Cardiff

k.o. time: 3:00 pm

5 January, 2002

Cardiff Arms Park

Spectators: 9,000

Clermont
referee
Tony Spreadbury
7
/10
Always tried to keep the game flowing and didn't miss too much. Huge penalty count in the home side's favour and some bizarre yellow card decisions - Fester should have seen red and why did the French flanker get a yellow?
weather
Damp
worth annoying the wife factor
9
/10
our man of the match
Gethin Rhys Williams
scorers
Gethin Rhys Williams (2)
Iestyn Harris (2)
Iestyn Harris (4)
our choice for next week

vs Northampton

k.o. time: 3:00 pm

12 January, 2002

Franklin's Gardens

15
Gethin Rhys Williams
14
Craig Hudson
13
Jamie Robinson
12
Pieter Muller
11
Anthony Sullivan
10
Iestyn Harris
9
Robert Howley
8
Emyr Lewis
7
Martyn Williams
6
Rob Appleyard
5
John Tait
4
Craig Quinnell
3
Dai Young
2
Jon Humphreys
1
Peter Rogers

Cardiff made hard work of beating a Montferrand team who made as many errors as the home team did on their recent visit to France. With light drizzle falling, ASM would have been happier playing with a bar of soap - such was the frequency of their handling errors. The same excellent forward drives were there, but the back play was static and the half backs slow. In contrast, Cardiff found some real drive up front, with Tait and Appleyard making hug contributions. In the back line, Harris continues on his steep learning curve and a match winning performance from Rhys Williams well and truly laid to rest his disastrous performance in November.

A nigh on capacity crowd were more than pumped up for the visit of the tournament's joint favourites, but as the Blue Blacks ran onto the pitch they seems curiously flat. Before the Northampton game there was a really fire in the player's eyes, but on a greasy surface and with the drizzle falling, there seemed slow to start. Predictably enough, ASM started with some hard, direct running and worked space wide for their top class wingers. Bory looked dangerous every time he had the ball and fortunately for Cardiff, this wasn't too often.

As predicted, ASM came to kick the ball - put it behind Cardiff's wingers and pressurise the home team into errors. Whereas in France Rhys Williams' game went to pieces, in Cardiff he was a rock in defence. Merceron peppered the corners with probing kicks, but Rhys stood firm and looked a far more accomplished professional. The big French pack had obviously come to work on Cardiff's lineout. Picking Boome at blind side was all about setting four jumpers against two, but the home team's lineout was truly excellent under severe pressure. Cardiff can still only rely on Tait and Quinnell, but the accuracy of Humph's throwing was top class and despite the pressure, the bois put in a faultless performance in the first twenty minutes in this key facet of the game.

The scrum - where we'd hoped for more success - was again loose and disorganised. Fielding their second choice hooker, ASM were allowed to stand in the scrum to halt Cardiff's progress, and Spencer failed to make any headway against a superior opponent. The loose and moving target that ASM presented to Cardiff in the scrum was a test too tough for the home front row to cope with. Let's hope Northampton produce a more static target on Saturday.

French indiscipline led to a stream of penalties and presented Harris with some testing penalties which he converted. The game was tight with Cardiff choosing to use runners on Harris' shoulder mixed with tactical kicks from the outside half's boot. ASM's tactics were similar but they seemed more willing to spin the ball wide.

Tait and the French tight head got into a tussle on the half way line following a lineout where the Canadian failed to get off the ground. The result was a sin-binning for both parties - Spreadbury chose to bin both combatants throughout the game where any fighting took place. Flailing arms from the Canadian were met with a poorly direct head but, but the result was 14 vs 14. The extra space created gave both teams more room to attack, but it was Cardiff who proved the more dynamic. From one particularly impressive drive they were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty try as the French men pulled down a driving maul. Spreadbury's warning that the next one would be a penalty try gave the French the benefit of the doubt.

Appleyard was particularly impressive with his excellent support play and speed to the breakdown. More than that, he was also one of Cardiff's key ball carriers. By contrast, Martyn Williams was barely in the game in the first half and seemed very weak in the contact area.

The highlight of the first half was a piece of brilliance from Rhys Williams. At last coming to the outside half position he noticed the French were without their full back. Jimmy Marlu spent most of the game going AWOL and there was always plenty of space behind from turnover ball. This time Rhys spotted the gaping whole and put in a perfectly waited chip kick. Once in space, the Cowbridge boy had too much pace for the cover defence and some neat footballing skills later dived in close to the right upright. A classy try from a classy player.

