Monthly Archives: April 2018

Cardiff Blues vs Ospreys

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Head to Head

Whilst the Ospreys have an impressive lead over Cardiff in head to head fixtures over the years (the team from Swansea has won 11 out of the 18 fixtures played), these two teams have only met in a top tier game at Cardiff Arms Park once since 2008. Of those eleven games, eight have been in the various incarnations of the Pro14, with Nigel Owens refereeing six. Last season’s thumping of the “visitors” was their first defeat in Cardiff since New Years Day in 2010. Once more, these two sides will face each other in the last league game of the season, so often a dead rubber, but even more so this season. Having alienated season ticket holders with their bizarre stance on seating allocation, the WRU continue to schedule this fixture at a non-sensical time of the season when a more meaningful clash could provide a serious commercial boost to both clubs. The Ospreys disastrous season has seen a drop of over 30,000 in the Pro14 gate (a fall over almost 30%). In only two fixtures did the attendance increase on last season’s (Connacht and Zebre). The just under 70,000 who have attended home fixtures this season is the worst cumulative crowd figure since the 2004-5 season. On the back of the disaster in Rodney Parade, the plight of the Ospreys only underlines that as the influence of the WRU in the running of pro-rugby teams increases, Welsh rugby’s plight is worsening. And let’s not also forget that Cardiff’s gates have also been poor this season in the Pro14. They are down 7,ooo on last season (excluding the final fixture) – and gates at five of their home fixtures are less than last season.

The Coaches

Under Gatland’s directions, no fewer than nine of the Ospreys squad have dual contracts with the WRU, which represents a subsidy of around £1m to their playing squad (though these figures are extremely difficult to track down and hence remain an estimate). This makes the Ospreys the most subsidised team in Wales – apart from the Dragons, of course – but nevertheless (or maybe because of this) they have suffered one of their worst ever seasons. Having taken over from Steve Tandy in January, Ulsterman Allen Clarke has been in charge at Swansea for nine games. So far, he has yet to lead his team to an away victory. In selecting a largely second string outfit, Danny Wilson has done his best to break this run of defeats in what is his penultimate game in charge.

The Referee

Thirty six year old Frank Murphy is an ex-Munster and Connacht scrum half who is in his second season as a professional referee. This season, he’s refereed Cardiff on four occasions, with only a narrow defeat to Glasgow ending in victory for Cardiff. He’s also ref’d the Ospreys twice – once for their home victory over Glasgow, and once in their heavy defeat in Bloemfontein. Murphy averages 21 penalties per game, which puts him hear the top of the table. However, when it comes to issuing cards, he’s more mid-table with only 0.8 per game. If this game had been played at the Arms Park, Cardiff would have enjoyed the biggest homer in the league, with 79% of games refereed by Murphy resulting in home wins.

Attack

Attack rankings for the Ospreys this season offer miserable reading.  Only Munster and the Scarlets have made fewer breaks per game, and their offloading game is not much better. When it comes to meters run with ball in hand, only one of the worst team ever to feature in a Celtic Rugby competition – the Kings – have carried the ball less. Even the Dragons have a higher figure.  No small wonder that the Ospreys have managed only 42 tries this season (as opposed to 73 last season). This is the fewest number of tries they’ve scored since 2008-9 when they participated in a ten-team competition. The Ospreys are the most inefficient team in the competition for turning possession into points – averaging a point every 2.32 minutes …. it takes the team more than one minute longer to score a point than it does the Cheetahs. Could this be linked to the drop in crowds?

Set Piece

Both teams have similar records at scrum time this season,  and both a equally proficient at the lineout. If this game was to be played by the two strongest possible teams at the respective clubs, we could they would cancel each other out at the set piece.

Defence

Throughout this season, despite their ineffective attack and general lack of creativity, the Ospreys tackle stats have been mighty impressive. In defeat to Ulster in the last round and in victory over Connacht, they topped that round’s rankings on number of completed tackles. In that defeat in Belfast, the Ospreys managed to secure only 20% of territory – the second lowest percentage of any team since 5th September 2014 in the Pro14. Cardiff also have impressive tackle stats – averaging  87% completion rate across all competitive fixtures this season. But they still lag behind the Ospreys’ highly impressive 89%. Despite their individual efforts, overall so far this season, collectively the Ospreys have conceded 91 tries – by some distance their worst ever season. This represents almost twice the number of tries they conceded last season. As individuals they maybe performing well, but collectively ….?

