By John Jones
Having watched their team suffer three excruciating last-gasp defeats in their opening games of the season, Blues fans finally have something to smile about.
Through their 24-21 win over Toyota Cheetahs on Friday night, Cardiff recorded back-to-back PRO14 victories, having thrashed Munster 37-13 a week earlier. His side sloppy in preceding fixtures, John Mulvihill approached both games knowing that a step-up in physicality and intensity was necessary and, whilst their South African opponents really made them work for it, was happy to come away with two wins from two.
In doing so, from initial despondency, the Blues have moved into a new stage of their season. Quite simply now that they know they can win, they must continue to do so – points will bring confidence and vice versa.
Whilst each game will be approached differently tactically, however, Cardiff’s second half performance against the Cheetahs made it clear what basic elements are needed for this new run of form to be extended.
In a league like the Guinness PRO14, physicality counts for an awful lot, with quick feet and neat passing only getting you so far. Outmuscled at times against Leinster and Benetton, the Blues brought strength and power to the Cheetahs fixture, within both the forwards and backs.
A thumping tackle from Rey Lee-Lo within the opening two minutes set a precedent for what was an immense physical display from the home side, who dominated the battle of attrition in the middle of the park.
With a pack containing the wrecking balls of Rhys Gill and Scott Andrews, as well as the gargantuan frame of Rory Thornton, with new signings Samu Manoa and Dimitri Arhip also waiting in the wings, Cardiff need to utilise this staggering physical potential to dominate teams from the opening passages.
Furthermore, Mulvihill’s side must continue to work on their discipline. Having conceded a number of silly penalties, and subsequently letting a 21-point lead slip in their match against Zebre, a week after being reduced to 13 men against Benetton, the Blues seem to have now realised the dangers of complacency.
Whilst their penalty count was still fairly high against both Munster and the Cheetahs (with a questionable refereeing performance in the latter game), Cardiff heads did not drop, particularly when the South Africans came from behind to race into an eleven-point lead. Given the disappointments of previous weeks, few would have expected the Blues to respond the way that they did, launching attack upon attack on their opposition, whilst keeping cool heads throughout.
After a wobbly start to the season, there are encouraging signs that the Blues’ PRO14 season is back on track, though with a Welsh derby clash against the Dragons this weekend, it may be too early to breathe that sigh of relief.