Cardiff Blues

k.o. time: 3:00 pm

16 January, 2005

Cardiff Arms Park

Spectators: 3,962

Ulster
referee
Christophe Berdos
5
/10
Went for the touchy/feely approach to refereeing. Instead of judging on facts, he went for the reaction of the players, the reaction of the crowd and just about anybody else's reaction instead of what was actually going on. Too many penalties ruined any sort of flow in an unsympathetic display.
weather
Blustery, but dry
worth annoying the wife factor
4
/10
our man of the match
John Yapp
scorers
Johnny Vaughton (1)
Thomas Rhys Thomas (1)
Nick Macleod (3)
our choice for next week

vs Connacht

k.o. time: 2:00 pm

22 January, 2005

Sportsground

15
Craig Morgan
14
Johnny Vaughton
13
Tom Shanklin
12
Tristan Davies
11
Freddy Tuilagi
10
Nick Macleod
9
Dean Dewdney
8
Kort Schubert
7
Martyn Williams
6
Nathan Budgett
5
Robert Sidoli
4
Craig Quinnell
3
Gethin Jenkins
2
Thomas Rhys Thomas
1
John Yapp

Cardiff held on for only their fifth victory of the season in a low key match at a sparsely populated CAP. Perfect rugby playing conditions coupled with almost nothing resting on the game, should have helped to relax the players but the tension in the squad seems to remain – even if there was nothing to play for.

Playing with the swirling wind at their backs, Cardiff kicked off from the Taff end for the third time this season against Ulster. However, crucially, this was the first time the teams have played at CAP during this campaign – and Ulster travel about as well as Cardiff.

But even in the early stages of the game, what little intensity there was on show was coming from the home side. The pack in particular had a harder, hungrier edge to them that their lacklustre opponents. Perhaps believing their own hype, Ulster seemed to expect to just turn up and win. That they failed was due largely to the efforts of a front five who drove hard into the white jerseys right from the start of the game.

From the off, all too frequently we were treated to the sound of the refs whistle, and from one of his first penalties Macleod aimed for goal from the half way line. A few months ago, no one would have given him a hope as he was then fluffing kicks from the 22m line. But Jenks hard work has been matched by the rosy cheeked one, and as we all know practice makes perfect. Macleod bisected the posts with ease and Cardiff took a three point lead - a lead they would not once sacrifice throughout the nervous afternoon.

Determined to exert his authority on the game, the ref's next major action was to send Yapp and tight head Simon Best to the bin for a series of flailing arms. His touch judge was also on hand to show how important he was, racing on to the pitch to finger the felons. This game was always going to be pretty flat, so we probably needed some spark early on. As the result of the refs actions, the first 10 minutes were disjointed and flat.

Now the ref was on a roll and thrust his left arm skywards at regular intervals. Whenever the defensive line made a tackle, they must have been off side - right? No! The handling and alignment skills on show were dreadful - particularly from the visitors. Humphreys - world class kicker that he is - is one of the slowest moving stand offs around, and as soon as he started to try to pass the ball his back line was in all sorts of a mess.

Passing skills have sunk to an all time low at CAP. Sure the players are fitter, bigger and stronger, but they've forgotten their basic skills. No one exemplifies this fundamental weakness more perfectly than Gareth Williams. Hard working, very mobile and a willing ball carrier, he can't throw the ball in straight and accurately at the lineout, can't pass and regularly spills the ball before contact. In concentrating on "new" rugby, coaches at CAP are forgetting the basics. If you can't pass and catch, play football.

The ever-accurate Humphreys exchanged penalties with Macleod before half time arrived with the score at six apiece. Cardiff's pack were on top - with the catch and drive a potent weapon. Yapp was a real handful as the lone ball carrier and Schubert (playing for a contract) was impressing with this work rate. Sowden-Taylor's tackle rate was enormous, and Sidoli's athleticism in the lineout was as impressive as ever.

However, the use of the ball was desperately poor. The accuracy of Smith's service was a welcome relief to Powell's passing, but he was too slow to the breakdown. As a result, the back line was always on the back foot. Morgan's booming kicks were a feature of a game where both teams looked stronger without the ball.

Following the half time break, the forwards at last realised that there was no point in delivering more good ball to an impotent back line, and the pick and drive came to the fore. More driving lineouts and more pick and drive from the unstoppable Yapp ripped through the Ulster defence. The more he picked and charged, the more defenders were sucked in and the inevitable try was scored in the left hand corner by Vaughton. Even the ref seemed surprised that Cardiff had finally managed to score a try.

Back came Ulster though, and a sweeping move - the one and only of the match (with Humphreys off the pitch) saw the Ulster right winger charge down the hand touchline heading for the corner. Only excellent covering by Schubert and Morgan saved the day.

Meanwhile, Williams was inexplicably fluffing his lineout throws - first in defence on his own line, and then with an excellent chance to score on the Ulster line, he threw to a white jersey. The club and coaches valiantly try to defend the poor man - "the whole pack is responsible for the lineout" - but when Gunner Williams has all the firing skills of Mr Magoo, they've no chance.

Tactically, it was an inept performance at half back and 8 that was undoing Cardiff. Smith failed to orchestrate his runners, or offer an alternative himself (have a go, Dicky!) and just shoveled slow ball to the struggling back line. Macleod - meanwhile - failed to realise that the only way Cardiff were going to get a try was through his superior pack. Five metre lineouts, catch and flop is fine if your centres are getting nowhere, Nick!

