Cardiff Blues

k.o. time: 5:30 pm

11 September, 2004

Cardiff Arms Park

Spectators: 7,401

Dragons
referee
Alain Rolland
6
/10
Tried to keep the game flowing, but had no idea at the breakdown and didn't referee the off-side line strongly enough. All fairly typical.
our man of the match
Lee Thomas
general comment

4/10 for the rugby skills, but 8/10 for the battle

scorers
Martyn Williams (1)
Richard Smith (1)
Lee Thomas (1)
Lee Thomas (2)

In a game as tempestuous as Hurricane Ivan roaring in from the Taff end, superior control at half back and a destructive scrum proved the difference in a typical Cardiff-Newport derby.

You can change the coaches, change the players, even try to change the names, but it's still Cardiff vs Newport with all the passion that entails.

Much in the same format of the last five or so season, Newport dominated the opening half with a huge monopoly of possession but a total luck of cutting edge behind. OK, sure, there was no Shane to help us out this time, but we have a new hero - Ceri Sweeny! For a supposed international outside half his performance was clueless, his kicking dreadful and his tactical awareness worse.

Prior to the game we feared Newport's half backs would be far too experienced for Cardiff's kid and a one man band, but how wrong we were. Sure, Smith still plays with the drum strapped to his back and the guitar round his neck, but the sand boy has truly come of age. Thomas was simply awesome.

In defence his tackling was faultless, his kicking out of hand (one slice aside) was top class, and his tactical awareness was on a different plane to the "international" playing opposite him. But most importantly, he was psychologically yards ahead of the opposition. Whether dumping Brew for the "crossing-try" that never was (and telling him all about it afterwards), or pushing Sweeny's face into the ground after the tackle (thought the Newport bois would know all about that with their new coach), Thomas was out to prove himself - and he did it in bucket loads. Let's hope that Young picks on merit and does not demotivate the young man with a rotation policy that rewards mediocrity.

With Ivan lifting the roofs behind them, and with the roars of "Neeewwwpooooort" ringing in their ears, the visitors kicked off into the Cardiff half and began their 40 minutes' total domination of possession and territory. With Steve Jones leading from the front and Forster never far from being on side, they tore into Cardiff with a physical approach that was the hallmark of their coach's approach to XIIIs.

However, the physical approach was everything. One up and charge was the order of the day, and when they found themselves up against a Cardiff pack who were not about to throw the towel in, there was a total lack of plan B. With the home team backs rushing up in defence, Sweeny lamely shovelled the ball outwards - no grubber kicks, no chip kicks, no inventive angles, no mis-passes, no blind side wing ….. nothing. It was predictable and more importantly dull.

Chris Anderson may well be good for Welsh rugby - we need fresh ideas, fresh approaches and some creativity to break down organised defence. But what have you been teaching them Chris? For all the lack of invention in the back line, Newport may as well have had Gerry Anderson coaching them.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, Cardiff found themselves in the Newport half and a penalty from 40m out gave Lee Thomas an improbable attempt at goal. As we laid bets on whether he's get it over the 22 let alone the posts, the sand boi lined up his kick and took on Ivan with a cruise missile of a kick that was still rising as it approached the posts. Doing a side-step that Steve Ford would have been proud of it zig zagged its way towards the upright and flopped over - brushing one post on the way. A truly remarkable kick.

But Cardiff weren't finished and pressed hard again with their rushed defence. Sweeny and co panicked AGAIN, and Gethin Jenkins was on hand to charge down the outside half's attempted clearance. Smith found himself unmarked, and even he couldn't mess up the simple flop over the line. Somehow Cardiff were in the lead thanks to a pack showing real metal in defence and a solid but unspectacular back line who always did just about enough.

It soon became clear that the only way we were going to see a try from the visitors would be as a result of a mistake by the home side. Shanklin obliged. Playing out of position at outside centre, he looked out of place and completely missed his man. Watching the ball and not his opponent, another Sweeny shovel found Luscombe and Wyatt finished off the simple two on one. Very poor defending.

