Cardiff Blues

k.o. time: 3:00 pm

19 August, 2006

Cardiff Arms Park

Spectators: 4,500

Worcester
referee
Neil Ballard
5
/10
Typical for a Village Premiership ref, he struggled to keep up at the breakdown, but at least Cardiff finally showed signs of playing the ref instead of playing to the rules. He didn't get much help throughout the game from his touch judges as forward passes became the norm. At the scrum, he allowed Worcester to push before the ball was put in at just about every scrum (something they hardly needed to do, mind you).
worth annoying the wife factor
8
/10
general comment

An enjoyable romp in the late summer sun only spoilt by a dreadfully poor Worcester back line.

scorers
Deiniol Jones (1)
Bradley Davies (1)
Dafydd Hewitt (1)
Xavier Rush (1)
Gethin Rhys Williams (1)
Taufa'ao Filise (1)
Martyn Williams (1)
Nick Macleod (2)

The 2006-2007 season started at CAP with a bang as the home side tour into an under prepared Worcester team with rare vigour and pace. Pre-season friendlies usually meander pretty quickly to a loose and fractious shambles, but this game took at least an hour to reach that stage.

This was Worcester's second game of the season, but it was they who looked by far the rustier as Cardiff started with a bang - scoring a point a minute. The first XV hadn't had a run out for three months, but they quickly picked up where they left off at the end of last season. There was pace in abundance in the back line, and power and aggression up front - amply provided by new boys Bradley Davies and Scott Morgan. Morgan was a revelation - not the most athletic of players, he made up for that with a fierce determination and excellent work rate.

Worcester soon found themselves camped in their own 22 with a barrage of attacks sweeping down on them as Cardiff moved the ball around with real pace. Speed of release at the breakdown, as well as power in the tackle were features of the first quarter, and working an overlap proved relatively easy against a one-paced Worcester back line. Only a marvelous tackle from Argentinean centre Miguel Avramovic, halted the progress of Cardiff's (only one of two) non-Welshman as he held Stich on his back over the Worcester line. But the pressure was incessant, and even Denzil had enough power to barge over for Cardiff's first score.

A similar try followed only minutes later with constant pressure on the Worcester line eventually freeing the overlap and Bradley Davies scored on his starting debut in the left corner. Rosie's kicking seems to have progressed little in the off season and both conversions were missed. Against tougher opposition in a more intense game, Cardiff desperately need to find a solution to the lack of a reliable kicker - will this be Blair's role?

Whilst both packs cancelled each other out in the tight - Worcester's scrum dominant, but Cardiff's ruck well on top with maul and lineout even - the huge difference was in the relative skills of the back line. Even novices like Tom Riley were showing up well with intelligent angles of running and the ability to mix up the point of attack. In contract, Worcester's stodgy back line relied on 1970s-style crash ball in the centre and the retaining of possession at all costs. This reliance on errors rather than creatively making space is pretty dreary to watch. Indeed, their style of game seems to have progressed little since the last time the two teams faced each other.

Jamie Robinson - who never looks far away from getting injured - limped off with a groin injury and young Dafydd Hewitt joined the frey. Fresh from his efforts in the U21 World Championship, he too impressed with his commitment and power in defence. And it wasn't long before the Welsh U21 captain became Cardiff's third try scorer following neat interplay between Stcherbina and Riley. The final score of the half came when Rush barged his way over from a quickly taken penalty. 24-0 at half time.

Young took the opportunity to mix things around second half and brought on all his subs. If the first half XV was pretty much the team we will see in the top competitions (minus Robinson, Blair, Czekaj, Shanklin and perhaps Yapp), the second half team was very much Magners League stuff. And the gap was huge.

