Cardiff Blues secured a brilliant win away at Llanelli Scarlets on a sunny West Wales Saturday to keep hopes of a top six finish alive. With a poor record at Parc y Scarlets in recent years and a worse away record this season it was completely unexpected to rock up in Carmarthenshire and outplay the home side, but in reality the scoreline made it seem closer than the game actually was.
Danny Wilson went for an experienced front row in Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees and Tau Filise to try and counteract the Wales front row of Llanelli. They were backed up by the same players who’d walked past Treviso the week before behind them as the three blindsides of Sam Warburton, Ellis Jenkins and Josh Navidi remained in the back row, while Gareth Anscombe’s presence at 10 kept Llanelli-bound Rhys Patchell at full-back.
Cardiff 56-8 Treviso: https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/28/cardiff-56-8-treviso/
Now the Cardiff of this calendar year have been criticised, especially by me, of not playing until about the 60th minute. However, flying out of the blocks doesn’t even cover what happened here. Within two minutes Ellis Jenkins had won a penalty at the breakdown and Gareth Anscombe and tapped and run from inside our 22 after shaping from the kick to touch. We made ground to the halfway line thanks to a Tau Filise offload and won another penalty to put us deep into Llanelli territory. Although nothing came of it, it was still a signal of intent.
We were looking for the first score and it came from a piece of skill that’s becoming an Anscombe trademark as he chipped over the top of the Llanelli defensive line. DTH Van Der Merwe collected then spilled for Rhys Patchell to hack on and eventually force Gareth Davies to carry the ball over his own line. The resulting scrums and forward drives didn’t produce the try wanted but gave Anscombe an easy kick for three points.
It wasn’t long before the try deadlock was broken though and it was a fantastic Cardiff attack that did it. The ball was turned over after a big hit by Garyn Smith on Ken Owens in midfield, an encouraging sight as the young centre has looked somewhat lacking in defence on occasion. From the loose ball it was collected by us and put through the hands for Rey Lee Lo to make good yards before a quick recycle and a nice spin from Smith released Filise to do the same. From the ruck Lloyd Williams went sniping and he simply wandered through the biggest of gaps in the Llanelli defence.
Anscombe’s conversion made it 10-0, but Llanelli clung onto our coat tails courtesy of two Dan Jones penalties. The first was a poor decision by Italian referee Marius Mitrea penalising Ellis for no reason at the breakdown, before Anscombe was penalised for not being 10 metres when Gareth Davies tapped and went. It was down to Cardiff to provide the real attacking threat though and we were back at it about 25 minutes in when Tom James fielded a poor kick and set Patchell free on the left wing. More quick recycling saw Rey Lee Lo with a yard of space on the right to kick through for Dan Fish but the winger was brought down a yard from the line. After Josh Navidi and Tau Filise failed to get over the line it was eventually back to Tom James to finish the attack by beating Steff Evans to the corner.
Anscombe missed the tricky kick but TJ had another chance to stretch the lead almost immediately as a confident Cardiff put the ball wide from the kick-off, but the top try scorer managed to take his eye off Smith’s pass which would have released him. Soon after the touch judge, who we’ll see more of later, penalised Filise at scrum time for Jones to kick another penalty, but that was cancelled out by our New Zealand born fly-half just before half-time after James Davies went off his feet with the Blues five yards out. 9-18 at the break and we looked by far the better team.
The home side came out the stronger after half-time, aided by Mitrea constantly penalising Cardiff eventually resulting in Jones cutting the lead again. Ellis Jenkins was again the ‘culprit’ leading the Italian to have a word with a distinctly unimpressed looking captain Gethin. The grumpiness seemed to work as some excellent Cardiff defence finally allowed Sam Warburton to actually compete at the breakdown and turnover possession, only for his kick to head straight to the touchline. He made up for it though by winning the penalty after Lloyd Williams had charged down Gareth Davies’ box kick from the resulting lineout.
Three easy points for Gareth Anscombe ensued but he immediately undid that good work by going on his own into contact from the kick-off and allowing replacement Llanelli fly-half Aled Thomas a similarly simple penalty. Rhys Patchell missed a long distance kick to extend the lead again before the game was won by Cardiff 15 minutes from the end. Home centre Hadleigh Parkes inexplicably tried to kick with Sam Warburton right on top of him and the ball squirted off the Wales captain’s foot to Filise. The ball was recycled quickly out for James to break a tackle and feed Anscombe on his inside shoulder who threw a fantastic dummy I even fell for on the replay to cross the whitewash.
The fly-half’s conversion got him his 18th point of the day to complete a fantastic performance. There was still time for some entertainment though, as replacement home scrum half Aled Davies made a break and secured a lineout in the corner, but Kristian Dacey broke up the rolling maul. However, a botched scrum saw John Barclay driven over for a try despite no clear grounding to make for an interesting last 10 minutes.
It was made especially interesting by that touch judge from earlier. With five minutes to go Llanelli attacked down the left with Barclay. He was tackled by Josh Turnbull who was subsequently held on the floor by the Scotsman after the ball had gone, while Turnbull also held back Aled Thomas. For this the replacement fly-half decided to unload two punches onto the Cardiff flanker, no more than two yards in front of the hopless touch judge. This bloke then decided to tell Mitrea, who by now had penalised Cardiff elsewhere for no reason, that Turnbull should be sin binned for holding back ‘red 10’, when Llanelli’s starting fly-half Dan Jones has gone off 10 minutes earlier! Words escaped me.
Anyway, this only inspired the most pleasing aspect of our performance on the afternoon. Facing some incompetent refereeing and being a man down against a home side smelling blood the defence put in a massive final few minutes. Huge hits from Sam Warburton, Ellis Jenkins, Dillon Lewis and Lloyd Williams eventually coughed up a Cardiff penalty and soon we had Llanelli deep in their own territory. The West Walians couldn’t make it down the Parc y Scarlets turf as Steff Evans was put in touch by Dan Fish and Rey Lee Lo, leading to a few phases of keep ball and Lloyd blasting the ball out.
A quite incredible win that was summed up by that effort at the end. Really could name each of the playing squad as a player that played well, but I will pick out Sam Warburton, Ellis Jenkins, Gareth Anscombe and the King of Tonga, Tau Filise, for special mentions. Also a nod to Graham Steadman for the fantastic defence shown throughout the 80 minutes. An all-round excellent performance that really puts us in the 6th place race coming into the final weeks with the better of the run-ins of our Pro12 rivals. Next up Newport at home in a huge game, come on Cardiff!!