Still, Cardiff hang on and managed to go in at half time 10-8 up. Straight from the second half kick off, the Lee Thomas master class continued. Instead of the text book hanging kick to the 22m line, Thomas cleverly kept the ball low, minimising the risk of kicking the ball dead and maximising the risk of Gareth Wyatt cocking up.

So the pattern was set. Time and time again Thomas played the game that Sweeny should have and drilled the ball low into the corners. Newport had nowhere to go. With Ivan in their faces, kicking was barely an option, and with the Cardiff pack's domination increasing, the game was played exclusively in their half.

With the wind now behind him, Thomas blasted a kick over from 35m to make the score 13-8.

Then a crucial substitution seemed in danger of turning the game. We'd been screaming for Dewdney, but what we got was Anderson bringing on Cooper - a proper scrum half. Suddenly there was far more fluidity in the Newport attacks. The ball moved left and right with a smooth silkiness that finally picked up the pace of the game. From a lineout in Cardiff's 22, Cooper found a gap, but couldn't find the support and the chance was gone. Cooper also managed to find Sweeny with a perfect pass every time, but the outside-half lacked the creativity to make use of the excellent ball he received. His centres were more robotic than those opposite them, and no one was mixing up the angles. The smart money must be on these two teams to fight out that fourth spot if this performance was anything to go by.

With Thomas still drilling those low kicks to the corners, the pressure on Sweeny increased, and sure enough Gethin Jenkins popped up again to charge down a week kick from Ceri "Iestyn" Sweeny. Martyn Williams was on hand to snap up the loose possession and the game was won.

It's been a long time since the first fifteen have enjoyed a victory again Welsh opposition (only the trouncing of the Ospreys last season to show for their "efforts"), so let's wallow in the pleasure of a hard fought win over a tenacious and physical Newport side. However, there's plenty of work to do and the team will need to play much better next week if they are to come close to matching the limited by disciplined Ospreys team with the classy Henson calling the shots.

Tactically, Young and Lee Thomas got it just right against Newport, but a much more dynamic performance - targeting the Osprey's average centre partnership - is essential next week. It's time to pick the two opensides and move the ball much more than they did against Newport, and time to see Shanklin and Robinson in tandem. When Walne has come up against Shane in the past, he's steamrollered him, so the big man should come back.

The lineout is looking good, Gareth Williams' accuracy impressive (given the terrible wind). Barry Williams' infamous wayward throwing should give the bois a chance to pressurise the amalgamated team's Achilles heel.

The scrum is showing some really signs of coming out on top, but Ben Evan's performance against Duncan Jones is going to be key and so far there's little on show to suggest that he can compete with Agnetha. Will he meet his Waterloo?

In the Celtic League, the breakdown is a complete jungle and a lottery. Contrasting this game with Wasps vs Sale, one of the clearest differences was the refereeing of (and player discipline at) the breakdown. No one knows what's going on - players, spectators, least of all referees. Alain Rolland was no difference. So once more at the Gnoll, how the breakdown is refereed will be key.

What was very refreshing at this game was that Cardiff competed hard at the tackle point - in contrast to the Worcester game. With the referee providing little leadership, players struggled, but as the game wore on it became clear that they were at least trying to read his interpretations. Fester charged through as the ball squirted out of a ruck and the first thing he did was to look long and hard at the ref - in perilous fear of another unwarranted penalty. Craig Morgan was off side at least three times in the same move during the closing minutes, but the ref did nothing. Credit to the players - a major improvement on last season where they seemed to approach each game as a battle with an incompetent ref.

But the half backs will be key to an improbable win at the Gnoll - for goodness sake Dai, give Dewdney a start and stick with Lee Thomas - whether Nick Robinson is fit or not.

