Cardiff

k.o. time: 1:35 pm

19 October, 2013

Cardiff Arms Park

Spectators: 11,573

Toulon
referee
JP Doyle
5
/10
JP Doyle sounds like a jockey, looks like a jockey, but did ok as a referee. He was clearly overawed at times but he did ok.
weather
Dry, then Noah was called, then it dried up again
worth annoying the wife factor
7
/10
our man of the match
Bradley Davies
scorers
Gareth Davies (1)
Leigh Halfpenny (1)
Leigh Halfpenny (4)
our choice for next week

vs Ulster

k.o. time: 7:05 pm

25 October, 2013

Kingspan Stadium

15
Leigh Halfpenny
14
Harry Robinson
13
Owen Williams
12
Cory Allen
11
Dan Fish
10
Gareth Davies
9
Lloyd Williams
8
Robin Copeland
7
Ellis Jenkins
6
Andries Pretorius
5
Lou Reed
4
Filo Paulo
3
Scott Andrews
2
Marc Breeze
1
Gethin Jenkins

Well, where to start? Too many times over the years we have seen a Cardiff team go in to a match as massive favourites only to lose to a team of less talented players and, in most cases, we’ve noted that this was mostly because Cardiff failed to play as they should have done. Sure, the underdog did its best, it played the weather or it played the ref, or it stopped the game from flowing, but more often than not we have seen Cardiff lose because of their own arrogance in playing the wrong tactics.

So, how refreshing to see this boot on the other foot. The reigning (but clearly not raining) Champions of Europe were robbed of a win at the end of a match where they barely broke sweat, tried to take the proverbial a couple of times and where they so completely dominated proceedings that it was a crime against rugby that they didn’t win. They came to win by a score and they fell flat on their face.

Good. Good enough for them.

There were three determining factors to the result of this game: the way that Toulon approached the game with a static, boring, kick and clap tactic that did nothing to play on the weaknesses of the Cardiff team. The second factor was the weather in that the game began and ended in wonderful sunshine, but the downpour in between was extreme. Local shops were flooded. But, unlike Dave Parade, there was no need for kids with broom handles for this pitch to be playable. The third factor, and possibly the most important, was the growth in confidence of the Cardiff youngsters (and fringe players) as the game progressed with Toulon unable to convert their total dominance in to points.

Whilst the rain had clearly played a large part in Toulon’s unwillingness to run with the ball, it should not have prevented them from attacking the breakdown area where their strength married with Cardiff’s weakness. They approached the game as though they had done no research on Cardiff, had not watched the video of the Exeter game or had even done any training in the week. As the rain fell, we thought that now was the time they would use their ball carriers off Michalak and attack at the fringes. Now we’d see Botha, Armitage, Lobbe and co running with the ball.

No. We just saw Jonny kick it. It was as though Laporte had been replaced by Inverdale as Toulon coach.

The game started with Patchell showing his huge talent and temperament. He kicked a penalty from his own half, near to the touchline, for what must have been approaching 60 metres because of the angle. For most teams, this would have put down a marker regarding field position and discipline, but not to this Toulon bunch. Instead, they just played the same game as Cardiff did. Whilst the home team had no alternative, no Plan B, seemingly no chance, Toulon were just happy to kick and clap. This meant that the first half went through as a game of kick tennis with little else happening. Neither team really looked like capable of scoring a try so both relied on the errors of their opponents to score penalty kicks at goal.

And that really was the story of the entire game. It was unremarkable. We had Cardiff giving it everything that they could but getting nowhere, predictably and Toulon giving barely anything and getting just that little bit further.

We did see some of the big names of Toulon taking, shall we say, liberties with the game. Armitage was trying to run it out of his 22, Williams and Botha were chucking cheap shots, whilst the front row seemed more concerned with macho annihilation of their opposite number rather than pushing them backwards to win the penalties for Jonny to kick.

Even the jockey who was refereeing the game, JP Doyle, was not extraordinary. He was just meh, a little overawed by the bigger names in the visiting teams so the normal home calls went their way, but thank God it rained so that at least something happened.

That was, of course, until the final quarter. Then the fun and games started. Firstly we saw the touch judge awarded Toulon a dodgy penalty for a supposedly late tackle by Halfpenny on Tuisova that was one of those penalties that normally go for the home team. This made it 12 – 15 and we thought that this was the start of Toulon slowly pulling away. Thankfully, however, Toulon had other ideas.

And, so it came to pass, that it was our old friend Michalak who came good for Cardiff.

A scrum between the 22 and 10 metre line of Toulon should have seen them easily clear the ball and camp themselves in the Cardiff half to see out the game. The scrum was, of course, steady as the Toulon scrum had been dominant all game. It was just a simple task for Michalak to pass to Wilkinson so that he could punt the ball away but Freddie chucked the ball to nobody in particular. Mermoz fumbled the bouncing ball and Cardiff had a chance. A single chance.

