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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.