Zebre

k.o. time: 5:00 pm

7 September, 2014

Stadio XXV Aprile

Spectators: 2,800

Cardiff Blues
referee
Andrew McMenemy
6
/10
At least he allowed the game to flow but his reluctance to allow a free contest for the breakdown ball was a disappointment
weather
Bloody hot
worth annoying the wife factor
3
/10
our man of the match
Rhys Patchell
scorers
Rhys Patchell (1)
Lloyd Williams (1)
Dan Fish (1)
Alex Cuthbert (1)
Kristian Dacey (1)
Rhys Patchell (5)
Rhys Patchell (2)
our choice for next week

vs Glasgow

k.o. time: 4:00 pm

14 September, 2014

Cardiff Arms Park

15
Dan Fish
14
George Watkins
13
Cory Allen
12
Dafydd Hewitt
11
Owen Jenkins
10
Rhys Patchell
9
Lewis Jones
8
Sam Warburton
7
Ellis Jenkins
6
Jarrad Hoeata
5
Macauley Cook
4
Filo Paulo
3
Adam Bomber Jones
2
Matthew Rees
1
Sam Hobbs

The new season hits us with an optimism not known for many years, so we were keen to see how the new players would mix with the retained, under the new coaching structure of Hammett. Although he hasn’t been here that long, we had hoped that he had identified the structural issues and to see if any attempts have been made to repair them.

What the game highlighted was the work ahead which needs to be done as, although the margin of victory was fairly comfortable in the end, the home team were very poor and our lot were not much better. There were the normal signs of individual Cardiff player skill on show that made the points which caused the victory, but the structure of the team still (obviously) needs a lot of work.

The game was played in tremendous late summer Italian heat despite the late afternoon local kick off and that seemed to be causing early sun stroke in the Cardiff team as the running, Cuthbert particularly, was aimless and the breakdown control was non-existent. The mistakes were plentiful as Patchell missed his first kick at goal, he followed that up with a poor punt directly into touch and his forwards joined in with woeful ball presentation at set piece and contact area.

Soon enough, Zebre joined in with the poor play as the home team hooker not only overthrew his lineout but also managed to throw it over the shoulder of Warburton. Captain Central Contract happily got the ball, showed good pace to run at a passive Italian gain line defence who then allowed the neat inside pass to Jenkins who had done well to follow the ball. His pass to Patchell allowed good pace to be shown and an easy try to be scored. After just 9 minutes, the score was 0-7.

However, what happened next was to be a pattern throughout the game. Schoolboy players are taught the importance of securing possession shortly after scoring points, in order to settle the game down and to build scoreboard pressure. Lloyd Williams obviously missed those lessons as he put in a trademark (i.e. garbage) box kick from the restart that allowed the Zebre 8 a clear run at the Cardiff defence. Panic spread, Paulo shoulder charged Leonard off the ball and it was, within just minutes of the Cardiff try, not 3-9 and Paulo was in the Sin Bin.

This level of moronic play summed up the play of Cardiff. They’d do something good, only to try to immediately match it with something stupid. Hammett is a smart man who should know that coaching the heads of the players to remove these stupid mistakes will immediately make the team a far more difficult opponent.

After just 13 minutes, the Chuckle Brothers style of play had created another score. Fish put in a poor chip kick as a kick return, Leonard fumbled it, Patchell showed a tremendous skill to take the ball one handed on the run and he fed Allen for what looked like a run in until Allen fed the inside ball for Lloyd Williams to score under the posts. It was 3-14 and both sides were simply scoring from schoolboy opposition mistakes.

Soon the flow of possession, and therefore penalties, was with the home team and they were making good their man advantage. Two Adam Jones breakdown penalties were awarded and, with the second, Zebre finally scored in the corner by taking advantage of Cardiff having just two back row defenders at scrum time. The standard of play was poor but the points were flowing and it was 8-14 at the end of the first quarter.

The flow of the game then went in Cardiff’s favour as they were able to create phase play and a little go forward with the ball in hand. All too often they under protected the ball at ruck time but managed to create a flow by the referee denying the defending team a fair crack at the ball. One such flowing move ended with Allen fumbling his pass to Dicomidis and so the “try” was disallowed. It was noticeable that the lock was standing outside of the outside centre when he took the pass, instead of being somewhere near previous breakdowns.

Yet more pressure on the Zebre 22 resulted in more try scoring opportunities that were not taken. The latest culprit of basic errors was Paulo who was really trying to prove himself to be the worst player on the pitch. He fumbled the ball at the back of a driving maul and Adam Jones was penalised (sound familiar?) from the resulting scrum. What should, therefore, have been a Cardiff scoring opportunity now saw them defending in their own half.

More stupid mistakes saw Zebre take the lead just before half time as a Rees overthrow led to Cuthbert being penalised for a high tackle on a counter attacking Zebre player. It was the Achilles heel for Cardiff, as ever, which did for them as the penalty resulted in a driving line out which saw Zebre score.

It was getting ridiculous now as the number of errors seemed greater than the number of tackles. This was not a good game of rugby and it certainly wasn’t two good teams on show. Attacks were killed by forward passes and dropped passes, until some form of sanity was restored by Patchell kicking a 55 metre plus penalty on the stroke of half time to make it 15-17.

Hammett clearly had little influence at the break as the stupid mistakes continued. Technical line out penalties, Paulo continuing to tap line out ball, all led to Zebre being awarded an attacking 5m scrum that saw Leonard slip a try scoring pass to a winger who Jenkins had left to stroll in. In his defence, Jenkins was probably wondering where Turnbull was. Mind you, we had just spent 40 minutes doing the same thing.