Discipline

The Ospreys are a mid-table team when it comes to yellow cards conceded. Cardiff – meanwhile – have conceded 13 cards, five more than their Swansea-based opponents, and are carded once every 16 penalties, as opposed to the Ospreys 22. And it’s not only the number of cards that separates the two teams. Cardiff concede 10.7 penalties per game on average, whereas the Ospreys are conceding only 8.8. This translates to 38 fewer penalties over the Pro14 season as whole.

Prediction

The Ospreys are the most successful Welsh team in Celtic Rugby since 2003 and the third most successful overall. Between the 2012-13 season and 2015-16 season, they were Welsh Conference Table champions. But since then, despite the squad subsidy and influence from Gatland, results have worsened. It is the Scarlets who now reign supreme and look set to make a clean sweep of local victories – only the second team to do this in since the modern era began in 2003 (the Ospreys achieved this feat in 2012-13 and 2013-14). Sadly, thanks to poor scheduling, this fixture has once more been devalued and with a far more important game next week, Danny Wilson has chosen a second string. In contrast, Clarke’s selection is close to his strongest. Given the history of this fixture and the relative strengths of the two starting XVs, this should be an easy victory for the Ospreys. However, there have shown major collective weaknesses this season and Cardiff’s second choice will feel they have a chance to win this one.

Cardiff Blues vs Section Paloise

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Head to Head

Cardiff’s only previous game against Pau in Wales was on 21st October 2016, when the home side ran out 27-12 winners in front of a meagre crowd of less than 7,000. A three tries to two victory was built on a sound defensive performance in a game dominated by the set piece. The return fixture in the Pyrenes was a one point game, with a penalty from Steve Shingler snatching victory in the last minute for Cardiff. That season, Pau lost every one of their Challenge Cup games, but this season has been somewhat different. They were unbeaten in the Pool games and won both home and away games against finalists Gloucester. At home, this season they’ve lost only three games – against Montpellier and Stade Francais and then last week, a shock defeat to Agen who are some way below them in the Top 14 table. Away from home, they have seen less success which made their victory in Kingsholm all the more impressive. Their biggest win this season was the revenge game in Paris where Stade were stuffed 5-40. For that game, Pau fielded six Kiwis in their starting squad.

The Coaches

Kiwi-born Simon Mannix was appointed coach of Pau in the summer of 2014. Capped once at outside half for the All Blacks, he played his rugby for the Hurricanes before heading north to Sale and Gloucester. In the 2015-16 season, Pau made a return to the top flight after 10 years away. That season, they finished 11th in the table and have continued to improve each season, 9th last season and are now 7th in the Top 14. Both Mannix and Cardiff’s coach Danny Wilson have been in charge for a similar number of games for their respective clubs, but the Kiwi has only managed 13 away victories in his 95 games.

The Referee

Forty-four year old John Lacey will referee his 23rd Challenge Cup game this weekend – and his first in Wales in that competition. In fact, he’s never refereed a Welsh team in the competition. Only David Wilkinson and Ian Davies are ahead of him in game count amongst referees still active in the Challenge Cup. Lacey was in charge when Pau came away with a victory at Kingsholm, and that was the only time he’s ever ref’d the men from the Pyrenees. Lacey’s record in the Pro14 puts him bang on average as favouring neither home nor away team in this career – with a 63% home win record (just about average for the league). This season, Lacey is averaging 0.7 yellow cards per game, which again puts him mid-table (much as he was last season).  This season, Lacey has ref’d Cardiff only once – in their narrow home victory over Benetton in March.

Attack

Cardiff are unbeaten at home this year, but if one compares their home stats with Pau’s away stats this season, it is the Frenchmen who come out on top in just about every facet of the game. The Frenchmen offload more per game, their pass count is higher, the team beat more defenders per game and make more breaks. They’ve run more than 30m per game further (on average) than Cardiff. If one looks at Pau’s attacking record round by round in the Pro14, they consistently feature at the top end of the attacking stats. When they’ve been ahead at half time, they’ve only gone on to lose in two fixtures this season. Cardiff’s ability to come from behind (at half time) and win is far from impressive, having only done so once in the Pro14 this season. Despite their attacking prowess, Pau have been less successful in securing bonus points in the Top14. On only 7 occasions have they scored three tries or more. It is rare for Cardiff to face a team who are weaker than them in this measure.

Set Piece

No team has conceded more scrums against the head than Pau during this season’s Top14, and it seems certain that Cardiff will target this facet of the game. Their lineout too is shakey – second worst in the league. Expect a kicking game from Cardiff, playing the territory and an effort to deny possession to Pau’s impressive attacking skills.

