Exeter

k.o. time: 12:45 pm

13 October, 2013

Sandy Park

Spectators: 8,751

Cardiff Blues
referee
Jerome Garces
6
/10
He watched Exeter warming up by flopping over the tackled player at the breakdown and allowed it all game, despite it being clearly illegal. But he was consistent and that's all you can ask for.
weather
Dry and pleasant
worth annoying the wife factor
1
/10
our man of the match
Alex Cuthbert
scorers
Lloyd Williams (1)
Alex Cuthbert (1)
Robin Copeland (1)
Harry Robinson (1)
Leigh Halfpenny (3)
Leigh Halfpenny (1)
our choice for next week

vs Toulon

k.o. time: 1:35 pm

19 October, 2013

Cardiff Arms Park

15
Leigh Halfpenny
14
Alex Cuthbert
13
Owen Williams
12
Cory Allen
11
Harry Robinson
10
Rhys Patchell
9
Lewis Jones
8
Robin Copeland
7
Sam Warburton
6
Andries Pretorius
5
Filo Paulo
4
Bradley Davies
3
Benoit Bourrust
2
Rhys Williams
1
Gethin Jenkins

Was this worse than Leeds? Was this worse than St. Peters? Was this worse than ASM and Biarritz? Undoubtedly so, as this was as bad as Gloucester for not since the dark days of Lynn Howells has a team from Cardiff been so utterly dismantled despite, pre-game, being labelled as having a fighting chance of victory.

Make no bones about it as Exeter are NOT a star studded team. This isn’t like losing to a Leinster side packed with Lions and international stars, for this Exeter team contains Newport rejects like Matt Jess and Phil Dollman, plus Cardiff rejects in Ben White and Damian Welch. So when the team is completely outplayed to the point where every system collapsed, the finger can only point at the coaching team and at its Head – Phil Davies.

Today, Mr Davies, Rob Baxter coached his side to professionally shame you and all that you have spent nigh on 18 months crafting. Your defensive system, thanks to Rob Powell, was ridiculed by fast ball carriers, your breakdown strategy was so outplayed that key turnover winners like Jenkins and Warburton were taken out of the game, and the ball in hand attacking play could last no more than five phases before it collapsed, usually having made no ground.

For 40 minutes, Cardiff players looked at each other with a wonderfully incomplete blame culture as nobody was sure how or why Exeter had managed to score yet another try. Outside defenders tried to blame inside defenders but they clearly lacked the confidence in their own system to be sure that it wasn’t actually their own fault. The players had stopped talking to each other after 30 minutes.

It was an annihilation, so bad that the second half can go no way to making up for it despite Cardiff running in four tries to take a bonus point from the game. Exeter’s HEC inexperience shone through as they spent the second half going through the motions rather than, as an experienced side would, putting their foot on Cardiff’s throat and seeing out the game.

We are tempted to say that it all could have been so different had Cardiff opened the scoring, as they should have. As Exeter looked to run the ball from their own 22, Cory Allen dropped a tough but catchable interception that would have seen him run unopposed to the posts. At this point our hopes were high but it didn’t take too long of seeing Exeter with the ball in hand to realise that Cardiff were out of their depth.

Exeter’s ability to recycle their own ball at will was a joy to watch. Their commitment to the breakdown was fierce and done in numbers, with each player seemingly comfortable with his role and able to execute it perfectly. Cardiff couldn’t get the ball. No amount of work done by Warburton or Jenkins could slow down the ball, so it was a procession of possession for the home team and they capitalised on it. Maybe the two hours per week “collision” training that Dale McIntosh leads is insufficient or, more likely, Cardiff’s lack of physical power coupled with their reluctance to commit numbers to the breakdown meant that this was easy street for Exeter.

There were two players in the Exeter back row, Tom Johnson and Dave Ewers (who? We hear your say) who looked like the big kids in the u15 rugby team as they were nigh on unstoppable. Exeter had scored four tries within half an hour, so bad was Cardiff’s defensive system and breakdown play.

The floodgates opened after another magical moment from Mathew Rees, a player so bad in a Cardiff shirt that we are beginning to think that he could be a Double Agent. His attempt at a lineout throw went nowhere but to an Exeter hand as his “own” Cardiff team mates looked on in astonishment. Gifting Exeter the ball was a recipe for never getting it back and soon enough Cardiff’s woeful defence had conceded four tries. It was shell sock time, within seemingly a blink of an eye it had gone from shocking to embarrassing to cringeworthy.

Gaps were appearing in defence as though Moses was the Defence Coach. The Exeter ball carriers made yards in contact and the pink defensive line was retreating in a blur. It was one sided. It wasn’t easy to watch.

The start of the second half saw the value of a Phil Davies team talk as Exeter continued as they had left off and, in so doing, scored the first try of the half to lead 41-3. It was at this point in time that their HEC inexperience kicked in and they gifted Cardiff four tries in return, whilst being down to 13 men for ten minutes of the half.

