Category Archives: Form

Well, how are they doing?

2006 Pre-season friendlies

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Two seasons ago, this site took a look at the build up “enjoyed” by the Celtic League teams to the 2004-2005 season. It didn’t make happy readying. Of the 17 games played, the then Celtic League teams only managed one victory. This season, results have improved, so are we going to see more success for the Welsh and Scots in Europe?

A feature of the ZP clubs’ warm up games was that they often fielded more than one team on a weekend. Wasps, Northampton, Bristol all made use of squad strength in playing simultaneous games

Last season the Guiness Premiership attracted 1.3m spectators. The Celtic Legaue – with two few teams – attracted 571,000. The English are expecting 100,000 specatators for the opening week. What number will turn out on a Friday evening for the launch of the Magners League?

Pre-season Results

Cardiff 41 Worcester 17
Cardiff 3 Bristol 20
Northampton 14 Llanelli 22
Llanelli 19 Gloucester 7
Leinster 10 London Irish 25
Gloucester 29 Llanelli 22
Glasgow 13 Newcastle 7
Rotherham 0 Connacht 49
Dax 24 Leinster 5
Cornish Pirates 6 Dragons 20
Munster 18 Leicester 26
Narbonne 35 Connacht 29
Dragons 3 Bath 12
Ospreys 24 Harlequins 14
Edinburgh 61 Heriots FP 7
Borders 7 Ulster 36
Sale 30 Edinburgh 14
Ulster 26 Rotherham 14

Zurich teams’ warm up games

Bath 61 Parma 0
Bath 31 Plymouth 17
Bristol 43 Ebbw Vale 15
Clermont 26 Harlequins 17
Coventry 22 Bristol 54
Gloucester 14 Sarances 24
Bourgoin 19 Harlequins 13
Leicester 39 Touloon 19
Neath 24 Bristol 21
Northampton 68 Treviso 0
Saracens 38 Rotherham 24
Biarritz 20 Sale 38
Beziers 27 Sale 25
Perpignan 12 Sale 16
Wasps 56 Calivsano 5
Wasps 46 Blackheath 14
Wasps vs Borders
Worcester 35 Viadana 15

Other games

Agen 18 CS Bourgoin Jallieu 6
Stade Toulousain 35 Castanet 13
Stade Toulousain 24 Brive 9

Complacency

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Cardiff have a long tradition of failing to perform in Europe, and the recent defeat at Headingly was very much part of this tradition. And it really is the performance that fans endure – not the loss. The famous capitulation at Gloucester five years ago mirrored the performance against Leeds as a shambolic ramble took the pitch and put in one of the most feeble and half-hearted performances you are ever likely to see.

The defeat at Biarritz two years ago was by a team hugely superior in every facet. Cardiff – by contrast – were a mixture of youngsters struggling manfully to compete. The best coach in the world could have been leading that squad and he would have struggled.

But the performance on Saturday was all the more dreadful given the abject weakness of the opposition. Leeds are heading for English rugby’s second division. None of the back row – Parkes, Thomas and Morgan – would get in a Welsh professional team and their mixture of has-been Scots with overpaid southern hemisphere geriatrics feeding their pension funds are consistently walloped in the Guiness Premiership. There is simply no comparison with the Gloucester team of 2001 and the Biarritz team of 2003.

Historical Perspective

The inability to learn from previous mistakes and to react is a classic indicator either ineptitude or complacency. This is the third major game in as many matches where Young has failed to coach his players to improve their performance at the breakdown. Against Llanelli, Perpignan and now Leeds, a failure to commit players to the breakdown gifts the opposition the ball. Not too long ago, Cardiff were leaking penalties at this facet of play, but now Young’s coaching has gone too far the other way. What’s the best way to stop giving penalties? Don’t compete!

We’re just not good enough

So why is that then Dai? Is it because the players aren’t good enough, the team isn’t good enough or the coaching staff isn’t good enough? Let’s start with the pack. Well, four of the pack that played against Leeds are likely to start against England – TRT, Sidoli, Williams and Gethin. Three of this quartet featured in the team that defeated Australia. So, Dai, are you trying to tell us that the Leeds pack is better than the Australian pack?