Meanwhile, Schubert's decision making is pretty dreadful. When his pack was on top, he failed to work out when to keep the ball in the scrum and when to move it. When Frost was finally yellow carded for pulling down the driving maul AGAIN, Ulster were down to seven in the pack with no eight at the scrum. From a scrum on the 22 line, Schubert showed he had learned nothing from the Ospreys match winning try and a complete lack of communication with Smith and Freddy fluffed a simple 8-9-14 try.

Until the spine of the team is sorted - 2-8-9-10-15 - Cardiff will struggle to impose themselves.

Ulster hit back with a simple kick from Adam Larkin (on for the crucially injured Humphreys) and the score was 11-9 to the home side.

Finally, Young subbed Gunner Williams, much to the audible relief of the terraces. Further good news, and Dewdney replaced Smith.

The difference was truly remarkable.

Suddenly, Cardiff had a back line moving with pace, running onto the ball and forcing the opposition onto the back foot. It looked like someone had pressed the fast forward button. Dewdney may sometimes be a little frantic, but on one leg, with the 'flu and a broken arm, he'd still look faster than the pedestrian Smith. No surprise then that it was Dewdney who sparked the difference in the back line.

But Cardiff's try scoring spree wasn't over, and with Ulster again infringing in the forwards, the team ignored the penalty on offer and drove aggressively towards the Ulster line. With the impressive Craig Morgan running hard and straight, he made space for Rhys Thomas on his shoulder to score out left.

That the home side again failed to retain the initiative was once more down to poor decision making and a choice to do the simple things over the more complex. A hopeful punt by Larkin found Schubert on the half way line, and instead of feeding Morgan on his shoulder for a kick to the corner, he chose a suicidal run into the chasers. Inevitably, the ref penalised him at the ruck and Larkin's poke to the corner won a lineout deep in the Cardiff's 22.

Instead of pressing for more tries, the nervous home side were now hanging on. Tenacious defence resulted in a mysterious penalty which inexplicably Ulster opted to kick. 16-12. With their tails up, and an unlikely victory within their grasp, why didn't the white shirts opt for another final assault?

From the kick downfield, the Ulster eight knocked on and the chance was lost. Hanging on by their finger nails, the home side somehow stumbled to victory. When the final whistle came, spectators and players alike raised their arms aloft, celebrating a first victory for two months.

15
Craig Morgan
9
/10
Excellent display of faultless full back play. In defence, he was solid and he is the best touch line kicker at CAP. Finally, in attack, he's started to run hard and fast at people and binned the chip and chase. Is there a better full back in Wales at the moment?
14
Freddy Tuilagi
2
/10
Is here for the money and little else. If the ball comes to him, he'll do something, but don't expect him to go looking for it. In defence, he's always looking for the big swinging arm instead of making the necessary simple, solid tackle. What a disastrous signing!
13
Tom Shanklin
4
/10
Out of sorts at outside centre. Made the hard yards, kicked well (!), made almost all his tackles (apart from one particular howler when he came rushing up), but never looked likely to really break the defensive line. If only we had another outside centre at the club instead of Jon Bryant!
12
Tristan Davies
4
/10
Stodgy crash ball merchant who never offloads in the tackle. Plays yesterday's rugby when we need tomorrows.
11
Johnny Vaughton
7
/10
No cock ups this week and he and Morgan looked like the only two backs who were in danger of beating their men and scoring a try.
10
Nick Macleod
5
/10
Impressive place kicking contrasted with a poor tactical performance. With the pack on top, kicks to the corner, up and unders and chips over the top should have been the order of the day. But all we got was shoveled passing and tackle points well behind the gain line.
9
Richard Malcolm Smith
4
/10
The good news is that his pass is 100x more accurate than Powell's. The bad news is that he takes 10 minutes to get to the breakdown and a further 10 minutes to pass the ball. Too slow.
8
Kort Schubert
6
/10
Difficult one. In loose play, his work ethic was excellent, including at least one match saving tackle. Tackle count was also very high and in the lineout his contribution is top class making up for Gunner's poor throws. However, tactically, he's all over the shop. Can't play a simple 8-9-14 and doesn't have a feel for how to attack the opposition (doesn't read their relative strengths and weaknesses).
7
Robin Sowden-Taylor
7
/10
If only he was just that little bit more powerful he and Williams could play in tandem. Hard working, great support play, he's learning from the master.
6
Nathan Thomas
3
/10
Has all the physical impact of a fly on the windscreen at seventy. Spilled the ball in contact and got muldooned all too often. Work rate was very suspect.
5
Robert Sidoli
5
/10
No penalty this week, but this was a low key performance compared with recent games. Carried the ball once or twice, but still looks weak in contact.
4
Deiniol Jones
3
/10
Why?
3
Gethin Jenkins
7
/10
Went through a lot of hard work in the tight and scrummaged well. Even carried the ball later on in the game. The transition to tight head is now in full swing - good on you, Dai!
2
Gareth Williams
1
/10
Why oh why oh why oh why? Lineout throwing skills are a complete liability to such an extent that he was Ulster's most reliable attacking weapon. His passing was dreadful and his handling skills poor. And Ruddock has him in his squad .....
1
John Yapp
9
/10
Ball carrying skills were immense and he carried the whole pack with him. His work rate and fitness is phenomenal (though he did have a 10 minute rest in the bin). The talk in the press is that he may start against England, but his scrummaging skills are not quite there yet. However, as an impact player, is there a better ball carrier in Wales at the moment?