Now there's always been a gap between Robinson and Macleod at outside half, but when Dai "The Matador" Flanagan came on, things got even worse. Now Flanagan is only a kid, and will get better, but he once more looked way out of his depth. His failure to kick to touch cost his team dearly as Worcester scored their first try through Tongan Tevita Taumoepeau (ex-Northampton). In attack, as Phillips was replaced by Evans and then Allinson, the pace and accuracy disappeared. Passing was erratic and control poor. Shorn of a threat around the rucks and mauls, Worcester were able to spread thinly across the pitch to hold their defensive patterns.

In the pack, the Oompa Loompa came on for his first game since last December, and immediately impressed with his work rate and ball carrying. Rhys Thomas didn't really improve last season, and on this showing Willy Wonka's loss will be our gain as the competition for places improves. Lewis and Powell came on the back row, but the power drop from Morgan and Rush was frighteningly obvious. Filise joined at the expense of Melon, as the pack definitely shifted down a gear.

Worcester's dominance at the driving maul increased, and the game developed into Cardiff's back line (young and inexperienced, but still with more pace than their international opponents) against Worcester's pack (far more cohesive and structured than the Cardiff eight).

But not all Cardiff's subs were clearly Magner's League standard. Sidoli came on and made an almighty impact - mostly on Darren Morris who had most of his pies knocked out with a thumping tackle. In fact, Sidoli also made a big contribution in the lineout. Gilles is the Guinness Premiership's top lineout jumper (according to the stats), but the man from Merthyr still managed to pinch his balls. The lineout functioned better with Sid and the Oompa in tandem than it did with TRT in the hooker's spot - in complete contrast to recent seasons.

As the game broke up and become more loose, Martyn Williams was in his element and put in a storming performance. If he wasn't winning turnovers from isolated Worcester "runners", he was linking attacks - mixing it up with the back line and moving the ball away from contact. Rhys Williams started a counter attack and ended it with a try.

Worcester - now clearly on top in the tight - hit back as the pack rumbled up field and mauled their way towards the Cardiff line. Frenchman Lombard - surely the most "un-French" of French centres - barged his way over the line as the pressure mounted. Lombard was at the core of most Worcester attacks and is surely the core of their problem. He has the speed of Darren Morris and the passing skills of Gerald Cordle. Every attack is so slow as he looks for contact.

In stark contrast, Chris Pennell - England U19 international - came on at full back and made an immediate impact with pace and vision to sprint unopposed half the length of the field to score unopposed. He took the ball at pace and used and intelligent angle - something the Cardiff back line had been doing all game, but way beyond the shire horses in the Worcester back line. Indeed, each time he took the ball he looked dangerous - able to actually beat a man by a sidestep and change of pace instead of the usual tactic of barrelling into the nearest defender and hoping for a missed tackle.

Not to be outdone Luveitasau was next up for Cardiff as he defeated three defenders with a combination of pace and power to score in the right corner. He looks very raw - clearly not too experienced at "15s" and his positioning is more than suspect. But, give him the ball and he certainly knows his way to the try line!

That Martyn Williams scored the last try of the game summed up his immense contribution to the afternoon's entertainment.

The contrast between the second and first halves was immense. 24-0 up at half time, Cardiff went on to draw the second half 17-17. If Young has been working hard with the 1st XV it shows - the problem is the Magners' League lot .... the gap is worrying. Riley showed up well on his debut - what he lacks in pace he made up for with thinking rugby and power. He will improve and deserves a chance at the "Connacht-Borders-Glasgow" level. Hewitt also didn't look too far out of place in defence, but looks injury prone.

But outside half - as widely predicted - the cupboard looks bare. Macleod cannot control a game - lies too deep (and will be caught out against faster back lines) and has dreadful kicking skills. Flanagan is nowhere near ready for this level - add Macleod's weaknesses to an inability to make a break and make any sort of tackle and you get a rough idea exactly how much out of his depth the young man is.

The kids at scrum half - Evans and Allinson - made no impact at nine .... simple "pass machines" who will be equally found out at the higher level. Unless they do something to keep opposition back rows occupied, defences will simply shuffle across the pitch and snuff out any sort of space for the attacking back line.

