Cardiff Blues vs Scarlets Preview

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.

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