So the team isn’t good enough? You mean as individuals or as a unit? Well, as fans have rarely seen the individuals playing as a unit, then it’s difficult to comment. Unit skills against Leeds were dreadful. The lineout was a shambles and back play haphazard and lacking in any tactical variation. Sure Cardiff weren’t good enough – any fool can read the scoreboard! The question is “why”?

The ability to perform on the day

No supporter complains when the team is beaten by better opponents. When Cardiff lost at Wasps, sure people were unhappy about the manner of victory, but few of us seriously expected a win. But what makes supporter fume is a lack of application and commitment – some call is passion – on the day. For the Headingly game, there must have been around 1,000 Cardiff supporters in the ground. Most would have traveled up from Cardiff – a round trip of 700 miles. Some came on the supporters bus, others in minibuses, and some with their kids. Now taking your kids for nine hours in a car on a Sunday isn’t an easy commitment! Then there’s the money spent on petrol, tickets – accommodation in some cases – food, entertaining the kids. All this takes more than a little application and commitment.

Supporters have every right to ask whether the players on the pitch showed sufficient application and commitment.

Frankly speaking, the collective commitment on Sunday was insulting. The team lacked hunger and aggression as a unit. Their commitment to the tackle was dreadful – most players waiting for the ball carrier to hit them, rather than to attack the ball carrier. There was no sense of urgency to support the ball carrier on the few occasions when Cardiff did go forward.

The way teams chase kicks is often a very good way to judge the professionalism and application of a side. This is a skill you can teach kids – it’s not inherently difficult but a good benchmark for how the team is working together. Good sides chase the kick in a line across the pitch, but throughout the game Cardiff simply failed to work together. The kicker and Powell were often the only two in a dog leg attempt at defence that was easily beaten. There are very few clearer examples of the poor discipline and lack of mental application within the team than this simple skill.

Lack of ambition at the club

“I’m certainly not going to get rid of him Dai Young. We are damn lucky to have him”

Cardiff chairman, Peter Thomas saying that Young is the best he can get

Let’s try and ignore the propaganda that’s pumped out from Thomson House and Llandaff, and look at what ambition the club has. When Peter Thomas says Young won’t get the sack, that means he believes Young is the best they can get. He believes that Young is getting the best out of the players, the team is coached well and Young’s team of coaches are best of the club

Sure Thomas can talk about signing better players and we’d all like to see that, but a coach’s job is to get the best our of the players he has. Can anyone say that Young did that at Headingly?

Clearly Thomas and Young believe that this is the best we can hope for. They look for excuses at every opportunity – and their not alone in this, by the way. Lyn Jones and Paul Turner are full of excuses. Blame every one else other than your own failure to deliver. So Thomas and Young think the only way to improve things is to sign better players.

But isn’t real ambition about pushing players to perform? Isn’t it about challenging existing players to improve? Sure they will come up against better individuals, but shouldn’t the team – as a unit – be able to defeat oppositions who play as individuals?

Dai Young – Peter Thomas

poodle

Why does Thomas defend Young’s inadequacies so vehemently? Clearly that is because Young is the sort of coach that Thomas wants. Now why would that be? Young is everything Thomas wants in a coach – he never complains about a lack of support in the press, he’s happy to let other board members dabble in the signing of players, his placid persona fits exactly with Thomas’ ego. Thomas does not want another coach at CAP because any strong minded leader would clearly challenge Thomas’ position.

Coaches want the best players to work with and build the team. So let’s look at what’s happening at CAP on the player/recruitment side. You may think that the signing of Lomu was commercial genius but that was not down to anything actively done by Cardiff RFC, let alone Young as coach. The Lomu deal was set up by Steve Hansen – Peter Thomas was on a golf course at the time and knew nothing about it! Hansen called Norster and offered him the deal – all the club had to do was sign.

Lee Thomas’ imminent move to Sale comes as a direct failure of the club to recognize his talent over the grossly ineffective Macleod. Against Gloucester last season, Thomas showed his potential and more importantly his mental toughness. He underlined that again against Leeds with the best performance of any of the back line. But players with mental toughness are not what the coach wants – more poodles please!

Quinnell is not being offered another contract for next season. So yet another player with a passion for the club and a hard edge so sorely lacking in the pack. Hence Young’s failure to give the big man a start this season and hence why Cardiff are so often overpowered in the maul.