The Oompa Loompa impressed, as did Show Pony Sidoli, but Powell looked rusty.

Turning to the 1st XV, the lineout was ragged and improved with Sid's introduction. Davies contributed more in the loose than either first choice second row did all of last season - he looks like a real prospect. The scrum was a complete mess - either through a lack of power from Davies in the second row, or because Powell had a mare against Englishman Lee Forty who only left the field when Powell lamped him one!

But as a first game of the season, this was a mighty impressive performance. Young need to make serious progress in building a strong scrum and is running out of time. Other than a worrying lack of strength in depth at half back, supporters should have every reason to believe that the team is improving as Young's influence increased.

15
Gethin Rhys Williams
6
/10
Signs that the old Rhys is still there, and they way he stood up the lumbering Lombard in the second half was truly excellent. But his confidence is still hyper-fragile and the way he fluffed one clearance kick was beyond embarrassing. He looked much happier when he moved to the wing in the second half. For Rhys, Blair cannot arrive quickly enough.
14
Tom Riley
6
/10
Solid in defence and committed in attack, Riley did not look out of place at this level. In contrast with a number of other players plying their trade in the Village Premiership, he's clearly got the physique to cope with the much more physical requirements of the professional game. There wasn't too much pace on show, but he mixed up his angles well, and always looked to move the ball in contact.
13
Jamie Robinson
6
/10
Plenty of pace and reveled in the space Worcester gave him. But lasting only 20 minutes because of a groin tweak, doesn't bode well. Is there any player more injury prone?
12
Marc Stcherbina
8
/10
Excellent performance from the Aussie. He was the glue that stuck the back line together. Always on hand to clear up from the numerous errors made around him, in defence as well as attack he's the stability in the back line that Cardiff need. Shanklin or no Shanklin, Stich is clearly out to keep his place.
11
Mosese Luvetasau
6
/10
Looks a real handful with ball in hand - plenty of pace and heaps of aggression. He's also surprisingly powerful for such a "slight" man (don't forget he's a Fijian!). However, he's clearly very raw at this level and in defence looks liable to make a massive howler at any moment. His positioning is poor and he doesn't go looking for the ball. The potential is huge - let's hope the application is there that he wants to get better.
10
Nick Macleod
5
/10
Clearly much happier at full back (where he has more time and most importantly space) than outside half where the glaring inadequacies of last season so far haven't been addressed. A lovely balanced runner with ball in hand, he stands too deep when at outside half. He has no kicking game with any sort of power, and missed four conversions during the game. Practice, practice, practice. 9. Mike Phillips (7) - Too good for this sort of game. Waltzed through it, made a couple of tries and then wandered off for a pint. Needs tougher opposition.
9
Mike Phillips
7
/10
8
Xavier Rush
7
/10
see Mike Phillips
7
Martyn Williams
8
/10
When the game opened up, Martyn Williams looked back to his best. His support play was outstanding and his speed to the breakdown was so much faster than the Worcester back row that Worcester attack was a turnover chance. Simply class.
6
Scott Morgan
6
/10
A strong debut, full of power and commitment. Clearly out to impress, Morgan not only used his strength well, but also move the ball well in the open. Although there may be a question over his athleticism, he looks like an excellent signing on this showing.
5
Deiniol Jones
5
/10
Denzil was Denzil. But he did score a try.
4
Bradley Davies
7
/10
A questionable scrummaging performance (difficult to judge given Powell's problems) was countered with excellent work in the loose and a deserved try. Not bad for a 19 year old.
3
Gary Powell
4
/10
Oh dear. We need a tight head.
2
Thomas Rhys Thomas
5
/10
Good work in the loose and carried the ball well on a number of occasions. But the lineout was dodgy and the scrum creaked. Look out Rhys, there's a small bloke with a purple fact after your jersey!
1
Gethin Jenkins
5
/10
Uninspired. Coasted through the game in typical Melon fashion. Clearly needs more a challenge, though the supporters would like to see far more effort!