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Monday Morning Quarterback View

A game that could so easily have been lost was in the end won by sheer grit and resolve, rather than by outstanding performance. It was a real case of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, and Cardiff would have been kicking themselves all the way back up the M4. They correctly recognised we were going to play in very narrow channels and completely snuffed out our attacking game, but their discipline at set piece and inability to handle our scrummage, from start to finish, led to a stream of penalties which the excellent Gareth Anscombe remorselessly converted into points.


Our determination and resolve was best summed in the final 10 minutes, when with a one score lead, we fatally pulled off Max Nagy, who debuted well in very difficult conditions, just seconds before Mike Collins started hobbling, and within a minute he seemed to suffer a serious injury which necessitated Jac Morgan being deployed as an emergency centre. The whole team rallied to the cause and held on for what could prove at the end of the season to be an important four league points.


There is no doubt the conditions were difficult, and playing a team with an eight-day turnaround, with only six days for ourselves, contributed to the visitors appearing to have more energy and explosion. Nonetheless, there were some worrying aspects from the night. Our maul is nowhere near the potent weapon of last season. There seems to be no trust in our hookers to accurately throw to the middle or tail of the line out. It is hard work to continually have to build a maul from front of the line against defences who can see there is no trust in winning ball from the tail of the lineout. It was extremely fortunate that Cardiff continued to needlessly infringe against a maul that was not really threatening them.


The style of our play in the first two matches suggest Booth thought that the front fives of both opponents were suspect, and victory could be achieved by grinding them into submission with a narrow attack. There is some merit in this thought process, as Cardiff in particular are a very dangerous side in the wider channels and thrive from turnover ball. This approach is far less likely to produce dividends against South African and Italian sides, who will eat up any attack based on set piece and narrow channels and tend to struggle more when attacked in the wider channels. There is another six-day turnaround and Booth is going to have to freshen up the 23 and give starts to bench players from the first two games. The excellent Collins looks likely to be on the side-lines for at least the next few weeks.


Two of the biggest selection decisions will revolve around who mans the 13 channel, which was such a massive weakness throughout the last season and which Collins appeared to have solved, and whether Rhys Webb is used as a closer or a starter. The loss of his once explosive pace was magnified by being up against the outstanding Tomas Williams, who has the explosion we used to see from Webb. As was shown on Saturday, winning, and losing games at this level can be very dependent on the timing of which players are introduced from the bench and Rhys, as he gets older, may become more effective in the role of a closer. The difficulty with making such a call is whether there is starting rather than bench quality in the remaining scrum half pool, with no sign of when Harri Morgan can be expected to be available.


The selection and approach will be interesting as we move away from Welsh derbies. As always, not dropping home games is going to be vital in achieving a well-placed finish in the table. Hopefully some cavalry will be available with another short turn around.


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