Cardiff Blues ended the season on a high with victory over Edinburgh at Murrayfield. Despite not being filled with quality it capped off a fine second half of the campaign that saw us almost push for Champions Cup qualification had it not been for a loss to Ospreys at Judgement Day last week. However, our win in Scotland and an Ulster victory in Swansea meant we finished as the second best Welsh side in the Pro12 for the first time since 2009/10.
Danny Wilson stayed largely with the team that has performed so well over the last few weeks for the last trip of the year, with only Cameron Dolan coming into the side at lock for the injured Sam Warburton, Josh Turnbull switching to flanker to accomodate that, and Lloyd Williams and Tom James returning in the backs in place of Lewis Jones and Tom Isaacs. On the bench Lou Reed and Scott Andrews got chances to impress before the summer break.
The game started pretty poorly for Cardiff with Edinburgh having all the play, only a fantastic Gethin Jenkins tap tackle and strong Tom James defence stopped the home side from going ahead inside five minutes. We struggled to really put our attacking stamp on the game, for the second successive week, in the first half with only a Gareth Anscombe chip being too long for Dan Fish to chase a real scoring chance before the half hour mark.
There were uncharacteristic errors elsewhere from normally dependable figures as well with Josh Navidi spilling a high kick which he’d take 99 times out of 100. From the scrum our front row buckled and Jason Tovey took Edinburgh to the corner. The rolling maul didn’t function but the Cardiff defence ignored the blindside and flanker Hamish Watson got over in the corner for the first score.
Almost straight from the kick-off we were back under pressure from two odd John Lacey decisions. Firstly Lloyd Williams was adjudged to me offside from a ruck and Edinburgh went back to the corner, then from the maul Josh Turnbull apparently infringed despite Lacey initially signalling his attempts to halt the attack were fine. The home side tapped and went in line with their early match attacking speed which Cardiff’s defence just couldn’t cope with and eventually centre Matt Scott just walked through an unguarded ruck fringe.
That poor fringe defence was a key factor in the first half for Cardiff as Edinburgh time and time again put us on the back foot thanks to easy yards made from the base. If it wasn’t for an inspired perfromance from Ellis Jenkins who secured at least four turnovers I dread to think what the score may have been, also a mention to Gethin Jenkins and Cam Dolan for assisting ably in that department.
Fortunately we did manage to start playing around the half hour mark as a prolonged period of attack, going through around 15 phases, put us into the redzone. We looked unable to break through for a while as Edinburgh stood strong but eventually a little flick from Ellis Jenkins out to Rey Lee-Lo on the wing gave the Samoan enough space to provide an excellent finish. Gareth Anscombe provided the conversion to make it 12-7.
With two minutes of the first half to go I think all concerned with Cardiff would’ve taken a five point deficit but a scrum on halfway was put under pressure and soon Edinburgh had counter rucked and taken possession. The ball was shifted out to Scott who put in a little grubber kick and hacked it on over the try line for Tom Brown to steal the try. Jason Tovey hit the post from the conversion and we went in 17-7 down at the break after a more than lacklustre performance.
The start of the second half was certainly a step up on the first period as the defence was vastly improved, thanks in part to Aled Summerhill making way for Gavin Evans to make his first proper appearance since January. He may not be the most dynamic attacker but he loves a tackle! This defence provided a solid base to attack off, and that we did for a good 20 minutes to no avail.
A good sign of the change in attitude under Danny Wilson though is that we didn’t panic during this time. Despite dominating possession and territory we weren’t making any headway but by remaining calm and patient we made headway when Garyn Smith put a kick in behind and Sean Kennedy was forced to concede a lineout deep inside the Edinburgh 22. From that one the home side dragged the maul down so Anscombe went back to the corner.
This time the ball bobbled around off the lineout but a fantastic piece of sweeping up by Anscombe saw him offload to Rey Lee-Lo, onto Garyn Smith making yards, Ellis Jenkins carrying it up to the line and finally Cam Dolan on the angle crashing over for his first Pro12 try. Some fantastic handling that hasn’t been seen from Cardiff players in many years. Anscombe’s conversion took us to just three points behind with all the momentum.
Just five minutes later we got ahead for the first time after replacement Edinburgh scrum half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne scuffed a clearance box kick straight to Anscombe who fed the Fish. He went round prop Allan Dell before throwing a dummy to the outside and turning back to the inside to find Garyn Smith for a try.
21-17 up and with Ospreys getting battered by Ulster it was all about game management, not exactly our forte at times but different here. We stayed patient with ball in hand and still looked to play, there was no nerves to be seen although perhaps that was helped by having the pressure of Champions Cup qualification lifted. An assured performance was how you would describe the second half, a compliment to Danny Wilson’s squad turnaround.
A slightly dodgy last 30 seconds where Edinburgh secured a turnover and went for the corner were sorted when Macauley Cook stole the ball at the ruck and Dan Fish kicked the ball clear to end the season with a win. Seventh place secured in the Pro12 and with it ending as the second best Welsh side. If someone had offered me that on the back of seven straight league defeats in November I’d have snapped their arm off.
A season review is planned for the blog but a little summary on the end of this, the last match report of the season, would be ‘things are looking up’. Danny Wilson has brought in a winning culture with him and really got the players into a tight knit group filled with quality. It’s a real exciting time to be a Cardiff rugby fan, and I cannot wait for next season. Come on Cardiff!!