Category Archives: Previews

Crystal ball and navel gazing

Lyon Olympique Universitaire vs Cardiff Blues

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Head to Head

This will be only the second fixture between Lyon and Cardiff following the fixture in October last year when the home team ran out 29-19 winners. At home, Lyon are a formidable outfit, having lost only twice at home this season, narrowly to La Rochelle and Toulouse. They sit mid-table in the Top14, having finished 10th last season following promotion from ProD2 where they spent a year during the 2015-16 season.

The Coaches

Pierre Mignoni played for seven clubs during a long career in French rugby, eventually ending his playing days with Toulon in 2011. He spent four years at the club post-retirement as a coach, before moving to Lyon in the summer of 2015. Since then, he’s brought stability to the club and amassed a very impressive 76% home win ratio. At Cardiff, Danny Wilson is coming to the end of his time with the club, and will want to improve on his overall 48% win rate. In a tight group, his team has only scored 9 tries (and only conceded 8). No other team in this season’s competition has scored fewer tries.

The Referee

33 year old Matt Carley will referee Cardiff for the third time in his career this weekend, but this will be the first time he will do so in a major fixture. 62% of games in the English premiership this season have resulted in home wins, and that’s also Carley’s overall record of home wins. This will be his 10th game in the Challenge Cup. He’s averaging just under 18.5 penalties per game in the Premiership, pretty much the same as last season. But when it comes to carding teams, Carley has been far from shy this season. So far, he’s doing so at a rate of 1.7 cards per game – with more than twice as many being awarded against the away team.

Attack

Cardiff have yet to score four tries in the Pro14 this season. Twelve times last season they scored three tries or more, and only once went on to score a bonus point in three games. Against Toulouse, Cardiff carried the ball 479m – their third highest carry figure this season. Meanwhile, in the Top14, Lyon average around 320m per game. With ball in hand, Cardiff play more of a kicking game than their French opponents – Lyon averaging 19 kicks a game whereas Cardiff’s figure is 20% higher. There is a fairly consistent difference over the last two seasons.

Set Piece

Lyon’s scrum is one of the more impressive in the Pro14 with a 92% success rate. However, in the Challenge Cup, they’ve been less successful, registering only 88%. Cardiff – meanwhile – have lost only one scrum on their put in so far in the competition. Lyon’s lineout success rate of 91% ranks above their visitors who have only managed an 85% in success rate in the competition. In the reverse fixture in Wales, Lyon returned a 100% success rate from 8 feeds to the scrum and the visitors inflicted Cardiff’s only loss against the head in this season’s competition.

Defence

Cardiff have the strongest home record of any of the teams featuring in the Challenge Cup this season – having won over 91% of their home games with their last defeat being in November 2015 when they lost to Harlequins.  Lyon also have an impressive home record, having only lost twice at home in the competition with their last defeat being to the Ospreys in October 2016. In Lyon’s last four games, the team has recorded a tackle success rate of only around 80%, so they’ll want to improve on this for the visit of Cardiff. As for the Welshmen, their tackle stats reflect the up-and-down nature of their performances. Overall, Cardiff have a completion rate of 89% in the Challenge Cup this season, whereas Lyon’s 85% sees them in the lower half of the table. Missing 28 and 29 tackles in away games against Toulouse and Sale lie behind this percentage. Against Connacht in September, Cardiff completed 233 tackles in the game – the most by any team in any fixture in European pro-rugby this season. They’ll need to replicate that commitment if they want to secure a victory in Lyon.

Discipline

Only Treviso and Munster have received more cards that Cardiff in the Pro14, and Cardiff’s discipline has deteriorated over the last two seasons. No team has been penalised more than Cardiff in the Pro14 with the team having conceded 138 penalties. Last season, Lyon’s discipline was amongst the best in France in the Top14, though this year, they remain mid-table. Interestingly enough, Lyon can match Cardiff as the most penalised team in France in the Top14, so it would seem that Carley is set for a busy evening.

