more equitable approach to away teams than his peers. He’s ref’d Cardiff fourteen times (though only three times at CAP), with the home side losing on six occasions. He’s averaging only 16 penalties per game in the Pro14 – one of the lowest in the league. He’s yet to referee a game featuring the Cheetahs.

Attack

The Cheetahs rank fourth on the table of metres run with ball in hand this season – something the Welsh clubs do not excel at. Whilst Cardiff’s average metres-per-carry rate is highly variable, the visitors to the Arms Park this weekend are far more consistent, and the data shows little change since their Super Rugby season. They have a consistent approach to kicking – averaging at around 19 per game, whether playing at home or away. Cardiff, meanwhile, average 22 kicks per home game. With ball in hand, the Cheetahs average more defenders beaten per game than the Welshman, but there is little to choose between the two teams. The visitors are also offloading more, but again, the difference is slight.

Set Piece

The Cheetahs’ scrum is one of the strongest in the league, having lost only two against the head all season. But if the South Africans are strong in the scrum, then Cardiff’s lineout is the most consistent in the league with the fewest number of lineouts lost by some distance.

Defence

The Cheetahs have clearly sharpened their defence this season – conceding far fewer missed tackles per game in the Pro14 than they did in Super Rugby. But nevertheless, their work rate in defence falls some way short of Cardiff’s average of 113 tackles per game. Cardiff are conceding 3 tries – on average – per game in the Pro14, but the Cheetahs record is even worse (3.3 tries), despite being 15 points ahead of Cardiff in Conference A.

Discipline

Only Treviso have received more yellow cards than the Cheetahs this season. Of the 10 cards they’ve received, only two have been conceded at home. However, both Cardiff and the Cheetahs are averaging a card every 15 penalties. And penalised the Cheetahs certainly are! Their rate of 11.5 penalties per game is the highest in the league. Interestingly, whilst most other teams are disproportionately penalised away from home, the Cheetahs rate is almost identical – 74 at home and 75 away from home.

Prediction

Predicting the result of a game when there is no head-to-head track record is difficult, and this is compounded by the poor preparation the home team will have endured thanks to the disruptive effects of the Six Nations. However, given the Cheetah’s awful away form as well as their defensive frailties, the home team will run out victors by 26-14, once more missing out on a bonus point.

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