Yet Toulon still had their chance to clear as this was a Cardiff scrum feed, so they simply had to put in an 8 man shove to win the ball. Right? No. The ball flew out of the back of the Cardiff scrum and Lloyd Williams again looked like a scrum half. He ran with the ball before finding Cory Allen who showed his promise with a jinking, side stepping inside run that got Cardiff near the line. Could this really be happening?

Well, not yet. But the boys showed patience and control as ball carrier after ball carrier was predictably smashed in contact by the bigger opposition. This week, however, the ball kept coming back and it was left to a famous name to win the game.

Having recently come on for Patchell, it was Gareth Davies (a player with a similar physique to his God-like namesake) who waltzed around a Wilkinson tackle to leave himself metres from the line. Surely he would score from here but, no, there was a Toulon defender in the way. The tackle was made, but the player not held, so Davies wriggled over to score under the posts. That Toulon defender? Michalak. God love him.

So now it was 19 -15 and this meant that Toulon would have to score a try in the last play of the game in order to win. Finally, after 79 minutes of complete and utter dross, they started to play. They had speed, vision, recycling and front foot rugby but the Cardiff boys had their tails up. They held out on sheer adrenalin alone with one 82nd minute tackle by Bradley Davies on Jonny epitomising the spirit of the Cardiff team.

They had held on for a remarkable victory in a most unremarkable game. What is key to note here that, whilst the players cannot be praised enough as they gave their all (and no more can be asked) they didn’t actually play very well as a unit. Toulon did nothing to further expose the weaknesses that Exeter emphasised last week so the major weakness in the team wasn’t challenged. If only they were properly coached…….

15
Leigh Halfpenny
6
/10
supposedly suffering from a lack of confidence in the coaching methods at Cardiff and it is becoming apparent. His tackling is getting worse but his nigh on complete unwillingness to return kicks with the ball in hand shows the lack of confidence that the ball will be recycled. He can do so much more.
14
Alex Cuthbert
6
/10
he didn’t last long before pulling up lame with a damaged fetlock, which was a real shame as his presence on the field at least boosts the likelihood of somebody running with the ball.
13
Owen Williams
6
/10
there is a hint of the Jamie Robinson coming into his game in that he’ll happily marshal any opponent to the outside arc and then nail them. He didn’t get much of a chance with the ball in hand but his line discipline was excellent.
12
Cory Allen
6
/10
another with little chance with the ball in hand until the end of the game when it was his telling break which led to the match winning try. He held up well against much better opponents so his confidence should grow.
11
Harry Robinson
5
/10
the poor guy will have neck ache from looking up whilst chasing so many bloody up and unders. This wasn’t a game for wingers to shine but he didn’t look out of place against the up and coming French starlet against him.
10
Rhys Patchell
6
/10
again, bloody bloody infuriating. Bloody infuriating. His opening goal kick showed a lack of nerves, some of his touch finders resembled some of EADS’ products, his tactical kicking was, at times, brilliant. But he is capable of the most shocking of basic howlers, two of which led to Toulon scores. You can’t drop the ball in your own 22, Rhys, or throw wild passes to the toes of Halfpenny. Cut out the errors and you’ll be a superb player.
9
Lloyd Williams
6
/10
a huge improvement on recent weeks. Massive improvement. The aimless box kicks had disappeared and there was a little more of a threat being posed to the defensive line of Toulon.
8
Robin Copeland
7
/10
a lovely open field runner but clearly a frustrated outside centre. This guy has a lot of willingness to carry the ball into space and to keep it alive, which is great for a plastic pitch, but he’s not so useful in the tight defensive moments. That’s fine, he is what he is and it is up to his colleagues to read him far better than they presently do.
7
Sam Warburton
6
/10
a lot of huff and puff and effort again but not an awful lot of direction. His tackle count was, of course, impressive but it looks like his ball carrying game is shrinking. He needs to be a real go to player in this team but he isn’t yet fulfilling that role.
6
Josh Navidi
5
/10
yet another game of real effort and lots of tackles. Not great tackles, but tackles nonetheless. This guy gives his all and doesn’t leave much behind but somebody get some pies down him, please!
5
Filo Paulo
4
/10
a stupid penalty given away again this week for tackling a player without the ball, which is becoming a trademark. He’s another whose carrying is weak and it must be worth asking why?
4
Bradley Davies
8
/10
a very good performance of winding up his opposite numbers to the point where they were targeting him and forgetting their main role. The more illustrious pair of Williams and Botha were both penalised for cowardly attacks on him, whilst his tackle on Wilkinson in the last minute was nigh on match saving.
3
Scott Andrews
5
/10
Wing Commander Scott Andrews. What’s the view like from up there? Another who needs three stone put on him.
2
Marc Breeze
4
/10
a couple of dodgy line out throws, no presence in the scrum, but he’s another Navidi who gives everything he has got, even if its not much.
1
Gethin Jenkins
6
/10
he seems to be carrying some timber but he did make himself far more of a nuisance at the opposition breakdowns this week than he did last week.