Prediction

Last season, the visitors lost eleven games away from home – already this season, the figure stands at seven. However, in the Challenge Cup, Cardiff have won three out of their last five away games, with the failure to perform in Salford a real blight. When it comes to France, Cardiff have the best record of away wins amongst the professional clubs in Wales, but victories still remain a rarity. As with many French teams, they present a different proposition when playing at home. This game represents a dead rubber for both sides, but it will be Lyon’s desire to maintain their home record that will see them come away as victors in a closely fought game, 22-21.

Cardiff Blues vs Stade Toulousain

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Head to Head

No game between Cardiff and Toulouse can take place without evoking memories of that first European Cup final back in 1996. A bitterly cold day when most other fixtures were called off, the game was played at The National Stadium as it then was. Let’s not dwell too long on the result. Since then, Toulouse have enjoyed less than fruitful visits to the Welsh capital, having lost all three subsequent games. In October 2000, another barnstorming performance by Dan Baugh led the team to a 26-17 victory. Nine years later, it was Cardiff again running out victors in a European Cup Quarter Final. And then in the following season, Cardiff chalked up a victory at the soccer stadium in Leckwith. So all four previous games played between these two teams in Wales were actually played on four different pitches.

The Coaches

For a remarkable 22 years between 1993 and 2015 Guy Novès was the head coach at Toulouse. From there, he went on to coach the national team and his place was taken by Ugo Mola. Whilst Mola has build a formidable fortress in Toulouse, his team’s away form is less than impressive, having only won eight times in over two years. Away wins are a rarity in the geographically challenged Top 14, though interestingly enough, Toulouse have one of the better away records in the competition. Danny Wilson’s tenure at Cardiff is coming to a close and he probably has less than a dozen games left as coach. Whilst progress has been made under his tutelage, his team so far remain nearly men – close, but not close enough. His 47% win ratio is less than impressive and already this season his team has conceded 60 tries – in 7 out of the previous 14 season, more than for an entire season.

The Referee

29 year old Ian Tempest is one of the youngest referees in the Aviva Premiership. He’s refereed Cardiff three times, including a disappointingly weak performance in Montpellier two seasons ago. In 11 games this season, Tempest has brandished two reds and six yellow cards. Although he’s yet to take charge of 40 Aviva Premiership fixtures and so does not appear on our top 10 list, a 72.5% home win ratio would make him one of the biggest homers in the league.

Attack

Toulouse are a mid-table team in the Top14 this season. They are averaging 2.3 tries scored per game against Cardiff’s 2.72. The visitors offloading game is one of the best in the Top 14, averaging 13 per fixture. This is in start contrast to Cardiff’s figure of 8 per game. This trend is in-keeping with the differences between the two leagues.

Set Piece

At the scrum, both teams boast 90% plus success rates , though Toulouse’s 82% success in the lineout is less than impressive.  At the corresponding fixture in Toulouse, the home team lost a number of strikes against the head, registering a 65% success ratio.

Defence

A disastrous 2016-17 season saw Cardiff conceded almost 3.5 tries per game on average. Although the defence has improved a little this season, they are still conceding more than three a game. There’s been a steady deterioration in Toulouse’s defence in recent years, but they are only conceding 2.11 tries per game this season. Toulouse have a steady – if unspectacular – tackle record, as do Cardiff. Last season – no doubt still suffering from the transition from Novès to Mola, they suffered one of their worst defensive performances in recent years, conceding over 550 points in the Top 14.

Discipline

If supporters are sometimes frustrated by the way yellow cards distort games in the Pro14, we should sympathise with followers of the Top14. On average, one card per game is issued by officials in the Pro14 – a total of 91 so far this season. In the Top 14, 1.6 cards – on average – area awarded per game. Toulouse – like Cardiff – area serial offenders, so it’ll be surprising if Mr Tempest does not send someone from the pitch this weekend.

Prediction

Both these teams are mid-table dwellers – evenly matched across the pitch (as the closeness of the result in Toulouse indicated). The visitors will secure a bonus point, but will ultimately fall short and lose 17-10.

