Rugby Union: Cardiff's lost weekend

Jonathan Davies argues that pace and power can disrupt the southern comfort
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The Independent Online
We moan and groan about referees but dozens of Welsh rugby players and thousands of fans would have been delighted to have had their company yesterday. The refs' dispute with the Welsh Rugby Union is the latest of professional rugby's teething troubles and, sadly, hit us at a very bad time yesterday.

After our adventures in the Heineken European Cup and in internationals against Australia and South Africa, all the senior players in Wales were happy to be resuming our domestic rivalries and we at Cardiff were particularly looking forward to playing Swansea to get revenge for the beating they gave us in the first match of the season.

More than that, we badly needed a game. Club rugby is all about continuity and Cardiff's first team have played together only once since beating Bath in mid-November - and then we struggled to find our form against Caerphilly. Because of international commitments we have also missed playing against Western Samoa and Emerging South Africa which would have been excellent experience. Now we have to play at Brive in the European Cup semi-final two weeks today and we have only one game in which to get our act together and that's against Pontypridd on Saturday in a league match which will be a fearsome test in its own right.

The game is going to have to be organised much more efficiently next season if clubs are going to be given a fair chance of matching clubs from other countries. It is all very well people banging on about how far we have to go to catch up with the southern hemisphere - we can't even catch up with ourselves.

And, although I would be the first to admit that we have much to learn from them, I hope that our attempts to emulate them doesn't result in the loss of our identity as rugby nations. What's the point of trying merely to be a carbon copy of the southern teams? They'll always stay one step ahead of us.

We have to take what we can from their game and add something of our own that will give them a problem. It may be a tall order but we are never going to overcome them by being the same. We have to add a dimension that comes from our traditional way of playing.

English rugby has good qualities but it has become too slow.Scotland have always been excellent ruckers but they need to improve other aspects, while Wales' best chance is to play the flair game. But none of us will improve until we get quicker ball. This is the main lesson to be learned from our recent experiences. We need athletic, ball- carrying back-rows and we need cleaner second-phase ball.

Having played against Australia and, sadly, forced to watch South Africa against Wales, I am most impressed by the speed with which they recycle the ball. Their forwards tend not to get tangled up in rucks. They drive over the ball and the scrum-half can whip it out. Our scrum-halves usually have to rummage around for it through a pile of bodies. By the time it comes out the defence is so well organised the number of options open to the backs are practically nil.

This is the part of rugby we have given our most urgent priority to and it can be done. South Africa have improved tremendously, mainly through speeding up their back-row work. There was a big controversy when they dropped Francois Pienaar but I thought his replacement Adrian Venter was a terrific blind-side and at No 8 Gary Teichmann, who reminds me of Mervyn Davies, was another great success.

We've go to keep trying until we get a combination like that. I'm confident that we can make the necessary improvement. Speed and surprise - that what's we have to bring into our game.

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