15
Gethin Rhys Williams
6
/10
Still doesn't look match fit. What did you do to him, Ruddock? When the space was there, he lacked the confidence to back his pace (again), and struggled to get into the game. Missed a simple catch and fluffed a kick or to. Needs more game - not less.
14
Johnny Vaughton
7
/10
Didn't get a decent pace all game, but at least went looking for work. Despite his diminutive size, he didn't give an inch in defence and pressurise well. Competition for places is an excellent thing. All we need now is for the coach to bring out the best in Walne and Vaughton and pick on merit - not reputation or rotation.
13
Tom Shanklin
12
Tristan Davies
5
/10
One outstanding tackle on the industrious Steve Jones which knocked him into next week. On such small things do games turn, and his contribution visibly lifted those around him. Other than that he was big and strong in the tight, but offers less than nothing in attack.
11
Craig Morgan
7
/10
Another winger on the hunt for work. Kicked well - apart from one unlucky hoof that went dead. Rarely if ever got a decent pass in space - but that was more due to the ineffective centre partnership.
10
Lee Thomas
9
/10
Top class performance - a skewed kick and a dropped pass short of a 10. Thomas' attitude was just right - very physical and playing in the face of the opposition (a la Crazy). His tactical appreciation and the execution of his kicks was a lesson to his better known opponent. A real find! That one year in Ponty was an excellent training for the young man.
9
Richard Smith
1
/10
It's difficult to play rugby with a base drum on your back, but Smith slung the guitar over his shoulder and took the try well. Other than that he was a complete disaster area. Three times during the game he ran around in circles like a dog chasing his tail and got nowhere. His couldn't pass wind, and he simply has NO PRESENCE. If ever there was a game crying out for a sub, this was it. Smith looks so far out of his depth it's frightening. Apparently, we're still some way away from Powell returning - oh dear!
8
Kort Schubert
9
/10
At last a number 8 who makes yards off the back of the scrum! The yank spanked the black and ambers like a tank and was laughing all the way to the bank. Despite a mank scrum half, frankly it's what we've been hankering over for years. He's another player with a can-do attitude who obviously likes to lead from the front.
7
Martyn Williams
9
/10
Incredible work rate for the rejuvenated captain. Still not convinced about his leadership skills, but his tackle count was phenomenal. He was everywhere and even though this sort of game didn't really suit his looser style, he completely outplayed Forster. Scoring the try in the final seconds was the just reward for an excellent performance.
6
Nathan Thomas
3
/10
Think he actually picked up the ball and ran with it at one point - could be wrong though. Went AWOL twice in defence off the back of the scrum in the first half and almost gifted a try to Newport. Won some decent line out ball, but there's only one question to be answered - when is Malpas fit?
5
Robert Sidoli
6
/10
Still playing on cruise control at the moment. Needs more games under his belt. One some good lineout ball, but his work rate in the tight and loose still needs to improve. When he did give away a stupid penalty in the closing minutes, it was good to see that immediately he made up for it with a huge tackle winning a turnover. Good stuff, Rob!
4
Craig Quinnell
8
/10
In your face stuff from the man who leads from the front. One good lineout ball, carried the ball far more than Sidoli and was a real annoyance at the rucks and mauls - always in the thick of things. Sadly the ref - once more - had no idea of how to ref the breakdown and listened more to the crowd than using any independent thought. Here's a clue for you Allan, as soon as the scrum half touches the ball, the ball is out.
3
Ben Evans
6
/10
Sort of shored up his side of the scrum, but faded badly in the last quarter. Didn't take a pass all game, but sort of made some tackles. Our for a pulverising next week unless he improves his game by 300%.
2
Gareth Williams
7
/10
Banjo work coming along nicely, and works hard in tight and loose. Still looking forward to the return of TRT, though.
1
Gethin Jenkins
9
/10
A staggering performance of power, pace and aggression. How often can you say that a prop wins two tries for his team with two charge downs? In the scrum he ripped the home team apart and his tackling in the loose is awesome. The Gethin vs Agnetha and Anni-Frid show, next week will be something to look forward to.