Ospreys vs Cardiff Blues

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Head to Head

Cardiff have a truely miserable record at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea. One Anglo-Welsh Cup victory aside, the visitors have only won once, way back in 2005. Victories alone don’t describe the home team’s dominance. They have outscored Cardiff by more than three to one in tries scored, and by almost two to one in points scored. Two of the last three games have resulted in victories of more than 20 points for the home team. Last season, the home team ran out 46-24 victors – Cardiff’s equal worst defensive effort of the season (matched only by games in Kingsholm and Paris). With some sense of familiarity, last season’s game once again featured second half territorial domination by Cardiff coupled with an inability to break down the home team’s defence.

The Coaches

Facing the double whammy of playing in Swansea and enduring another game refereed by Nigel Owens, Danny Wilson has a very tough challenge preparing his team mentally for this game. Despite dominating the Scarlets (again) in both territory and possession, a lack of invention and penetration meant victory proved once more elusive. Meanwhile, Steve Tandy is approaching his fifth anniversary as coach of the Ospreys. He’s enjoyed a miserable start to the season, though with three victories in the last four games (and an unlucky defeat in Llanelli), are there signs that his team is turning the corner?

The Referee

Nigel Owens has refereed this fixture on no fewer than seven out of the last twelve times it has been played. Does this seem like a healthy state of affairs? In the last eleven games that 46 year old Owens has refereed Cardiff, the capital city-based team has won only once. In the last five games, he’s issued 5 cards to Cardiff players and none to the opposition. That sinking feeling that Cardiff fans feel when they see that Owens is about to ruin another game seems never-ending. Has the panto-season started yet?

Attack

The Ospreys have the worst offloading game in the Pro14 this season – averaging only 6 per game. Only Treviso and the Kings have run fewer meters on average per game. By way of contrast, Cardiff players have made more breaks than those from any other team in the league, but as we know, that means nothing if they don’t result in scores. And scoring tries is something very alien to the Ospreys. This season, they’ve managed only 18 in the league – the lowest total of any team. It’s difficult to describe this game as anything other than a basement battle when it comes to attacking prowess.

Set Piece

The Ospreys’ scrum ranks as one of the poorest in the league with an 86% success rate – but the visitor’s is hardly better at 89%. Lineout data shows that no team has won more lineouts than the Ospreys – perhaps a product of the tactical approach of the opposition they have faced. But nevertheless the Swansea-based team show a 93% success rate in this facet of play.

Defence

In the Scarlets game last week, five tackles were missed by two of Cardiff’s key players – Morgan and Anscombe. By some margin, it was Anscombe’s worst game of the season, and coming as it did against one of his team’s major rivals, questions will be raised as to his ability to perform on the big occasion. He also only carried the ball for a miserly 7m. By way of contrast, despite Morgan‘s weakness in defence, in attack he enjoyed an outstanding game – carrying the ball for an incredible 167 meters. He now stands head and shoulders above the rest in attacking effect.

Discipline

Cardiff’s propensity to conceded cards away from home must be a headache for Wilson. In six away games this season in the Pro14, they’ve conceded a yellow card in each game, and a further red thanks to Owen’s pedantry in Glasgow. They are also averaging 12.5 penalties a game away from home – with the Ospreys under seven at the Liberty. All the signs are there for further misery for fans of the visiting team.

Prediction

Despite the poor season the Ospreys are having, by almost any metric the visitors will struggle in this game. But, with the return from injury of many key players, they will come away with a losing bonus point, eventually going down 24-17.

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.

B&Bs v B&ABs

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This is the proper club derby, the one with the serious history dating back decades to when the two played each other four times a year or more. This is the old rivalry, this is the one that matters and this is the one that counts. Or at least it used to before plasticity in Newport and lunacy at Cardiff emasculated the fixture.

Still, never mind, let’s make the most of it as any victory over the Newport team, whatever fancy dress or stupid #eeeknockediton #limegreenfamily nonsense that surrounds it, is always to be savoured. It was always more sweet to go to Dave Parade and to win a knockout game so let’s hope that Saturday will bring back the more positive memories to overcome the pantomime set up surrounding the game.