The signing of Matthew J Watkins – not a bad player – is another mystery. Players get touted around the clubs in an effort to boost their salaries – as happened with Stephen Jones – but surely the coach should be making a shopping list of what he needs, not allowing Norster to sign up players just because they become available?

The Future

Perhaps the expectations of fans always outweighs the reality of clubs to deliver, but in this case the fans are clearly getting short changed. We don’t expect a squad of word class players, but we expect the squad to improve on their weakness, approach every game with a self belief that anything can happen on the day and play their hearts out on the pitch.

We fans know the limitations of the present squad. We can also see the cliques emerging which means players like Lee Thomas have no option but to leave the club having suffered the public humiliation of being told that Macleod is a better player than he. But we also know that Leeds are a poor side – Llanelli stuffed them and they are at the bottom of the league …. that is no accident.

Players at Cardiff are underachieving – ignore what Young says about not being in the top eight in Europe. What counts is the performance on the day – defeating Leeds – not whether Cardiff should be in the top eight. At Headingly, the selection was wrong, the performance abysmal and the application dreadful.

Talk is of the players working hard, but clearly not enough of that is happening on the pitch! Young players like Czekaj and Macleod are simply not improving at the necessary rate. Others – like Nick Robinson – are betraying mental weakness which reflects the complacency at the club. Players are being sheltered instead of being toughened by the club. This can be the only explanation for insulting away performances which mock the efforts made by so many supporters.

And this is the biggest problem Cardiff face – the lack of professionalism of the players.

This stems from the culture at the club where a weak coach is protected by a dabbling multi-millionaire who keeps his money in his back pocket. What the club needs is a coach who is far far tougher and far more demanding of his players. What sort of message does it send out when Young says Cardiff are not good enough to compete with the top eight in Europe? Are Leeds in the top eight??

Will Dai Young be coach next season? Too right he will!

European Nightmare

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european_nightmare_s
As the disjointed and heavily disrupted Celtic League season draws to a close, all Cardiff supporters will be frantically trying to work out what is going to happen at the end of the season.

What is perhaps even more bewildering, is that players are signing extensions to their contracts without the certainty of in what competition they will be playing next season.

If current form continues, there is a real danger than Cardiff could fail to qualify as of right for next season’s European Cup. Worse still, could fail to qualify for a play off place against the third Italian side.

Next year’s European Cup

For the 2005 / 2006 season, the 24th place will go to the winners of a play-off between the highest placed non-Heineken Cup qualifying team from Scotland, Ireland or Wales in the 2004 / 2005 Celtic League and the third-placed side in the 2004 / 2005 Italian Championship. This game will be played the weekend after the 2005 Heineken Cup final at a venue in Italy.

With the final of the European Cup to be played at Murrayfield on Sunday 22 May, the Italian game will be on the weekend of 29th May – the week of Whitsun Bank Holiday. In a further twist, this will be a week before Wales’ game against Canada, and the week before the Lions opening game against the Bay of Plenty. Could be an interesting tug of war over a number of players – Martyn Williams and possibly Shanklin and Gethin Jenkins in New Zealand, and a whole host of others in Canada. Will Ruddock try to force players to rest? If he does, and Cardiff comply, then the team playing in Italy could be seriously weakened to the point of rendering them underdogs.

Italian Club sides
Treviso
Viadana
Calvisano
SKG Gran Rugby
Catania
Rovigo
Parma
Padova
Leonessa

The best Cardiff can realistically hope for this season is to qualify for this play off game (over the season, the table doesn’t lie and if that’s where Cardiff finish, then they don’t deserve better). The latest status in Italy’s Super 10 competition shows Calvisano in third place. But the competition is only half completed and there are nine more games to play. Should we start planning a trip to Italy? Well, Calvisano play at Brescia – between Milan and Verona. Ryan Air fly to Brescia pretty regularly from Stanstead – that’s the good news. The bad news is that we won’t even know who Cardiff will play until mid May – so how do we organize our flights?

Should Calvisano (or the team who finally finishes third in Italy) face the game on the weekend of the 29th May, then they will benefit from fixtures right up to the weekend of the qualifying game. Moffett and the WRU have failed to provide a fixture list that will give the bottom finishing Welsh team such a luxury. Should Cardiff fail to qualify for the Celtic Cup competition, they will play their last fixture six weeks before the Italian game.