The second half continued pretty much in the same vain as the first. Cardiff's lineout continued to function surprisingly well and the French backs continued to make unforced errors. The scrums were evenly awful and Emyr Lewis and Robert Howley managed to turn poor ball into French ball with some shambolic control at the back of a wheeling scrum. Lewis was totally outplayed by the excellent Elvis. Whilst the Frenchman made huge yardage, driving deep into the Welsh defence, Tarw spent the game scrambling around at the back of the scrum.

As the second half progressed, Cardiff maintained their territorial advantage finally choosing to play the tactical game by kicking deep into French territory. Thankfully, Harris was not shipping on poor ball to a startled back line - instead he was rifling in long kicks on the open side behind the wingers. There's still much for him to work on though. Some of his touch finders were embarrassing, and it's totally bewildering why Craig Morgan is not used more often to kick from defence. Surely this would help take some of the pressure from Harris' shoulders?

When he gets the ball in open play, he still looks uncertain, but there's definite signs of improvement. One area that is not improving is his place kicking. Two relatively simple penalties were missed in the third quarter which should have seen Cardiff steam away from the opposition. Instead, Merceron was always able to keep ASM within one or two scores with his place kicking skills.

As we reached the final quarter and the tension grew, Cardiff were finally able to cross the visitors' line for the second time in the game following some excellent work by that man again - Rhys Williams. The home team look far more potent when they're playing off the cuff and both tries came from excellent pieces of improvisation. Following some top class work by Martyn Williams at the tackle point, the ball was worked wide to Rhys Williams who worked that extra yard for Sullivan. Aware of his pace, the French drifted wide and Rhys took the scoring pass on the inside - ducking through two or three tackles to score in the corner.

Behind him - driving him over the line - was the ever present Allen. Throughout the game, Allen did the simple things right - in defence and attack. Never spectacular, he does the hard work in the back line ..... tough tackles, winning the ball on the floor, supporting the ball carrier in the tackle. Although Cardiff suffer from a dog legged back line when he's selected (lack of pace), they gain a willing workhorse and a man willing to do the dirty work - a real team player.

With Harris converting Williams' try from the touch line we thought the game was over, but there was plenty of fight still left in ASM. Thanks to Fester's reckless thuggery, his team were down to fourteen. The home team visibly relaxed following Harris' conversation and that was all the French needed to signal a final effort. Time was up on the clock, but more determined driving from the back row led to a try in the corner for the visitors - scoring on just about their first attack deep into Cardiff territory. The forwards looked on in bewilderment as the French celebrated. Merceron missed the conversion, but the game was far from over.

With the Cardiff pack as contributing less to the game than the frantic spectators screaming for the final whistle, the visitors drove onwards deep into Cardiff territory. From a ruck on the 22m line, Troncon made his first break of the game and strolled through a huge gap in the Cardiff defence. There was nothing between him and the try line and we all new that a converted try would see the end of this year's European Cup for Cardiff. But then, somehow, almost out of nowhere, a huge Canadian arm grabbed hold of the Italian and hauled him to the ground. John Tait saved the day for Cardiff. A frantic ruck inches from the Cardiff line finally ended with the referees whistle and the game ended.

Rhys Williams was one of those with a broad grin on his face, but some of the forwards looked deflated - despite the victory.

There's many good things that Cardiff can take from this game but there are also a number of glaring weaknesses that remain unimproved since the Boxing Day game against Ponty. There were a number of similarities between the two games, but the biggest was the home team's failure to convert chances and kill off the opposition. Territorially, Cardiff dominated the second half and were also gifted a string of penalties. When they did reach deep into opposition territory they failed to take their chances - missed penalties, poor control at ruck and maul and rank indiscipline all almost costing them the game. When there's slow ball from a centre pitch ruck or maul, Harris must learn to take the drop goal - it's three points in Union, Iestyn!

Whilst we're still in the competition, Northampton will not play as badly as ASM. Cardiff need to get their scrum working, need to work on scoring tries from five metre lineouts and need to work on their discipline. Most of all, Harris needs to practice his place kicking because Rammage will not give him so many attempts at goal next week.

