Cardiff Blues had victory snatched from their grasp as a last minute Paul Willemse try was converted by Demetri Catrakilis to give Montpellier the win with the last kick of the game. A cruel, cruel way to lose a game we fought so hard in. However, it’s not all bad news when it comes to Pool positions as it’s all in our hands.
Danny Wilson decided to make a number of changes after last week’s excellent home win, with Garyn Smith replacing Gavin Evans an enforced replacement. Lou Reed returned from concussion for James Down and Manoa Vosawai did similar from a leg injury in place of Josh Turnbull. Finally, Gethin Jenkins and Sam Hobbs swapped along with Tavis Knoyle and Lloyd Williams at scrum-half. Some changes in key positions after a win which you would expect to see a bit of squad continuity from, but in Danny we trust!
The game got off to a rapid back and forth start as first Rhys Patchell struck a penalty, then Montpellier had a try disallowed for a forward pass, before Catrakilis pulled the home side level. Two further Patchell penalties returned the lead to Cardiff, and actually we were having more of the possession and territory. The danger was always Montpellier with the turnover ball as they attacked quickly and made good yards, but continuing inidvidual errors let them down at crucial moments, although on 24 minutes Catrakilis made it 6-9.
With the game in the balance a moment of magic was needed, and just three minutes later we got it. Cardiff put the kick-off deep, and Nic White prepared to box kick the danger away for Montpellier. However, the scrum half’s kick missed touch and lacked any height to be chase-able as it went straight down Jarrod Evans’ throat. The young fly-half returned the ball with interest to nearly the home side’s 22 as the forwards got the work securing quick ball. Just a phase later Knoyle picked out Patchell, but with only Alex Cuthbert outside him, and four French defenders facing them down, he decided to put in a perfectly weighted chip over the top. Cuthy read it like a book and the bounce was kind enough to send the winger over for his second try in a week.
With the conversion Patchell put us ahead by 10, and Montpellier were still struggling to get into the game. The attacks were still arriving, but the number of dropped passes or fumbles from a team with 13 internationals was quite bizarre, compounded when Catrakilis missed a fairly standard penalty.
It took until the 39th minute for the home side to click as Montpellier piled on the pressure up to half-time. Consecutive lineout drives eventually lead to referee Ian Tempest holding the arm out against one of Jarrad Hoeata or Manoa Vosawai for entering the maul at the side. With nothing to lose, Catrakilis put a perfectly weighted crossfield kick to Julien Malzieu as the onrushing Patchell was beaten by the flight, leaving the winger an easy trot to the posts.
The conversion made it 13-16 at the break, with Cardiff deserving of their lead on balance. However, that try on half-time gave Montpellier a whole new level of momentum, leaving Cardiff pinned inside our 22 almost from the get-go. I could list every player who made a big hit or forced a knock on or held the ball up in the second period, but I’d just be naming every player in white on the pitch. The effort was monumental, especially when Vosawai was binned for again entering a maul at the side. 10 minutes of just Montpellier waves of attack were quelled and the home side only had a penalty to show for their man advantage.
Whilst praising the Cardiff defence, I must also, again, criticise the Montpellier attack as they were just dreadful. It really is no suprise that they are struggling in the Top14 and were whalloped by Harlequins in round one of the Challenge Cup. Some cracking individual players and pieces of skill, but they are all on entirely different wavelengths. It seems that lots of great players don’t automatically make a great team.
Coming up on 70 minutes gone and Cardiff finally got out of their half for more than 30 seconds. Vosawai, back on the pitch, went for the carry and was chopped down by the shoulders of Mikheil Nariashvili. Penalty to Cardiff and with Blaine Scully having replaced Patchell, young Jarrod Evans stepped up and planted his kick between the posts no problems. With confidence flowing through him, Evans was off the tee again a few minutes later, with a tricky kick from distance and on the angle. Any nerves? None at all, and the young fly-half proved again why he is rated so highly by many in the Welsh game. I’m very excited about watching him develop over the years.
Six points ahead with seven minutes left and the bums were squeaking. Montpellier were throwing the kitchen sink at our defence, but the way we were holding them out was a World away from how we crumbled in games during the early part of the season. One Montpellier attempt was ruled held up by the TMO, but he was to be called into action again in extra time. The home side forwards were right on the line and a big shove got them over it, with the ball buried under a massive pile of bodies. There was a bit of reaction from the French side but not a massive celebration, and it wasn’t even clear if the ball was down when all the players started getting up. However, quite unbelievably, referee Tempest asked ‘Is there any reason I can’t award the try?’ With the replays proving entirely inconclusive the TMO had no option but to go with the homer referee.
Catrakilis got the easy conversion and we went down by a point in such a cruel loss that I’ll be bitter about it forever. I can’t fault any member of the team for giving absolutely 110% for the entire 80 minutes. There were one or two things to work on, discipline at key points for example, and turning down kick-able penalties for quick tap-and-go’s that don’t get anywhere, but they’re minor points.
Overall the positives massively outweigh any negatives. Firstly, the defensive effort that was completely missing while out in Ireland a few months ago, and that I pleaded for over the subsequent weeks, was shown in abundance. I can’t ask for anything more from the team than show a willingless to play and a passion for the jersey. Also, the midfield play was impressive and I was pleased that the centre pairing of Garyn Smith and Rey Lee Lo worked well, with Lee Lo performing well from inside centre. Finally, the amount of academy players on show, with Smith and Jarrod Evans playing 80 minutes, Dillon Lewis an hour and Ethan Lewis on for the last 20. All didn’t look out of place at all and the experience will do them no harm. The short-term and long-term future are bright.
An apology to Lou Reed: https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2015/12/19/an-apology-to-lou-reed/
10 days off to recover from two bruising but brilliant performances against a very strong Montpellier side. The big positive is that even with the loss, we still sit a point ahead of the French side, so a result at Harlequins, or a result from Harlequins in Montpellier, as well as a bonus point win at home to Calvisano, should see us into the runner-up position. Newport on the 27th is up next, look out Dave Parade, Danny Wilson’s revolution is on the way, come on Cardiff!!