After the high of last weeks victory there was a reality check when Cardiff Blues inflicted a narrow home defeat in the second round of the Pro12 campaign this weekend. In truth Cardiff could have won by more, but it does not mean that the result in Llanelli was a false dawn. Rather the team fell short of the benchmark set last week. Maybe the physical effort of that win with the short turnaround were factors. Cardiff certainly cut through the defence with a lot more ease than Scarlets had done to score three tries on the night. Munster scored two tries and came close another time or two only to concede a penalty when they were piling on the pressure. However the players and management will learn a lot from those defensive frailties. The lovely offloading displayed by the visitors negated engaging in as much hand-to-hand combat as had suited Munster the previous week. With Earls, Murray and Peter O’Mahony to return soon and the addition of new short-term signing Jaco Taute there are grounds for optimism. It is also worth reading the comments post game of Erasmus about needing to give the younger players “a proper chance, give them experience, let them learn from their mistakes, don’t crucify them when they make mistakes. That’s why we put them in there, its the only place they will learn.”
Due to being a bridesmaid for Amanda on Sunday I don’t have as much time as usual to write-up my blog so trying something different – picking out my favourite (glass half full naturally) memories from the game. Normal service will be resumed next week when I will be watching the game with the MRSC Dublin folks again. In Cork I watched the game in the company of Michelle who has taken over managing the MRSC Dublin facebook and twitter pages from me after 2 years so good luck to her with her new responsibilities :-).
- The reception for Johnny Holland as he was interviewed pitchside pre-game was heart-warming. As I wrote last week we were all disappointed for him when we heard of his pre-mature retirement. After going through a difficult rehab the fact that he played so well towards the end of last season only for the injury to flare up again seemed cruel. Johnny was also interviewed by Marcus Horan for TG4 and you can see that at 16 minutes into their program here
- Darren Sweetnam continues to shine in attack and defence and is cool under the high ball also. His workrate is impressive, he never gives up the chase which continues to pay dividends. His strength in the tackle has also improved since we first saw him play, now you often see him dragging the attacking player into touch. The highlights video below includes his work in the build-up to Conway’s try as it was an incredible piece of skill and after securing the ball from a clever Keatley kick, surrounded by three of the Blues he had no right to get the pass away but he did. In the photo link below there is also a series of photos from that play.
- See also the TG4 player (9.5 minutes on match clock or 37 minutes into the playback here
- Andrew Conway also showed impressive skills, not least collecting a box kick that landed in his arms over his shoulder, (i.e. he had his back to the ball as he retreated to gather it) before he launched a garryowen and soared into the air to try to secure the ball against Nick Williams. That feat drew great cheers and roars of encouragement from the terrace acknowledging his bravery, aerial athleticism and exciting counter-attack after about 15 minutes of play. At 89kgs to Williams 130, that particular challenge did seem a bit David and Goliath and it was great when he managed to wrestle the ball free for Jack O’Donoghue to gather.
- Another strong memory was the roar of the 16th man when Cardiff were looking for a try just after the half hour mark as we urged on the players to keep them out. Cardiff did manage to cross the line but the try was disallowed by the TMO as Gethin Jenkins had taken John Ryan out of the defensive line so obstructed him. Unfortunately the Blues did score through Tom James shortly afterwards in an excellent move straight off the lineout into midfield where quick offloads from Lee-Lo put James away.
- Kudos also to John Ryan who has really made the number three shirt his own. He got plenty of claps on the back from his team mates when the scrum won key penalties in the second half. Brian Scott is also getting valuable experience also from the bench which will benefit his development.
- The rest of the front row are also worthy of mention – James Cronin and Dave Kilcoyne were both in barn-storming form while Niall Scannell put in another good performance and it is great to see Duncan Casey back, especially with the bad news of fresh injury woes for their colleagues Mike Sherry and Kevin O’Byrne.
- The scrum is back! Another strong scrummaging performance especially in the second half – the penalty won by the first scrum after CJ arrived early in the second half showed great control and intensity. Ten minutes later the scrum won another penalty to raucous acclaim which Keatley kicked to make it 13-17.
- Last weeks lineout woes were put to bed and there was a 100% return from goal kicks also.
- Around the 50 minute mark there was excellent interplay between Dan Goggin and Andrew Conway which had us roaring again. Another of Robbie’s good photos shows how close Andrew and Dan came but the pass was just forward
So near and yet so forward.. Photo by Robbie Ambrose
- The Red Shed was heaving, the blue skies which appeared about 6 after a horribly wet day encouraged some extra folks along and the stand was almost full also. It was nice to be recognised by Claire through the blog. I am sure she and the other Waterford folks reading were delighted by the huge victory of their U21s in the All Ireland hurling final. The WTView community continues to grow with contact this weekend from Robbie with the link to his photos which are featured here. You can see all 64 of his pictures at his Flickr page here
The key downsides beside the loss were the injuries to Tommy, Dave and Rory. Hopefully none are too serious. Rassie Erasmus post match seemed to indicate that Rory and Tommy were HIA / concussion concerns which Dave Foley looked to be in pain as he left the pitch protecting his elbow.
The third Blues try was made by two of their substitutes (Morgan and Williams) and their lively centre Lee-Lo to be finished well by Dan Fish. With 12 minutes left Munster could only manage a penalty to reduce the gap to 1 point. So more work to be done to improve handling skills and decision-making and bed in the new defence systems hence the title this week of work in progress. Ospreys and Glasgow have set the early pace with Ulster and Cardiff making up the top 4 and Munster lying in 5th place. Plenty to work on in the coming week before the visit to Rodney Parade in Newport!
Stats on the ESPN site are here and I was particularly interested in the kicking stats which you can see below. Tomas O’Leary in the post match interview on TG4 spoke of the lack of control to make the kicks more contestable and the need to improve their exit strategy. The back three are well capable of competing in the air when the kick is well executed.
MUNSTER: Andrew Conway; Darren Sweetnam, Dan Goggin, Rory Scannell (Cian Bohane ‘HT), Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams (Tomás O’Leary ’66); James Cronin (Dave Kilcoyne ’55), Niall Scannell (Duncan Casey ’66), John Ryan (Brian Scott ’73); Dave Foley (Donnacha Ryan ’52), Billy Holland (captain); Dave O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell (CJ Stander ’45), Jack O’Donoghue. Replacement not used: Stephen Fitzgerald.
CARDIFF BLUES: Dan Fish; Alex Cuthbert, Cory Allen, Rey Lee-Lo, Tom James (Matthew Morgan ’67); Gareth Anscombe (Steve Shingler ’67), Tomos Williams (Lloyd Williams ’53); Gethin Jenkins (captain) (Rhys Gill ’49), Kristian Dacey (Matthew Rees ’59), Taufa-ao Filise (Scott Andrews ’49); George Earle (Josh Turnbull ’63), Macauley Cook; Josh Navidi, Ellis Jenkins, Nick Williams (Sam Warburton ’49).