Despite draws being quite the statistical anomaly in rugby, there’s something particularly dissatisfying about them. Very rarely do you find either side involved happy to come away with a draw.
Friday night in Parma was no different as Cardiff travelled home knowing they were the dominant side for large periods but failed to make that pressure tell, while Zebre will bemoan 11 points left on the tee as they failed to back up their first league win in 22 games with a second victory in a week.
For the Blue and Blacks it was a largely familiar tale across this United Rugby Championship season so far; An 80 minutes during which we led and the win was there for us to go and secure, but ultimately wound up just short. In another world Matt Sherratt’s side are five wins from five and flying towards European fixtures, as it is we’ve one win and have four games where just one score would have been enough for more.
The stats are a tough read from a Cardiff perspective in a “how did we not win?!?” sense; 56% possession, 55% territory, 32 defenders beaten, 8 line breaks, 91% tackle success and 5 turnovers won. That should be a victorious stat line on both sides of the ball, even with a 75% lineout and 83% scrum that weren’t disastrous but not ideal, however there is at least some growth there.
Rewind two weeks and the attack against the Scarlets was blunter than blunt. One-up runners, rarely getting into the 15 metre channels, and hardly moving the ball from the point of contact. A week later and there was more ambition but a huge amount of handling errors against the Bulls as the Blue and Blacks went from 0-100 too quickly and ended up playing beyond ourselves.
On Friday the attack was much improved up to the opposition 22. We moved the ball through midfield well, played with a lot of width and tested the edges of Zebre’s defence. Sometimes there was a touch too much width and we ended up a bit lateral, but better to have that problem then be too direct and get nowhere. Metres were made easily as we regularly entered the red zone.
The issue was converting entries into the opposition 22 into points as we struggled to punch our way over for a try as the line approached. Regularly coming off 9 into a physical home defence there was very little joy to be had making the hard yards, while going wide was dealt with comfortably as the defensive line could be front loaded in the absence of kick cover being required.
It’s a good problem for Sherratt and Richie Rees to find solutions for this week as we now know the Blue and Blacks can get into dangerous positions, but need to convert field position into points. Whether that’s through a pick-and-go game, holding width and looking for the kick pass or being a touch more adventurous with our play calls in midfield, an answer is needed.
On the whole though it was another showing full of effort from the Cardiff ranks, with particularly the likes of new/younger faces Rhys Litterick, Teddy Williams, Alex Mann, Tinus De Beer and Cam Winnett punching in big shifts, joined by Lopeti Timani who’s 27 carries, 14 of which went over the gain line, were a quite remarkable level of relentlessness.
There were a minority of comments being completely over-the-top with their negativity after the game, mostly on the cesspit of Facebook which will teach me for heading over there, regarding individual players and the team as a whole. Of course there’s frustration, everyone is frustrated and none more so than the players and coaches.
However, this is still a rebuild from a base which dropped significantly thanks to the actions of the Welsh Rugby Union. It’s a new coaching ticket, there’s a lot of new players either brought in or promoted from the Academy, and an opponent which historically has been poor but has made improvements through a multi-year rebuild of their own.
We’re seeing effort week-on-week, we’re seeing increased ambition week-on-week, and we’re seeing individual and team progression week-on-week. The results aren’t quite there yet, but they’re coming, along with a significant quantity of experience and quality close to getting out of the treatment room and on to the pitch.