If Cardiff can reach 8th place in the Celtic League, they will play the first game of the Celtic Cup on the last weekend of April – still one month before the play off game.

The run in

The next home fixture will be against Munster, and like far too many games this season, the policy of the respective Unions is the first thing to consider when trying to predict the result. Will either club be allowed to field their best XV? Last season, Munster were thrashed 60-14 at CAP, but earlier this season Changalang-supported Munster gave Cardiff a going over. The only good news for Cardiff is that with such a big gap in the fixture list, there’s an opportunity for the walking wounded to recover. Next up is a trip to Stradey. Cardiff have won only once in Stradey since September 30th 1995 (but what a victory!)

With only one victory away from home all season, it’s unlikely that Cardiff will win in Glasgow either (where they’ve at least one twice in the last five years), but the final two games should see maximum points with near to a first XV available.

Given the state of the league table, Cardiff’s best hope is to catch Connacht – Ulster are too far ahead, as are Llanelli. There are two key Connacht fixtures approaching – one against Llanelli and one against Leinster. But once more it seems that the Union will have final say over the competition. With the Leinster game mid-Six Nations, it seems likely that Leinster will be forced to face their second XV and given their lack of strength in depth, Connacht should win this game. Should they gain victory against Llanelli and Leinster, it seems unlikely that Cardiff will quality for that game on the weekend of May 29th.

For the club to finish 8th, they must finish above Ulster or Connacht and Edinburgh which is more than unlikely. With victory in Stradey and Glasgow very unlikely, Munster at home even less likely, then victories over Borders and Ulster seem all that’s left. Cardiff will need results to go their way to even qualify for the game in Italy, but to qualify for the Celtic Cup is unlikely.

Cardiff don’t qualify – so what?

Well, this time everyone suffers. All money from the Heineken Cup will be equally shared equally amongst all four professional teams, and next season that means completely equal funding (and the Ospreys will loose the £0.5m funding advantage next season). So ERC money will be reduced, so less money will flow into the game in Wales. Lack of high level competition means that Cardiff’s internationals could spend the peak of next season playing games against Spanish or Portuguese sides (and all this the season before the next world cup). That will hardly bring the punters through the gates, and so revenue from attendances will also fall.

Sadly, Moffett and his chums have agreed to a further impoverishment of Welsh rugby with the decision to allow only three teams of right into the Heineken Cup. A few seasons ago, Wales had five.

So what led Moffett to give away a place for one of Wales’ teams at the top level of the sport? “The WRU is very grateful for the on-going support it has received from its ERC partners. This is a very important decision for our regions and we are delighted with the outcome for not only next season, but also for the format put in place for future qualification,” said Moffett.

So reduced revenue for the sport (from the ERC and Sky), reduced gates and reduced exposure for Wales’ top players to top European competition and what does Moffett say – “The WRU is very grateful”. What sort of madness is this?

 

Remaining fixtures in the Celtic League

Border Reviers

Ospreys vs Borders (L)
Newport vs Borders (L)
Edinburgh vs Borders (L)
Ulster vs Borders (L)
Borders vs Munster (L)
Cardiff vs Borders (L)

Ulster Rugby

Newport vs Ulster (L)
Ulster vs Glasgow (W)
Munster vs Ulster (L)
Ulster vs Borders (W)
Cardiff vs Ulster (L)
Ulster vs Llanelli (W)

Connacht Rugby

Connacht vs Llanelli (W)
Edinburgh vs Connacht (L)
Connacht vs Leinster (W)
Connacht vs Ospreys (L)
Newport vs Connacht (L)

Cardiff Blues

Cardiff vs Munster (L)
Llanelli vs Cardiff (L)
Glasgow vs Cardiff (L)
Cardiff vs Ulster (W)
Cardiff vs Borders (W)

European Challenge Cup Teams

 

2004 / 2005

10 French (Seeds: Brive, Beziers, Montferrand, Montpellier, Agen, Pau. Non seeds: Narbonne, Grenoble, Auch, Bayonne)

5 English (Seeds – Sale Sharks, London Irish, Saracens, Leeds Tykes. Non seeds: Worcester)

8 Italian (Seeds: Viadana, Rugby Parma. Non seeds: Rugby Rovigo, Petrarca Padova, GrAN Parma, L’Aquila, Leonessa, Amatori Catania)

1 Irish (Seed: Connacht)

1 Scottish (Seed: The Borders)

2 Spanish (Non seeds: Cetransa El Salvador, UC Madrid)

1 Portugal (Non seeds: RC Coimbra)

How a siege mentality drives customers away

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Over the year’s we’ve been big critics of the club and the way it almost seems to set out to deliberately alienate fans. Full credit to Dai Young for answering points raised by fans – this is a first – but once more, even when trying to take one step forward, the club has succeeded in taking two steps backwards.

