We’ve won at last! I knew we could eventually, and a really good win it was too against the league leaders and a really in-form and confident Connacht side. They played with the confidence of a team unbeaten in eight, but to be fair to the Cardiff lads, we didn’t let them play with the quality that requires, and that’s a big compliment to our defence, and all-round team performance. A really enjoyable Friday night at CAP I must say.
Going into it there was a quiet optimism, from me anyway, but always with Cardiff you can never be entirely sure. Especially this season when the phrase ‘one step forward, two steps back’ has never been so prevalent. Last week though, it was closer to a leap forward as we kept the Ospreys quiet for almost 65 minutes at the Liberty Stadium. There was also the boost of Alex Cuthbert and Rhys Patchell’s return from injuries, although Sam Warburton missing out did leave us a recognised openside short.
Cardiff signalled our intent early on in the game as our first two penalties were put into touch from kickable range, a very brave move from a team without a league win since the first weekend of the season. Manoa Vosawai had put his marker down already with a run down the wing following a half-break from Tom James, and followed that with a powerful run off the back of a rolling maul from the second penalty, to just about score our opening try of the game. All very encouraging, but then we took our foot off the gas and let Connacht back in. A quite fortunate try in many ways, as Matt Healy was stopped by Alex Cuthbert in the corner, before a blind offload went straight into the arms of scrum-half Ian Porter who used the body of Healy as a guard to score. The disappointing aspect comes in midfield where hooker Dave Heffernan was tackled by Macauley Cook and Rey Lee-Lo, but his arms not wrapped up leaving him free to offload. Unlike us, Connacht didn’t let scoring slow them up, and under 10 minutes later they were back over the line via a rolling maul and some very inconsistent refereeing from Andy Brace. Fortunately two post hits from the conversions kept Connacht in touch, and Patchell levelled the scores with a penalty, although Porter restored the three-point lead for the visitors soon after. It was the home side finished the half this stronger, only good defence from Connacht on their line keeping us out.
The second half started as a tense affair, Patchell missing a penalty the only incident of note in the first 10 minutes, but then a big moment in the game as Andy Brace awarded Connacht a penalty somewhat confusingly, before being told to overturn it by assistant Neil Hennessey. The kick went to the corner, and the forwards got to work, taking the ball to within inches of the line. However, after some quick ball from Lloyd Williams, it was down to record try scorer Tom James to reach for the line, his fifth try in all competitions. Patchell’s conversion, coupled with a brilliant penalty from halfway just after, put us a converted try ahead, only for Jack Carty to restore the lead a few minutes later with a penalty of his own. This set up a tense last 10 minutes or so, especially when Connacht were right on our line and Brace went upstairs to check for a try. However, the reaction of the visiting players told the story and a knock-on was confirmed. Vosawai broke away from the resulting scrum into a no-arms tackle sending him flying and forcing him off with injury eventually, a sad end to a fantastic performance. We were still able to hold on however, and Lloyd Williams put the ball over the dead ball line for a brilliant win.
To be fair, apart from a dodgy 10/15 minutes towards the end of the first half where we conceded the tries and seemingly forgot how to tackle, it was a very competent performance. In attack, we looked composed, especially in the final third, and went through phases comfortably in midfield before making breaks. In defence, I got the one thing I ask for every week, a bit of desire. Especially in those last 10/15 minutes there was a real will to stop Connacht scoring and I would make a note of the support from us in the stands at this point, and also Graham Steadman throughout the game who was behind the defensive line at each end of the pitch for the full 80.
I’ve given Steadman some stick so far this season, I have to say, there’s been a marked improvement in the defence, particularly in the line speed, over the last two games. Throw in a specialist openside, and we could really be on to something there. Back to European action next week as we host Montpellier, a massive game if we have hopes of reaching the knockout rounds, come on Cardiff!!