Gareth Anscombe bagged 19 points in Cardiff Blues victory over the Scarlets. Pic: Getty Images.

Cardiff Blues Rope-A-Dope Tactics Leave Scarlets All Tied Up

Cardiff Blues stunned the Scarlets 34-5 in the Pro 14 West v East derby at Parc y Scarlets. Here, Dai Sport’s Harri Morgan analyses how Blues coach John Mulvihill got his tactics spot-on.

Martyn Williams use of the rope a dope analogy in commentary on the East versus West derby at Parc Y Scarlets, was just about spot on.

When he delivered the line, the tide was just beginning to turn in favour of the Cardiff Blues.

The Scarlets’ punch might have lacked the ferocity of one delivered by the fists of George Foreman, but they dominated territory and possession and kept jabbing away in attempt to swing the important statistic in their favour.

The Blues defence was less a Herculean effort of derby day heroism, more so a deliberate, efficient and highly professional operation.

Tactically the Blues’ coaching box had done a number on their counterparts.

In the lead up to the game, Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac reflected upon a performance at the Liberty Stadium that he felt was heavy on kicking and light on ambition with the ball.

Wayne Pivac saw his Scarlets dominate possession and territory but still suffered heavy defeat. Pic: Getty Images

The Blues didn’t need Alan Turing amongst their brains trust to decipher the emphasis on ball retention in their opponents tactics.

The selection of ex -Scarlet, Josh Turnbull in the number six jersey ahead of turnover machine, Olly Robinson was perhaps an early indicator that John Mulvihill was comfortable allowing the Scarlets to dominate possession just so long as his boys were heavy handed in the battle of the gain line.

The visitors gained an early lead thanks to a Gareth Anscombe penalty and a Lloyd Williams try, which his half back partner converted.

A Johnny McNicholl score halved the lead, after a delightful offload from Will Boyde.

The Scarlets’ attempt to wrestle back the lead was characterised by repeat attacks that went numerous phases without consistently creating the speed of ball necessary to make defending for such extended periods an impossible task.

In the lead up to the game, Pivac would have dreamed of 71 per cent possession and 75 per cent territory. Post match he will have had nightmares of his side’s inability to breach a Blue wall that forced his side into countless handling errors in and around contact.

Much will be made of the Scarlets’ demise in the past two months, but for me it is the inability to dent the opposition defensive line in the early phases that is of greatest concern.

Previously, the combination of footwork, power and offloading ability would have rendered a rope-a-dope strategy, defensive suicide for a visiting side at Parc Y Scarlets.

Despite the endeavours of the home side it was a Ray Lee-Lo try that eventually broke the deadlock. A delicious first phase try, featuring an outside break from Willlis Halaholo that did nothing for Dan Jones’ defensive reputation.

The Blues got further reward for the defensive energy as both Lee-Lo and Gareth Anscombe picked off desperate Scarlets’ passes in midfield to scoot over for five pointers that sent the home support exit bound.

The selection of Turnbull, he who personified the Blues effort, accuracy and tactical nouse, as Man of the Match was the perfect end to a job well done for John Mulvihill’s men.

 

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