Cardiff

k.o. time: 2:30 pm

6 September, 2015

BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park

Spectators: 3,638

Zebre
referee
Andy Brace
7
/10
Typically, as this was his first PrO'12 game, he was very pedantic to start with but he did set the rules for the breakdown.
worth annoying the wife factor
7
/10
our man of the match
Dan Fish
general comment

Whilst the opposition weren't up to much, it was nice to see a Cardiff team that had clearly benefited from some coaching

scorers
Josh Navidi (2)
Tom James (1)
Aled Summerhill (2)
Rhys Patchell (3)
Josh Turnbull (3)
Rhys Patchell (1)
Gareth Davies (1)
Dan Fish (1)

Any new coach would have looked at the fixture list with a smile if he saw 'Zebre' at home as the first game, more so when you consider that they would be missing their Italian international players. That noted, and ignoring the tired cliche that 'you can only beat what's in front of you', Danny Wilson should be pleased with this joyful performance as his team ran in 11 tries.

He will know to not get carried away, of course, as the demons of the previous coaching regimes are not yet vanquished, but we finally saw patterns that players looked comfortable with. Unsurprisingly, given his background, the attacking line out has been positively transformed but there is still a concern over the scum. In terms of assessing attacking or defensive patterns, Zebre were so weak that no real conclusions could be drawn. What is noticeable, however, is that Wilson has his staff (and cameras) all over the ground to record events - coaching staff above the boxes at the Westgate Street end, replacements watching on the angle from the River end, even video camera analysts in the North Stand. Professionalism has finally arrived.

All of that aside, the performance in the opening quarter was poor. Turnball excelled with an easy tackled missed, a knock on at a pick and drive and he and Lewis failed at lineout time. Zebre were dominant in possession and territory, tackles were missed and Cardiff looked poor. Their sole attacking plays with the ball in hand were the chip over the top from Patchell and a (woeful) box kick from Knoyle. This wasn't great to watch and it looked like it was to become a dour game played in bright sunshine, but it was the lineout that came to Cardiff's rescue.

From the terraces it looked as though Hoeata had noted Lewis' continued inaccuracies from last week's friendly hit out against the NGD and decided that front ball to him was the way forward. Cardiff had run this a couple of times in the game already and had driven both times. After Patchell had missed a simple penalty, the next award went to the corner and a clever line out move saw Navidi score - Zebre were expecting the drive to come on (as per the previous lines out) but the ball came off the top to a blind side peel that allowed Navidi to power over. We were finally (again) watching thinking rugby.

Never far below the surface was the farce, of course, and this was apparent as the 5-3 lead quickly become a 5-6 deficit. A comedy of errors from both teams, including a dreadful attempt at a high tackle on Gavin Evans that should have seen a yellow card for complete incompetence, pursued as overlaps were missed and passing was at ankle level. Lewis topped this farce as he decided to loop a throw in to a 5 metre line out (on his own line) only for it to be picked off by a Zebre player who looked to have scored - only for seemingly the TMO to award Cardiff the free kick for a technical offence.

This seemed to spark Cardiff and deflate Zebre. Soon after, a flowing move allowed Patchell to pick off Hoeata (who was in fine form) to gallop through a dogleg defence and his pass to Tom James (welcome home) led to Cardiff's second try. This was on 34 minutes and Cardiff had another through Aled Summerhill three minutes later. Knoyle had stopped box kicking in preference of quick penalties and he sparked a lengthy movement with Navidi, James and Fish to the fore. Zebre stopped the move in front of the posts but a move to the right gave Summerhill his first.

On the stroke of half time the visitors number 8 was sent to the bin for a ruck infringement allowing that line out to produce another try. Penalty, kick to the corner, lineout drive, try! We've been so used to that being the pattern AGAINST us but now it had led to two first half Cardiff tries.

The second half became something of a parade as it appeared that Zebre weren't much better (if at all) than the Rovigo side who conceded 100+ earlier this year. The scoreboard would have been even more in Cardiff's favour at the break had Patchell been able to kick any of his conversations but he decided to just score tries in the second half.....

