Cardiff Blues began their European Challenge Cup campaign with a comfortable bonus point win over Italian part-timers Calvisano at the Peroni Stadium, although we didn’t have it all our own way until the second half after a slow start to the game.
On the back of a terrible run in the league, Danny Wilson named a strong squad for the trip that included Lions Alex Cuthbert, Sam Warburton and Gethin Jenkins. Only two changes were made from the team that narrowly lost out to Glasgow, with fully fit Jarrad Hoeata coming in at lock, and young prop Dillon Lewis making his first Cardiff senior start.
After 1500 people stood still to remember those who passed on Friday in Paris, the away side started the stronger but it was to be discipline that let us down, again, as a Filippo Buscema penalty put Calvisano ahead. Cardiff hit back though as they stayed on the front foot. Wales U20 international Lewis won the penalty at the breakdown, Rhys Patchell penned the hosts in the corner, and a few phases later, Lloyd Williams had sniped over from a yard. Somehow, Patchell missed the easiest of conversions, to continue his erratic start to the season kicking-wise, but he made up for it not long after as he took quick ball from a Gavin Evans line break to send a flat pass out into the grateful arms of Tom James, and the winger did the rest, Patchell this time adding the extras. 12-3 up and in control but we still managed to shoot ourselves in the foot, another Buscema score cutting the deficit, so that not even a Patchell kick in reply made the 15-6 half-time score particularly encouraging.
The break came and went as the Italian weather got colder. Cardiff came out knowing they needed to turn the screw, so turn the screw they did. The forwards led the way as successive line out drives eventually resulted in Ellis Jenkins crashing over, and four minutes later the backs took over with slick hands feeding the Dan Fish to throw a neat dummy and touch down. Two tries from two very in form players to secure the bonus point, now to turn on the style. Despite a third Buscema penalty, the Cardiff Blues try generator kept working and it was two new signings linking up next as a Rey Lee Lo offload sent Blaine Scully over for his first Cardiff try. Patchell notched his third conversion out of three in the second half as he found his kicking boots, but was taken off just after to save his legs for the visit of Harlequins to CAP on Thursday. His replacement Jarrod Evans, possibly not the first time I’ll write that, kept the scoreboard ticking over as he fed namesake Gavin who ran a beautiful line to score the sixth try, before the forwards punished a tiring Calvisano pack to pick up a scrum penalty try to round off the scoring.
So the Italian Job was completed this time with 50 points on the board and five points in the competition, exactly what was required. An all-round impressive performance as well, from the dominant pack led by standout man Ellis Jenkins, into the backs and particularly the back three. An individual mention to Alex Cuthbert who, as Wilson said, ‘did all but score’.
Some selection dilemmas for the coach ahead of a real tough test on Thursday under the lights, against a Harlequins team who arrive on the back of a 41-18 thrashing of Montpellier. That will be the gauge of whether we can compete in Europe this year, let’s hope we can push on after this confidence booster. Come on Cardiff!