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How Rhys Priestland unlocks defences masterfully and the little touches from his debut that should get Cardiff fans excited

Cardiff fans making their way to the Stoop on Saturday had plenty to be positive about.

For starters, being physically back at a match is a novelty that won’t wear off quickly after being kept away for so long.

Also, the Blues moniker that never really sat well with some was gone, with a re-branding more in keeping with the Arms Park club’s 145-year history on display for the first time.

On the pitch, there was also a host of impressive performances against Harlequins – with the likes of Jamie Hill, Alun Lawrence, Max Llewellyn and Kirby Myhill all impressing, while it was great to see Garyn Smith back after a long-term injury.

There was, also, the debut of new signing Rhys Priestland against the reigning Premiership champions.

The last time he was in action for a Welsh club, he was steering the Scarlets to a narrow victory over Treviso in Italy to secure Champions Cup rugby for the west Walians.

Naturally, the stakes were a little lower this time around, as was his involvement – coming on as a replacement for Jason Tovey in the 54th minute.

The 50-cap international didn’t have a great deal to do as Quins largely dominated the final quarter, but there were some nice touches that showed what a fully-firing Priestland can offer to Cardiff as Dai Young continues to turn things around in the capital.

It only took a couple of minutes for Priestland to show what he does best, taking the ball to the line.

From a clearance kick fielded by Matthew Morgan, the fly-half spots a chance on the blindside – giving the call to scrum-half Hill.



Priestland spots space on the blindside after Matthew Morgan takes a high ball, calling on Jamie Hill to switch the play

He takes the ball in motion, ensuring the solitary defender isn’t able to drift across to cover the overlap before Priestland decides to give the pass.



Priestland takes the ball to the line hard, ensuring the defence can’t drift before giving the pass

It’s a little detail, but the sort of thing that Priestland does so well. It’s no mistake that Jamie Roberts perhaps played his best rugby for Wales when Priestland was pulling the strings, simply because of how he created space for others.

You see that when you see how long he is able to hold a pass when in motion.



Taking the ball on second phase, Priestland has an inside option next to him – with the defence not yet in sight

He delays the pass enough to create a gap for Olly Robinson, despite the Quins defender desperately trying not to bite onto Priestland. Eventually, he can’t resist and the fly-half gets the pass away.



If Priestland gives the pass now, Olly Robinson will be swallowed up by the defence – so he holds the pass to draw in more defenders



Eventually, the defender bites in and Priestland gives the pass

So much of what Priestland does is on the gainline, but he also knows when to drop deep to give himself time on the ball. A common misconception is that fly-halves have to do everything on the gainline to trouble the defence.

On this occasion, he takes it standing still, with a bank of three forward options outside him and Garyn Smith behind.



Priestland takes the ball a little deeper here, with a bank of three forwards outside and Garyn Smith behind them

Crucially, even though he’s deep, he provides movement by carrying straight – shaping to pass to one of the forwards.



Crucially, he takes the ball in motion – keeping the defence fixed

That ties the defence up, before he pulls a pass back to Smith who spreads it wide – allowing Cardiff to get around Quins.



With the defence fixed, Priestland can pull the pass back to get around Quins

Cardiff’s second-half showing was fairly different to what they did in the first-half given the number of changes and it will be fascinating to see Priestland fits in to the attacking game we saw in those first 40 minutes.

The first-half saw Cardiff playing with even more pace and accuracy, using their balance of forwards in a 3-3 formation centrally to great effect.

Fly-halves playing in that system tend to have plenty of passing options, as demonstrated by how Cardiff created the opening try for Llewellyn over multiple phases – despite losing quick ball on a couple of occasions.



This attacking template, which saw Smith go through a gap from Tovey’s no-look pass, is exactly what Priestland will thrive playing in

Similar work provided Jason Tovey with the chance to put Garyn Smith through a gap with a no-look pass for Cardiff’s second try – the sort of set-up that suits Priestland’s style of play down to the ground.

Throw him and Jarrod Evans into the mix and Cardiff’s attack could certainly be one to watch this season.

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