Defence

Both Pau and Cardiff have very similar tackle stats for this season.  In the Top14, no team has – on average – attempted more tackles per game away from home than Pau. But the completion rate is poor when set against Pro14 teams and this could prove the decisive factor this weekend.

 

Discipline

Pau’s disciplinary record in the Top14 has seen them average 0.8 cards per game – mid-table in a league where referees are more generous with their cards than in other major leagues.  This season, they’ve conceded six cards in the Challenge Cup to five from Cardiff. Pau’s discipline shows little difference between home and away games. They are averaging 9.4 penalties a game in the Top14 having conceded 111 penalties at home and 114 away from home. Cardiff, meanwhile, average 10.7 penalties per game, but there is some daylight between their discipline in home games as opposed to away games. There seems much more equality in the way Top14 cards are awarded than similar data for the Pro14. There is a spread of only 12 penalties between the team who receive cards most frequently (Clermont – at a rate of 10 per penalty concede) and that who receive cards least frequently (Oyonnax at a rate of one card every 22 penalties). In the Pro14, the spread is a remarkable 58 – skewed by the rarely-carded Scarlets.

Prediction

All the stats show both teams are equally across the board and the game should be a tight one. But the biggest difference is psychological. Despite their victory in Gloucester, Pau have been poor on the road this season and Cardiff will be playing at home. The Arms Park is the toughest place to play in the Challenge Cup where the home team have a 92% success rate. This will prove the decisive factor and the Welshmen will run out victors 28-13.

Southern Kings vs Cardiff Blues

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Head to Head

This weekend’s fixture will be the first time these two teams have faced each other. The Kings were formed by the South African Rugby Union in January 2009 in an effort to bring rugby to the Eastern Cape. Their first opponents were the British and Irish Lions during their tour of 2009. They enjoyed their first season of Super Rugby in 2013, playing 16 games and achieving three victories – one of which was against the Highlanders. Financial problems saw the team focus on domestic competitions before a second attempt at Super Rugby also drew limited success. This season, they’ve managed only one victory, ratcheting up 45 points against the hapless Dragons.

The Coaches

The Kings are coached by Deon Davids – who once worked under Rudy Joubert at the Boland Cavaliers. He’s been with the Kings since the start of the 2016 Super Rugby season. It’s been a tough job for Davids, with his team having won only nine of the forty nine games he’s overseen and the experience in this season’s Pro14 has been particularly hard. Wilson’s role at Cardiff is coming to an end and he’ll be keen to end on a high. A victory in this fixture will ensure European Champions Rugby for the first time for the club since 2013-14.

The Referee

Irishman Sean Gallagher refs his fifth game of the Pro14 season this weeks. At the age of only 28, he’s one of the youngest referees in the league. He’s ref’d the Kings twice this season without success for the men from the Eastern Cape. The omens are good for the visitors, however. Gallagher ranks at the bottom of the league when it comes to homers – only 44% of the games he’s reff’d have seen the home team victorious.

Attack

In attack, the Kings are a mid-table team, averaging a score every 1.88 minutes when in possession of the ball. However, no team has beaten fewer defenders this season (by some margin) and they have carried the ball less than any other team in the league – even less than the Ospreys. But when one compares the relative potency of the two teams in attack, the Kings have scored more points at home this season than the visitors have managed away from home.

Set Piece

Cardiff’s lineout creaked under the strain last week, but they still stand top of the league for fewest lineouts lost on their own throw this season. Against the Cheetahs, they managed only a 75% success rate on their own throw – their second worst performance of the season. As third choice hooker, Kirby Myhill will be under pressure this week, hopefully steering clear of Oompa-Loompa standard. On a more positive note, fortunately, they won’t have to contend with Mike Adamson’s curious interpretations of the scrum laws.

Defence

Defence – or the lack of it – has been something of a nightmare for the Southern Kings this season. They have conceded 150 points more than the truly dreadful Dragons. But it would be amiss to excuse the visitors from analysis of their own defensive record. So far this season, they have conceded 55 tries in the Pro14. In the last two season, they’ve managed to return a net positive on tries scored vs tries conceded, but this season they are at minus eight. This season has seen two of the worst squads ever to play in the Pro14 – the Dragons and the Kings. Both teams have conceded – on average – a staggering 42 points points per game away from home. They have surpassed even Zebre and Benetton’s rank mediocrity of last season.

