Cardiff Blues produced a second half defensive display for the ages to beat the form Pro12 team of Glasgow at the Arms Park, and in doing so ensured the opening three games of the season were won for the first time in the era post-2003.
Glasgow came to town on the back of impressive victories over Leinster at home, and particularly Connacht away, with arguably the best attack in Northern Hemisphere rugby. Tommy Seymour already had six tries to his name, Stuart Hogg was in the form of his life, and Mark Bennett was only just returning from Olympics duty to add a little extra firepower.
Danny Wilson turned to his experienced international players to help combat the Glasgow attack, with Josh Turnbull, Sam Warburton and Lloyd Williams all making their first starts of the season alongside Matthew Morgan making his full Cardiff debut in place of the injured Dan Fish.
The changes to the starting line-up seemed to have exactly the desired effect and I’m sure Wilson could not have been happier with how the game plan was being executed in the opening 25 minutes of the game. Cardiff dominated possession and territory, going through phase after phase in and around the Glasgow 22 but struggled to really break down the Scots.
Two penalties from Gareth Anscombe seemed like they might be the only reward from this period of all out Cardiff attack as the Glasgow defence held strong, seeing off a Rey Lee-Lo hack through after a loose pass, and the resulting five-metre scrum saw possession knocked-on by the Samoan centre.
However, Cardiff returned to the red zone thanks to Matthew Morgan’s excellent counter-attacking run allowing Tom James the chance to kick and chase down the wing. Stuart Hogg did enough to collect the ball but couldn’t stop himself being taken in goal for another Cardiff attacking scrum.
A number of phases later we were still camped inside the Glasgow five metre line, knocking on the door but unable to get through. In the end it required a piece of inspired attacking play to signal the return to form for Alex Cuthbert.
Reminiscent of the Wales wing of old he ran a devastating line from the blindside of Gareth Anscombe to slice clean through the opposition defence and score his first try of the season.
Anscombe duly added the extras to give the score line a healthy 13-0 glow, but a Glasgow rebuke was just around the corner. In their first real visit to even the Cardiff half they turned on the style, moving the ball from breakdown to backs at an incredible speed to see Hogg over for a try.
From the restart the downhill slide continued as we conceded a penalty to allow Glasgow to return to our half, they drove well off the line out and still managed to fashion an overlap despite a huge Lee-Lo hit. If it weren’t for a Ryan Wilson knock-on with the line beckoning it would have been two tries in as many minutes.
Instead though it was two tries in five minutes with Cardiff completing their implosion thanks to Josh Navidi spilling the ball from the back of the defensive scrum and eventually inside centre Peter Horne crashed over.
Two Rory Clegg conversions gave the visitors the lead and it seemed like the Cardiff players were happy to go in a point down at half-time as Anscombe prepared to boot a penalty into the stand.
With some help from the crowd and captain Gethin Jenkins though the decision was reversed as we tapped and attacked. Kris Dacey got us going forwards with the initial drive and there was a certain inevitability that eventually the score would come.
The phases were worked to create numbers on the right hand side, allowing Anscombe to throw a beautiful miss-pass for Navidi to break on the outside before offloading to Lee-Lo. A well-struck conversion from our fly-half took us in 20-14 up at the break despite that 10 minute wobble allowing Glasgow back into the game.
The second half was one of few highlights in all honesty. The major incident was scrum-half Ali Price’s try as he was hit so hard by Nick Williams he managed to bounce over the try line from five metres. But with Clegg missing the conversion Cardiff’s noses were still in front and that wasn’t about to change.
At this point, inside the last 20 minutes and just a point to the good, you’d expect Cardiff to be clinging on for dear life. However, supported by an 8,024 crowd creating an atmosphere not heard at CAP for a few years, the team were pushing on.
Tom James looked seriously dangerous all 80 minutes, making half-chances and line breaks seemingly every time he had possession. One of those runs created some good front foot ball and allowed replacement fly-half Steve Shingler to step through a gap in the scramble defence.
Unfortunately as he ran into the space all composure deserted Shingler and he ended up throwing the wildest of passes, completely missing all three players lining up to support him outside, and allowing Glasgow to hack the ball into touch.
Luckily from the line out they decided to take Turnbull out in the air and Shingler had the chance to put right his mistake by putting Cardiff out of three point reach. A pressure kick, but executed brilliantly.
The main highlight from the second half was the Cardiff defence. I don’t know what was said at half-time but whatever it was worked as the coaching done by Graham Steadman really came to the fore and we looked more defensively solid than we have in a long time.
There is such a desire amongst the squad to put the effort in, make the tackles, compete at the breakdown and then get back in the line it’s a pleasure to watch. At times, like last night, a huge defensive shift is as good as watching free-flowing attacking rugby.
Glasgow are clearly a very capable side and if they are not involved in the play-offs at the end of the season I will be extremely surprised. All just going to prove how big of a win this is.
It’s still early in the season yet, but when Sam Warburton won a penalty as the clock turned 80 and Shingler blasted the ball into the South Stand, I sensed a wave of belief wash over the stadium. We have something very special going on here, let’s carry this right through the season. Come on Cardiff!!