Cardiff 20: Connacht 16.
The streak is over.
Before the game I said felt that if we couldn’t back up last weeks performance then it would mean we haven’t progressed as much as I hoped. We didn’t get the win we maybe should have gotten or possibly even deserved, but given the extenuating circumstances, even though the team and supporters are hurting, we shouldn’t get too down about this result.
First things first, we unfortunately have to address the referee. He was supposed to be an IRFU ref working with Welsh linesmen and TMO. That is a fairly standard balance for most games and I can accept that. I can’t accept a Cardiff man refereeing a game that Cardiff are playing, which is what we got. The referee should be above suspicion and the basis for that in every sport is that you have a neutral ref who is not from the area. I’m not going to go blow by blow here but there were a number of decisions that I didn’t agree with. I could say he was equally bad for both teams but I don’t really believe that was the case. Anyone who saw the game will have a couple of examples in their own mind. However, the game is over and that’s where that issue will end unless Pat went on another rant afterwards.
My immediate reactions in the first twenty minutes was that making so many changes to the team had possibly destabilized things, particularly the front row. We seemed very narrow in defence because of unfamiliarity rather than as a tactic, and I think that was because of the changes perhaps players did not trust one another to make the tackles or be in the right positions. However, I think that each of the front three did grow into the game as it progressed.
Any uncertainty was not helped by Ronaldson’s removal from the field early on. Although he’s not the longest serving back he is quite clearly a calming influence and also a big part of our gameplan as a second five eighth kicking option who can also beat defenders and distribute extremely well.
Porter for me mixed the good with the bad, taking on the territorial kicking role quite well which led to points, but his passing from hand is erratic and not to the level required. A few balls above head height or below the waist killed momentum and made sure players were standing still to receive the ball rather than moving onto it.
I think Porter is best when he is reacting to the game, rather than thinking about it. His try would be an excellent example of that as he scored a pretty difficult try in the corner rather than chancing a break a few phases before that. His passing is often better when it is a split second decision rather than a deliberate act from the base of a ruck or scrum. And he never hassles the opposition scrum half or eight on their scrum which infuriates me, as it is akin to putting the ball at the opposition eight’s feet.
The problem with Porter being a reactive player is he plays in a decision making position.
Marmion came on after half time to inject the pace and precision that was lacking but went off after 90 seconds, leaving Healy to fill in. He did well for a winger but at the same time has shown why he switched positions. From that moment on it was always going to be a huge ask for Connacht to win the game, and became almost insurmountable when the other injuries racked up.
As much as I don’t want to see Henshaw leave, for me this game showed yet again why Marmion is our most important player, and I’m absolutely delighted that he’s renewed his contract.
Carty seemed to be making so many tackles and was involved in so many rucks that he seemed to be more of an auxiliary back rower than a fly half (10 tackles, 2 missed – only two forwards made more). If this was intentional it may have been to fill a role as a defender while Ronaldson was supposed to take on the play making duties – this is the only reasonable explanation I can imagine which doesn’t involve Carty shirking his role as a decision maker by hiding in rucks. But when Ronaldson went off he should have obviously taken over as the controlling influence in the backs.
I’ve been negative about Carty a lot in the past, and I don’t want to be continually harping, so what I will say is that he is a different ten when playing between Marmion and Ronaldson rather than Porter and Robb, which is understandable. Even so, this is something that will need to be addressed sooner rather than later.
Looking back I think that in the majority of cases Carty was not our first receiver when the ball was recycled, and if anything Muldowney was there almost as often as Carty. The BBC commentators highlighted Muldowney’s nine metres carried as evidence of his ineffectiveness, but Carty made two and passed thirty-six times. If you can find a positive from those numbers, then please, answers on a post card.
On the basis of last week it is understandable why Muldowney would be asked to carry so often, but when other factors negated his influence we didn’t see a change in tactics to something a bit simpler and perhaps easier to pull off. A couple of chips and kicks behind the Cardiff defence did make metres so even allowing for the windy conditions one imagines it was worth a shot as playing out of our own 22 was just adding pressure in most cases.
Incredibly, even allowing for these criticisms of the gameplay, Connacht dominated in every single statistic except for mauls and turnovers, and I imagine only lost out there because the Cardiff choke tackle was relatively effective. Full figures here:
Stats don’t tell the full story but when you are outdoing your opponent in virtually every element of the game, you should win.
8 line breaks, 28 defenders beaten, 10 offloads and 98% ruck success tells us that even though we’re disappointed now, we can’t overreact and throw the baby out with the bathwater. In the end Cardiff won due to a mass of injuries and some questionable refereeing decisions in key areas – sometimes its as simple and disappointing as that.
I don’t want to end on a completely negative note, so I want to highlight just how good our younger and returning players were tonight. O’Halloran is playing with tons of confidence, Heffernan was 100% on our lineout, Roux was excellent in the air before his injury, and Loughs and Rodney were both solid in the scrum and effective around the field.
Connolly, just wonderful. Its an absolute joy to focus in on him and watch the work rate. Not only that he’s already extremely effective at rucktime and is exactly the kind of seven Connacht want. His try saving tackle on Cuthbert alone was joyous.
Parata and Robb looked like fantastic prospects when they came on – Robb is a tank and Parata made breaks out of nowhere and makes globetrotter passes that actually stuck more often than not. Considering the wind and rain he had no right to be trying the things he did but they worked. SOB 2.0 looked lively and deceptively pacey which can only be a good thing.
Bealham has taken a while but he’s grown into a good bench option and hopefully will start to offer even more. But Conan O’Donnell, wow! To be honest seeing a prop apparently bless himself before each scrum does not inspire confidence in what will happen next, but the man looks like he could plough fields. Without being able to look back on a replay I think he was up against Craig Mitchell a 29 year Welsh international. I imagine he will feature in the next two fixtures and I’m genuinely excited to see what he will do given some real gametime. Its about time we started hyping some players up and I think he could be a future international if he can consistently scrummage like he did this evening. The fact that he seems to be ambipropping should see him as a live contender for a wolfhounds spot by February.