Cardiff supporters are rightfully justified in feeling indignant about some dreadful performances by Cardiff under Dai Young’s leadership. Who can forget the humiliation at home to Northampton last season, the slaughter in Biarritz? Fans pay good money to follow and support the team and feel let down when substandard performances humiliate their efforts to be real fans.

So let’s look at Dai’s points.

  • “I don’t have to justify myself to anyone.” Criticism of Dai is not done by true Cardiff supporters.

Here begins the first lesson. Never ever openly criticise your customers. They “buy” your product, and pay your wages. You may think they are imbeciles and that you know far more about everything and anything than they do, but never EVER show an arrogant streak. Comments like, “I am answerable to the supporters”, “I fully understand the fans frustrations”, “We have to improve – and improve quickly” will find a more sympathetic ear.

  • “Critics of Cardiff have no sense of reality.”

Clearly Dai’s sense of reality is different from those who complain about Cardiff’s performances this season (and last). Cardiff fans believe defeating the worst team in the Celtic League, a team that conceded over 100 points in their previous two Celtic League games is a realistic expectation. Dai does not. What does that say about how low Dai is aiming this season?

  • “Putting Cardiff “on top” will not happen overnight.

We’ve seen a constant slide in Cardiff’s performances over the last four seasons. From European Quarter Finalists (hey! We even made the final, once!), to European no-hopers in the space of three to four seasons. What on earth makes Dai think that the fans are expecting to be “on top”? A win away to the worst team in the Celtic League would do fine for starters, and to arrest the constant decline would be nice. “On top”? That’ll be the day!

  • “When the full squad is available, things will turn around. I will not blame the players.

When the full squad is available, snow will fall in the Sahara. All squads have injuries. Well conditioned squads have fewer injuries. Draw your own conclusions. As for not blaming the players, well, a good coach would never say we lost because the players are rubbish. But, a smarter coach would say, “Our performances have been sub standard. The players know that if they do not improve, we will face severe problems this season.”

  • “Hardly any of the signings have played yet.

This is an interesting one. Fester has played and his crass behaviour let himself, the club and the supporters down. Gareth Williams hasn’t played because he was injured. Wasn’t this checked before he signed? Andy Moore took one games to get injured – conditioning? Why was Shanklin signed given the weakness elsewhere in the squad and the obvious fact he’ll barely play for Cardiff this season? Crompton – likewise – is another sick note specialist. Dan Baugh was offered a new two year contract. Why? Isn’t it obvious he’s past his best? Likewise for Matt Allen – both good soldiers for the club, but injured and lacking the impact of old.

  • “Last season, I didn’t see it (losing away from home) as a particular problem.

I really can’t follow this comment at all. Three words for your Dai – Northampton, Ulster and Biarritz. There, now please explain again why you can’t see this as a particular problem.

  • “True fans should take time to see what is happening at Cardiff.

How much time, Dai? Given the decline over the last four seasons, and this being your second year at Cardiff, how much time do you need to beat the worst club in the Celtic League?

  • “When the World Cup is over, we will be more than a match for anyone.

What at? Rugby? Come on Dai. Wake up! Every other team in the League will be strengthened. The vast majority have far more players at the World Cup than Cardiff!

 

I’m in a minority in that I’m prepared to give Dai the benefit of the doubt. Blaming him for the ills at the club severely misses the point. The comments made in the press show how poor the club is at speaking with supporters, and how incapable they are of attracting new ones. The lack of dialogue between fans and the club has worsened. As I’ve said before, familiar faces are no longer there on the terraces.

It’s about time the club came clean and stated it’s aspirations for this season, otherwise fans will become even more disenchanted with substandard performances against pretty dire opposition.

Good luck against Edinburgh, Dai! You going to need it!

 

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