Discipline

Cardiff are now averaging a yellow card per game in their away fixtures – something that will no doubt be a focus for the incoming coach next season. They are being carded at a rate of 16 penalties per card, whereas the Scarlets are only carded once every 70 penalties. And if Cardiff have something of a problem with discipline away from home, only Benetton have conceded more penalties at home than the Kings.

Prediction

With only an 11% home win ratio, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium is the easiest place in the league to secure a victory for visiting teams. This is a must-win game for the visitors and they will not disappoint. Cardiff are only four from ten this season in turning three tries into four (or more) and they’ll be desperate to make up for last week’s disappointment by ensuring the come away with a maximum points haul. Expect the visitors to run out victorious by 15-29.

Toyota Free State Cheetahs vs Cardiff Blues

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Head to Head

Cardiff secured a narrow three tries to two victory over the Cheetahs in front of their lowest home crowd of this season’s Pro14 in early February. The home side were arguably hanging on at the end of the game and the visitors were somewhat unlucky not to register a victory. Lloyd Williams, Owen Lane and Garyn Smith are the only three backs to feature in both starting XVs, and Cook, Davies and Peikrishvili the three remaining forwards. The team won 18 turnovers in that fixture – one of their better returns this season, but they lost 20 turnovers, in a game that lacked control from either side. Cardiff’s scrum was under pressure throughout that game and no doubt their opponents will focus on this facet of the game this weekend.

The Coaches

Ex-Benetton fly half, Franco Smith joined the Cheetahs in 2014 following six years coaching in Treviso. In Bloemfontein, he has a 42% win record, but there’s a big disparity between home and away.  Winning only five games (twice against the Sunwolves, and once each in Port Elizabeth, Newport and Parma) has been the Cheetahs Achilles heal this season. Cardiff’s recent run of form sees Wilson going for seven victories in a row – an unlikely scenario given his team was one from five at the start of the season.

The Referee

Mike Adamson will referee this weekend’s fixture, his twentieth in the Pro14. An ex-Glasgow player, this will be the fourth time for him to referee a South African team, having taken charge of Glasgow’s victory over the Southern Kings. The omens will be good for the Cheetahs, as he also refereed their comprehensive bonus-point victory over Leinster, the Irishmen’s biggest defeat this season. Adamson is one of the more whistle-happy referees, averaging more than 21 penalties per game. He’s also awarded more yellow cards than any other ref in the Pro14 this season, averaging 1.5 card a game. As homer‘s go, we can mark him down as one of the more neutral refs in the league.

Attack

The Cheetahs – alongside Glasgow and Leinster are one of the top points scoring teams in the competition. Unfortunately, only the Kings and Dragons have conceded more tries – but more of that later. Their attack remains one of the most potent in the competition and they average a point every 1.15 minutes – some way ahead of the second placed team. Only Glasgow and Leinster have carried the ball further than the Cheetahs his season. By way of contrast, the visitors play more of a kicking game,  averaging 24 kicks per away game, with the home team averaging only 19 per game in South Africa. They have also scored four tries or more on five occasions this season, something that Cardiff have managed only twice.

Set Piece

At the scrum, no side has lost fewer strikes against the head than the Cheetahs. This contrasts with Cardiff’s strength at the lineout, where no team has lost fewer lineouts than the Welshmen. Undoubtedly, this is reflected in their approach to tactical kicking, where they feel they can put pressure on opposition lineouts.

Defence

The Cheetahs have the worst home tackle completion ratio amongst any Pro14 team this season (81%), and whilst the gap with other teams is not large, in this facet of play even the smallest weakness can cost victory. Away from home, Cardiff have one of the best completion ratios (88%). The 233 tackles made in Galway back in September, still remains way out in front as the most impressive defensive performance by any team in the Pro14 this season.

Discipline

The South Africans may well feel aggrieved at rate at which they have conceded 12 yellow cards this season. Only Benetton has a lower penalty per card ratio. Discipline is clearly a problem for the home team and they’ve been penalised 200 times this season. Only their compatriots from Port Elizabeth have a (slightly) higher return. Again, there is a marked disparity between penalties at home (81) versus penalties away from home (119).  Of the 12 yellow cards, only two have been conceded at home

Prediction

The Welshmen have endured a horrific journey to Bloemfontein which has made a tough task even harder. Playing at altitude will compound the challenge. Even though Cardiff are on an impressive run of victories, it is debatable how many of these have been secured because of sub-standard performances by the opposition, rather than because of excellence from Cardiff. It has been their tenacity and will-to-win that has taken them over the line. However, this game will prove too tough for the visitors, and although they will secure a bonus point, the Cheetahs will run out victors by 29-24.

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