Some will point to the second half as some kind of justification for Phil Davies’s set up or some kind of hope in “that’s how they can play”. Well, yes, that’s bloody obvious. This is a talented bunch of players who, when faced with an opposition who have given up and are sipping virtual cocktails for the second half, they will be able to score four tries.

To properly judge the value of your team requires a fair understanding of the approach and quality of the opposition. That is why the second half performance is no justification of anything positive by Cardiff but all done because of the poor play of Exeter. The same could be said in reverse for the first half, but that is tempered by the fact that both teams were trying in the first half. Both were giving it their all. That can’t be said of Exeter in the second half.

Whilst Exeter, bloody Exeter for God’s sake, were down to 13 men it allowed Cardiff to run in some tries but this masks nothing. The tries weren’t well constructed team efforts and there was no clear plan to the play that led to the tries. There was no leader on the pitch to direct play, there was unity in approach.

It was an omnishambles.

The selection policy of Davies is as confusing as how he sets up his team. Often we’d see Cardiff’s ball slowed by Exeter or even turned over, only to find Navidi and Warburton standing in the backline. What the hell is the point in playing two opensides if neither are focussed on ball retention? For all of his lack of grunt, at least Copeland seems able to think like a number 8 and to play like one, with an ability to carry the ball into space and to feed others. Pretorious plays like a blindside, Navidi plays like a centre, Warburton played like he had a migraine. Why didn’t Copeland start?

Lewis Jones hasn’t been a standout player in a Cardiff shirt but when he watches on to see Lloyd Williams perform incredibly badly, surely that acts as a demotivation for him. He must think “I must be really crap if Davies hasn’t taken off Williams by now”. Instead, Davies gives him 5 minutes at the end of the game once there is no chance of a losing bonus point.

There are rumours that the players have lost confidence in the coaching staff and it was pretty clear on Sunday that they had also lost confidence in each other.

15
Leigh Halfpenny
5
/10
it seemed that his sole attacking desire was to pass the ball to Cuthbert. He slipped off tackles that he would never do in a Red Wales or Lions shirt. Sometimes he plays like that head guard has ear phones playing him “Easy Way to Learn French” tapes.
14
Alex Cuthbert
9
/10
a shining light with the ball in hand in an otherwise shower of nonsense. The worse thing is that there is no plan to get Cuthbert into the game so he can only do so when the opposition kick poorly. He’s too good, and playing too well, for this team.
13
Cory Allen
3
/10
dropped a try scoring pass from the opposition and didn’t really get a whole lot better from then on. His partnership with Hewitt was a complete disaster as the midfield was targeted by Exeter.
12
Dafydd Hewitt
2
/10
it’s hard to knock a man who clearly tries so hard but lacks the talent required and really lacks the comfort of a system which can maximise his ability. He was left exposed time after time by the Cardiff “defensive system”.
11
Harry Robinson
4
/10
another whose effort is not to be questioned but he is fed nigh on nothing to work with. His time with the ball in hand is mostly spent taking the ball standing still near breakdowns and trying to avoid massive forwards. An unsympathetic second half pass from him cost Cardiff a try.
10
Rhys Patchell
5
/10
another who dropped a try scoring pass in the first half, even though it was a pretty tough task. He looked lost in this game but, again, put in the effort to try to do something. The patterns of first phase play that he is given are clearly not working, however.
9
Lloyd Williams
1
/10
scores one for his try, not that it took much scoring, but this man is the worst box kicking scrum half since Ray Giles wore a Cardiff shirt. And he is obsessed with it yet despite all of that practice he still can’t do it properly. Totally responsible for allowing wave after wave of Exeter attack by box kicking too long and 15 metres in field.
8
Andries Pretorius
3
/10
is clearly a blindside. It’s so blindingly obvious and would bring so much more balance, but Davies knows better. Clearly.
7
Sam Warburton
4
/10
huffed, puffed, but can do nothing against a team so dominant at the breakdown.
6
Josh Navidi
3
/10
writing the same thing each week is pretty pointless and demoralising, but he still isn’t big enough to play 6. He was given a lesson in that role by the Exeter blindside, an exercise in physicality, tackling and teamwork.
5
Filo Paulo
2
/10
he seems to be asked to defend two or three out from a breakdown whilst having none of the necessary speed to cover that position. He was left high and dry far too often.
4
Bradley Davies
4
/10
it’s time for him to be made Captain. He is the only one in the referee’s ear throughout the game but lacks the authority to make it constructive. He was the one telling the referee to use the TMO for forward pass decisions, he was the one commenting on the breakdown flopping. Rees is a waste of a shirt.
3
Taufa'ao Filise
3
/10
the scrum held up, which is his primary role, but there was little else.
2
Matthew Rees
1
Gethin Jenkins
5
/10
some big tackles, some. But his role in stealing opposition ball and winning penalties was never an option.