At the core of this game is the fact that Cardiff should be good enough to win, even without key players like Cory Allen, Rhys Patchell and Adam Thomas. Well, two of those three anyway. What stands in their way is not so much the ability of the home team (who are always set up to play the underdog style of Cup rugby that helps in one offs, thanks to Lyn Jones’ love of kick and clap rugby) but the standard of coaching heaped upon this group all season.

The key part of the NGD game plan will be to win penalties from the driving line out. Cardiff have a real achilles heel in this area and the ease in which it was exposed by the NGD at BTSportCAP over Christmas will not be lost even on Lyn Jones. The driving line out will win penalties that Prydie can kick and it will also encourage the kick to the corner to go for the try. If Cardiff can hold out the driving line out in the first 30 minutes in order to stop that part of the home team’s gameplan then they will be some way to winning the game.

The next problem for Cardiff is the average number of points conceded per game. Since McIntosh was appointed as Defence Coach he has managed to produce a record equally as bad as his predecessor (who was sacked) and he appears to be less “The Chief” and more the leader of the Israelites out of Egypt in that he has coached his players to part like the Red Sea. This allows the NGD two key attack points to try out – the driving line out and the cunning plan of keeping the ball long enough and for enough phases until Cardiff’s defensive line predictably crumbles.

In return, Cardiff have little attacking shape. It’s true that they are capable of scoring some stunning tries and can maintain the ball for a large number of phases but all of that seems rather out of keeping, out of the norm, unpredictable. You don’t look at this Cardiff team and see where the tries will come from which means that Saturday is a big test for Gareth Anscombe. He looked to play pretty well at Dave Parade earlier this season but, for this game, he and Lloyd Williams must see the team home. Ideally, Cardiff will play a pick and drive game close to the breakdown in order to develop momentum as none can come from this team in the outside centre channel. Anscombe must send Evans, Smith and Cuthbert off short passes and into the NGD half back area. Key to that, of course, is the support play of Warburton and his fellow back row players.

We’d start with Vosawai at 8 to play the driving game, with Warburton and Jenkins on the flanks as these are the strongest players over the ball. It is in the contact area that this game will be won and the importance of controlling possession will be key. It’s cup rugby, so limited ambition and risk free rugby, which Cardiff can play pretty well. They must evoke the spirit of Wasps in 2010 and the way that Rush led that game if they are to prosper.

It will be tight and it will likely be determined by JP Doyle, the referee. His interpretation of the breakdown area and the front row binding could necessarily bring the penalties that will decide the winning margin.

2014-5: A Season’s Preview

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So much has changed since the end of last season and yet so much has remained the same. Whilst the WRU still block the progression of the professional game by underpaying for services from RRW and overpaying for services from Barclays Bank, the future of the professional game remains in the balance. Will Wales have proper professional teams or will they pay lip service to the idea that a strong professional game will ensure a strong international team? And, perhaps more importantly, who still actually cares? The impasse has gone on so long that many have just given up on it.

Add to that fact that we are still stuck in the ProSiambles league spawned by the dreadful Celtic Accord, things are looking gloomy. However, there is a shining light of hope that has been delivered by the appointment of Mark Hammett from New Zealand.  Let’s be honest, he has joined the club at the best possible time as it can only be onwards and upwards from the dreadful reign of Phil Davies but further hope was provided by his first signing being a new Strength and Conditioning Coach – Paul Downes.  We had banged on so often last year about the lack of physicality in the Cardiff team and how it was so negatively affecting the team, so the good news is that somebody else also had spotted this obvious fact.

But before we look into the future, we must first mention Owen Williams and his terrible accident.  “Stay Strong for Ows” is the caption and we all buy into that and wish him well for his future. We certainly hope to see him back at CAP some day soon.

Along with Hammett has come, so far, another couple of Kiwis – Jarrod Hoeata and Welshman Kiwi Gareth Anscombe.  The former is a player who will come in very useful if they can decide whether he is a lock or a blindside, the latter will probably spend more time with Team Wales than with Cardiff. Hoeata will land soon in Wales, but Anscombe won’t be here until the end of October.

