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How Cardiff’s aerial attack downed the Stormers

23 Oct 2022 5 minute read
Rhys Priestland of Cardiff Rugby kicks a penalty // Photo Credit: Inpho Photography

Simon Thomas

So just how did Cardiff Rugby achieve what no other side in the BKT United Rugby Championship has done since February – defeat the DHL Stormers?

Here’s the inside story from both camps on the key factors behind the BKT URC reigning champions’ 15-match unbeaten run in the league coming to an end.

It’s a tale of self-belief, an astute game-plan and a masterful Man of the Match display, as well as a host of errors from the visitors from Cape Town on the rain-soaked artificial surface at the Arms Park.

The DHL Stormers actually outscored their Welsh hosts by four tries to two, with three of their touchdowns coming from powerful lineout drives.

But it was the boot of 20-point Cardiff fly-half Rhys Priestland that proved the difference between the sides. His kicking at goal and out of hand was of the highest order, as he bisected the posts seven times and set up tries for wings Theo Cabango with pin-point cross-kicks, as he gave a tactical masterclass in the damp conditions.

Explaining how the victory was plotted, director of rugby Dai Young said: “We delivered on the game plan. We felt the air would be our friend, so we went to the air quite often and we got plenty of joy out of that.

“We also had to make a mess of the contact area. We achieved those goals and took our opportunities when we got them.

“I was really pleased with that performance. I thought we really fronted up against a formidable side and stuck in the arm wrestle.”

Fantastic atmosphere

That’s now a hat-trick of wins for Cardiff following Welsh derby victories over the Scarlets and the Dragons, with a home game against Edinburgh to round off their first block of seven BKT URC matches next Sunday.

“That’s the best three game block we have had since I’ve been back here,” said Young, who returned for a second spell at the helm in January of last year.

“The question was could we back up two decent performances. We have done that.”

A chorus of Hymns and Arias echoed round the ground in the closing minutes ahead of Wales fly-half contender Priestland sealing the spoils with the final kick of the game.

“It was a fantastic atmosphere at the end,” said Young.

“We roll on to next week now, another big game here. The pressure is to keep these level of performances up. Consistency is the key.

“If we can finish with a big performance, it will be a real good block for us.”

Winger Jason Harries provided further insight into the game-plan, as he described his try.

“It was a well-weighted kick from Rhys. It was something we spoke about in the week that those kind of kicks would be on because we had seen a fault in their back-field. The kick was on the money and all I’ve got to do is just finish it then,” he said.

“Credit to Rhys, he is good and he has done it for years. He knows how to control a game with his kicking. He has brought the old spiral bomb back in! The practice he puts in during the week comes to fruition in the game.”

On the mindset going into the match, Harries said: “When a team has won the league, every side they come up against wants to beat them, they always want to knock them off that perch.

“We said ‘Why couldn’t it be us doing that?’ The Ospreys went close last week and we took another step and the Arms Park was absolutely bouncing. It’s definitely up there with one of the best nights since I have been at the club.”

As for DHL Stormers coach John Dobson, he was disappointed but somewhat sanguine as he reflected on his team’s first defeat in eight months.

“In a way, it will be quite good to have people not talking about the record all the time! We have got it off our back, even though we didn’t want to do that,” he said.

Dobson was full of praise for Priestland’s Man of the Match performance, describing it as absolutely sublime, superb and magnificent.

“Cardiff played really cleverly with the way they manipulated our back-field. Their kicking game really put us under pressure,” he said.

“We had a kid just out of school on the wing and a new full-back and they really found that space in behind us.

“Cardiff exposed our back field with their kicking game. They were really good with their tactical approach and their fight. It meant a lot to them and they did really well.

“We were quite poor looking after the ball. We left so much ball bobbling around the breakdown and we are definitely going to have to improve in the back field.”

Their next opponents will be the Emirates Lions as they return to South Africa after away games against Zebre Parma, the Ospreys and Cardiff which brought a win, a draw and a defeat.

“We have come from this tour with nine points from three games. It’s not the end of the world,” said Dobson.

But it is the end of the unbeaten run.

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