A schoolboy knock on by the Zebre full back near to his own line led to a Cardiff scrum that couldn't make its was over the line, but a simple ship out to Patchell saw him take the ball into contact and stretch over the line. It had appeared, by this stage, that Dale McIntosh had moved to work in Italy. The conversion was under the posts, so Patchell couldn't miss and cheered his own kick, such was the bad day he was having with the boot.

After this we saw the ridiculous and sublime of the Fish show where he'd make a marvellous run only to trip over a gust of wind, or to knock on in the act of scoring, or to conjure up something equally as daft. One such break saw his pass knocked backwards by Zebre, allowing Patchell to kick ahead and touch down.

The game pretty much disintegrated at this point, allowing Patchell to grab a third, Summerhill his second and then Josh Turnball completed a hat trick in the style of Jamie Heaslip (all scored within 7 minutes).

There's little doubt that Wilson will be happy after this game but it's unclear as to what he would have learned. We saw, sadly, Tom James limp off with a foot injury so that is a big loss to an already dour back line, but at least Wilson knows that he has a functioning attacking line out. The scrum looked better with Mitchell on after the break and Ellis Jenkins is too fine a player to sit on the bench.

The next few weeks against Irish teams, all away, will prove far more useful to Wilson than this romp against Welsh Premiership standard opposition.

15
Dan Fish
8
/10
Mercurial. From the sublime to the park pitches within a couple of strides. It's impossible to not love watching Fish play. He's like an Alfa Romeo. Bloody awesome when he works but you never know when he's going to fall over....
14
Aled Summerhill
7
/10
He looks like he needs to put on another stone or so but he has, clearly, the running talent to make a future for himself in the game. He looks way too small for the centre, however, so it's back three for him.
13
Tom Isaacs
0
/10
Solid, team player, takes the correct options, nothing flashy. Like a Ford Focus.
12
Gavin Evans
6
/10
Solid, Mr Dependable, the same as last season, nothing flashy. Like a Vauxhall Astra.
11
Tom James
7
/10
TJ on two legs is a crowd favourite as nobody, least of all him, know what is going to happen next when the ball gets anywhere near him. He showed today that he is still the TJ of old so let's hope that foot injury isn't too bad.
10
Rhys Patchell
7
/10
For the first 30 minutes he looked as though he didn't want to be there as everything he did was at half pace. Suddenly, he then bursts into life for the next thirty minutes or so, fires his backline, scores three tries, kicks like he's wearing clown shoes and then strolls off to a standing ovation. What a bizarre performance.
9
Tavis Knoyle
7
/10
When your Backs coach is an ex-scrum half you hope that the one area of annual improvement would be in number 9 play, but this doesn't seem to be the case with Tavis. Still a poor box kicker, still too slow when any phase of play requires thought, still looks his best when the game is at tempo and his decision making is binary.
8
Manoa Vosawai
6
/10
We saw bits and pieces of what he's capable of but he did look a couple of inches slimmer in the mid drift. It wasn't really a game of trucking it up or big 8 carries so he didn't get his chance to shine.
7
Josh Navidi
8
/10
This guy must be indestructible as he seems to be the 'go to' player to swallow up a hospital pass. If I were Wilson then I'd make Navidi room with Down on the Irish trips so hopefully the attitude and aggression can be impressed on to Down. Navidi keeps going, keeps bouncing back, keeps carrying, keeps trying.
6
Josh Turnbull
5
/10
Our Heaslip. Three tries at the end shouldn't highlight that Turnball doesn't really offer anything for a modern day blind side. He needs to put on a stone and play lock, permanently. Too many missed tackles, responsibility, and a farcical attempt to cover a kick through, all are more important than running in three tries.
5
James Down
7
/10
Down has all of the skills required for the modern lock, including the ability to disrupt the driving maul, but the same question marks exist over his aggression and physical presence. His line out work is still strong.
4
Jarrad Hoeata
8
/10
3
Taufaao Filise
5
/10
Same old Taffy, the odd big hit, the odd rumble, the attempt to hold up the scrum.
2
Ethan Lewis
5
/10
After a very shaky start of missed throws and missed tackles, he showed up well around the park. He looks to have a good engine and a willingness to work. Let's hope it was just nerves that shadowed this performance.
1
Sam Hobbs
5
/10
This should really be the season that sees him step up to challenge Jenkins but there were little signs of that today. He gave no scrum dominance nor prominence in the loose. It's just dependable, but average.