The other key new signings (again, so far, as there are a number of non-Welsh spaces available) include Tavis Knoyle, George Watkins, Manoa Vosawai, Josh Turnbull, Craig Mitchell and some ex-Pontypridd players. In one way these signings offer a hope of improvement on last season because of the concentration on season-long available players but the lack of quality of signing means that there must be a number of new non-Welsh qualified signings to make up the shortfall.

To succeed at ProSiambles level requires the very basics of rugby – a simple but effective set piece, a good kicking game, players to get over the gain line and a consistency of selection. With the signings made over the summer (including the coaching staff) there is a hint that those basics could be in place. However, so many new signings means that time must be given and we probably won’t be seeing the “proper” Cardiff until about Christmas time, just before the best players leave to play International Rugby…….

That said, we should see an improvement on last season. We should see more games won (because of a better conditioned and more settled squad) and we should see a progression into the knockout stages of the European Mickey Mouse Cup as only London Irish stand in the way of that. The question is whether Cardiff will qualify for the proper competition through their finish in the ProSiambles, but it is too soon to judge that with so many new ingredients into the team. There’s righteous optimism in place, but it’s very cautious.

First Choice 23 (will it ever be seen?):

Anscombe, Cuthbert, Allen, Hewitt, Watkins, Patchell, Williams, Vosawai, Jenkins, Turnbull, Hoeata, Paulo, Mitchell, Rees, Jenkins

Filise, Dacey, Andrews, Reed, Navidi, Knoyle, Fish, Smith

Tis the Season to Be Jolly

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As we enter what should be the most enjoyable and crucial part of the season, it is matters off the field which dominate thoughts more than the up coming derby games of the holiday season. Yet, in a strange way, the fight with the Union off the field has brought the four teams together to promote these derby matches better than ever before and it seems to be working as ticket sales are very good. We even have a sponsor for the games as Domino Pizza are putting up some cash – perfect for the couch potato follower of the game in Wales.

These upcoming games (Ospreys at home and then our friends to the East at both home and away) should be about finalising qualification positions for next season’s European competitions but, sadly, they will not be. Either all four of our teams will be playing some dreadful Pro12 Cup with a few disinterested French teams, or we’ll all happily be playing the English. The latter, please, for me.

However, there is still some bragging rights and pride to play for plus there’s a rumour that Gatland might actually watch some of them as Irish chat shows aren’t broadcasting over Christmas, so there may be some Six Nations squad places up for grabs.

The last two games have seen Cardiff knock Glasgow out of the European Cup and many are proclaiming that things have turned around since the bad times of the first half in Exeter. I’m not quite sure of this yet, however, as the Munster game proved that there is still a soft underbelly in this Cardiff team that can be attacked through close driving rugby. Glasgow, thankfully, barely played that way in either game but they did have some success at it when they tried it.

I think that it is pretty obvious that both Newport and the Ospreys will know how to beat Cardiff. First up, the Ospreys will rumble it up the park, play for territory and bring their centres back close to the back row. They will play off their scrum half, bring runners on the ball and Tipuric will have a field day as Warburton is still carrying a book signing injury. This will be a real test for Cardiff and a true measurement of how McIntosh has improved things since Exeter. The potential strength of the Ospreys pack, even if it is missing Hibbard and Adam Jones, should see the visitors win by more than a converted try if they play that way.

Newport GD, on the other hand, don’t really have the pack to do that. They don’t have the ball carrying options or the talent or togetherness to drive consistently close to the breakdown in order to create the gaps in the defensive line. The games against this lot, both home and away, will likely be a lesson in madness, in unstructured play and in indiscipline, to the point where the games will likely be won by individual talent and goal kicking (the latter being referee dependent).

The game at home will be labelled “entertaining” as the surface will allow a chuckabout and, potentially, something of a point fest. Cardiff really should be winning both games but the injury list will mean that the workload on the players of the last few weeks will catch up with them for the away game. In other words, this series is likely to end one all.

The shame is that these series of games aren’t as important as they should be and, hopefully, aren’t as meaningful as they will be next season.

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