15
Gethin Rhys Williams
9
/10
One sliced kick away from a ten. Excellent performance of pace, vision and determination. A man on a mission to make up for the disastrous performance in France. Good to see him coming to first five eighth's from second and third phase. A match winner.
14
Anthony Sullivan
6
/10
Still doesn't inspire too much confidence in defence - tackling is too high and looks unsure with the kick over his head. Sulli is clearly a real try machine and one sniff of a chance is all he needs. Unlucky with the knock on near the line. Still just stays on his wing and doesn't go looking for work - huge contrast with the much more involved French wings.
13
Jamie Robinson
8
/10
Struggled in alignment with Allen ... the pair do not function well together. Had bags of pace in attack and defence and showed us his full range of skills including one excellent pass in the midst of a huge tackle from Marsh. Kicked intelligently and tackled tenaciously.
12
Matt Allen
7
/10
Cleaned up so much of the poor ball shipped out to him. Never lost a 50-50 ball on the floor and was at hand to help Rhys score his second try. Allen is the sort of consistent "club" player every successful team needs. Mixed up the attacks with a couple of penetrative crash ball runs and now no longer drops the ball nor loses it in contact. Mr Reliable.
11
Craig Morgan
6
/10
Eratic kicking undid his confidence but still has bags of pace to worry any defence. This season, he's bulked up and now has the full range of attacking options - pace, intelligent grubber kicking and power in contact.
10
Iestyn Harris
6
/10
Showing signs that he's beginning to acquire some tactical awareness. The simple rule of pass/run with good ball and kick bad ball seems to be sinking in. Kicking from hand still remains suspect with a very peculiar kicking action - all the power comes from below the knee with very little follow through. Place kicking is still erratic and missed some key penalties which should have killed the game dead for Cardiff.
9
Robert Howley
4
/10
Howler back to his worst. Perhaps the trampling he suffered in the opening minutes dented his confidence but he was overly hesitant throughout the game. The predictable box kick just gifted possession to ASM who eventually had three catchers posted for Howley. Barely made a break throughout the game and seemed to be coasting. Pretty disastrous combination with Tarw - the pair looked they'd barely met before the game let alone played rugby together before.
8
Emyr Lewis
4
/10
Totally outplayed by Elvis. No lineout presence at all and completely useless behind an unstable scrum - unable to turn poor ball into good ball. Almost no ball carries throughout the game. Another coaster.
7
Martyn Williams
5
/10
Still not match fit. Looked frail in contact and was forced off the ball at the breakdown too often. Seems to have lost the necessary power during his enforced lay off. Get on those weights, Martyn!
6
Rob Appleyard
9
/10
Excellent performance from Appleyard during the hour he was with us. Into everything, he was the man first to the breakdown on countless occasions and had the muscle to win numerous turnovers. His best performance in Cardiff colours. Let himself down with an unnecessary penalty which gifted three points to Merceron. Comprehensively outplayed Martyn Williams when the two worked in tandem.
5
John Tait
9
/10
Yet another excellent performance from Cardiff's most influential forward. This season, with regular rugby at the club, he's proved what an idiot Yoda was in picking Voyle ahead of him. Awesome in the lineout, pacey with ball in hand, the man was everywhere! Superb tackle on Troncon which saved the game for Cardiff. Sinbinning cost him a ten.
4
Craig Quinnell
7
/10
100% effort from Fester - incredible fitness levels from the big man. Has the pace and power to make the space for those outside him. Good solid lineout work and strength in the scrum. Almost lost the game for his team with another ridiculous punch which should have resulted in a red card. Retaliating to an elbow in the face is not the act of an international-class professional. Ruined another excellent performance, and could cost him a start in the Six Nations in Ireland. Fester's becoming an easy target to wind up and put his team in trouble with his frequent visits to the sin bin.
3
Dai Young
6
/10
Went through a lot of work in the tight and made a number of key tackles. Failed to get tight enough in the scrum with the rest of the front row. Needs to up his performance if Cardiff are to repeat their scrum domination in Northampton on Saturday.
2
Jon Humphreys
9
/10
An excellent demonstration of how to through the ball in to the lineout - are you watching Robbie? Despite limited resources ahead of him, his banjo is well and truly restrung and his pickin' it to perfection. Tackle count was enormous and speed around the pitch was better than in recent games. Humph likes the big stage and is back!
1
Spencer John
4
/10
Out-scrummaged and outthought. Barely noticeable in the loose, just about his only contribution was to knock the ball on. Seemed to lack the appetite for the battle, in contract to his excellent performance in France.