Thankfully Cardiff soon sprung into life and quickly scored two tries to take the game from Zebre. Hobbs stole a maul ball, a Williams snipe led to an Evans mispass and Fish strolled in as Zebre were horrific in defence. Just minutes later, Cook stole a line out to feed a Vosawai charge, with a Patchell mispass to allow Allen to feed a Cuthbert stroll to the line. Within just four minutes, the score had gone from 20-17 to 20-31. Cook had made an immediate positive impact, far greater than his second row colleagues had made all game.

As the effects of the heat kicked in and the replacement benches were used, the number of mistakes continued to increase. Dacey replaced Rees and the scrum significantly weakened, plus his line out throwing was equally dodgy. The referee did well to keep Zebre in the game by awarding them two kickable penalties and the score was 26-31 at 62 minutes. Neither team looked capable of closing out the game as neither team could control possession. It really was rugby of a very poor standard.

It was Leonard, the All Black, who committed the mistake that cost his team the game. A stupid forward pass in his own 22 allowed Cardiff an attacking scrum, from which Vosawai piled forwad and Dacey went over from the breakdown. Patchell was immaculate with his goal kicking, as he was with a rare Cardiff penalty that came afterwards and the game was won.

Hammett will have learned, if he didn’t already know, that he has a huge job on his hands. Not only does he have to coach his players in how to play as a team AND ensure they bulk up, he also has to coach them in how to play out simple elements of the game. For starters, when you score it is vital to immediately control the ball and run down the clock. It is stupid to give away possession and points, but that’s what they did. He will need to get into the heads of Paulo, Adam Jones, Lloyd Williams and Dan Fish for various reasons. He will need to push a pattern of play that doesn’t rely solely on individual brilliance.

Welcome to Cardiff, Mark.

15
Dan Fish
5
/10
It’s difficult to gauge whether his tentative nature with the ball in hand is because of his lack of confidence in his talent or because he thinks it is off putting for the opposition. Regardless, he needs to back his kick return ability to give assurance to his team mates. He was strong under the high ball in this game.
14
Alex Cuthbert
5
/10
a so-so performance that allowed him his customary run in try without seeming to break sweat. It was interesting to see him popping up more at outside centre but his running angles need to be worked on.
13
Cory Allen
5
/10
a try saving tackle at the end of the game matched his selfless try giving pass to Lloyd Williams in the first half, but there were few opportunities in between for him to shine. He did blow a try with a fumbled pass to Dicomidis in the first half.
12
Gavin Evans
3
/10
his sole contribution to the team seems to be as a pretty weak crash ball merchant to tie in opposition back row, but he doesn’t even do that very well.
11
Owen Jenkins
4
/10
with the ball in hand he looks to have a guile and some ability, but he is small and needs upper body strength. He left his wing to allow Leonard a simple blind side pass to the winger to score.
10
Rhys Patchell
9
/10
this guy has it all and really could go on to be a very special player. He has the bulk and confidence that Fish lacks. Either at first or second receiver, he threatened the gain line with either passing or with the ball in hand, plus his kicking display (one punt directly into touch apart) was very good.
9
Lloyd Williams
4
/10
when looking for improvements from last season’s performances, we were left disappointed by Williams. His box kicking is still dreadful, his ability to put pace on the ball is limited. He is not a calming influence, nor a half back who can control the game, nor a leader.
8
Manoa Vosawai
5
/10
we were hoping for a performance that would show control, a willingness to carry ball and always being an option for his half backs, but this was only infrequently on offer. He drifted in and out of the game, a bit like Andy Powell without the ebullience.
7
Sam Warburton
6
/10
a couple of ball carries apart, his effervescence was limited by the referee’s unwillingness to allow the defending team to compete at the breakdown. At times, Warburton was the lone back row player for Cardiff but it seemed a very rusty first competitive hit out.
6
Josh Turnbull
2
/10
a very limp debut which offered very little. We had wanted ball carries, line out option, strong tackling – but we were left wondering where he was. Bar a couple of errors, his first real input to the game was a pitch side interview in Welsh.
5
Filo Paulo
1
/10
the worst of Paulo. Just the very, very worst of him was on show in this game from the early, and needless, yellow card for the off the ball shoulder on Leonard, to other needless penalty errors including flying off his feet at the very first attacking breakdown of the game.
4
Chris Dicomidis
2
/10
he must wonder how poor was his performance that Hammett preferred to keep the liability that was Paulo on the pitch. Cook’s arrival, to replace Dicomidis, was heralded by a tackle steal and a line out pinch with led to Cardiff scores. Unfortunately, he’s out of his depth even at basement ProSiambles level.
3
Adam Bomber Jones
4
/10
well, that’s what a steady scrum looks like. We’d forgotten. Just for preventing a Cardiff scrum marching backwards, Jones wins points, but quickly loses them for his breakdown ill discipline that leaked a number of penalties. Replaced at half time by Craig Mitchell.
2
Matthew Rees
5
/10
like Jones, a very welcome steadying influence at scrum time but, also like Jones, not quite at his best elsewhere with his game. One overthrown line out led to real problems but his team were also tapping ball on their own throw.
1
Sam Hobbs
5
/10
meh. A maul steal which led to the Fish try apart, it was very much a Hobbs performance of just being there.