Cardiff Blues were brought back down to earth with a severe bump as early season good form was halted by a seven-try thrashing at the hands of the Ospreys. Everything that could go wrong did so for Danny Wilson’s man who now hold a record of 11 straight Pro12 losses against our Swansea-based rivals.
Head coach Wilson had been forced into three changes after injuries picked up in the previous week’s narrow loss at home to Leinster, with Matthew Morgan only fit enough for the bench, while George Earle and Sam Warburton were ruled out altogether. Dan Fish, Macauley Cook and Josh Navidi started, as did Garyn Smith who replaced the out of form Cory Allen. Cam Dolan and James Down were called up to the bench.
Cardiff started the stronger of the sides with a return to attempting some expansive rugby, although Ospreys looked dangerous on the counter-attack. Despite this the scores were only 3-3 after 12 minutes through Gareth Anscombe and Sam Davies penalties.
It would be the pack assisted by Cook and Navidi that created the first try of the game as Anscombe kicked a penalty to the corner, Josh Turnbull collected the lineout and Kris Dacey was at the back of the maul which drove over. There were some pre-game fears that the pack may have been bullied, that was not evident here, but little did we know what was to come.
The game started to go downhill on 20 minutes as Dan Fish’s clearance was charged down by Sam Davies and the full-back proceeded to hinder the Ospreys 10 as he went after the loose ball. A penalty and yellow card saw us down to 14 men and defending a line out on our five metre line, and although the maul was stopped well there was nothing that could be done about a charging Alun Wyn Jones.
Further punishment was escaped as Cardiff could’ve gone down to 13 men when Josh Turnbull was penalised for offside in a similar incident to that which Josh Navidi was binned for against Leinster. He stayed on the field and managed to fashion a turnover from Ospreys initial attack but the home side came back with vengeance to set up space on the right wing. Sam Davies’ late pass to Eli Walker took a rushing Rey Lee-Lo completely out of the game and gave the winger a simple finish.
Just three minutes later Walker was doubling his try tally after an initial break was made by Davies through a poor missed tackle from Ellis Jenkins and then from Lloyd Williams. The ball was moved to the left wing where Sam Parry went close before Welsh winger Walker was free to cross unopposed in the corner.
It seemed like Cardiff were going to struggle with a man down, but they gave us some false hope by going through a number of phases camped on the Ospreys line, even seeming the threatening team in attack we had been over the first three weeks of the season, until the home side managed to turn the ball over just a yard of their try line.
Josh Matavesi received the ball and carried for 60 metres before being brought down. The Ospreys had us on the ropes though and 11 ground-gaining phases later Ben John went right up to the Cardiff line to allow Dimitri Arhip a simple pick-and-drive, or more accurately a pick-and-flop, to score the bonus point try.
Sam Davies missed his second conversion of the night but it didn’t matter as the 27-10 half-time score was more than adequate, even with Dan Fish now back on the field the three tries scored while he was off had taken a lot of wind out of our sails. A long second half awaited….
From the very first second it was a really poor showing as James Down dropped the kick-off straight to Ashley Beck who kept us back in our 22. The ball was spun from left touchline to right where Ben John was waiting to step off his right foot and spin over the line.
Sam Davies nailed the conversion from wide and not even two minutes into the second half the league was stretched to an unassailable 22 points. Misery upon misery was heaped on us as Anscombe missed a simple kick to the corner from a penalty in midfield, before Tau Filise spilled a simple pass when we were building up some phases to attack from.
This gave the Ospreys the opportunity to dominate possession and soon they were crossing the line again as, for the second time in the game, Rey Lee-Lo was caught rushing out of the line and not stopping Sam Davies’ pass which this time found Josh Matavesi and was moved onto a late arriving Dan Evans.
Cardiff did manage to stop the constant flow of tries for five minutes and attempt to get some kind of foothold in the second half, but handling errors from Tom James, Matthew Morgan and Lloyd Williams stopped us keeping hold of possession for any length of time.
It took until just past the hour mark for us to make our first meaningful impression on the game since about the 10th minute when Tom James scooped up a loose Dan Biggar pass to run 60 metres unopposed. It’s not exactly a brilliant piece of Cardiff play, but at that point in the game then anything would do.
With 20 minutes to go there was still an outside chance of a bonus point with two more tries, however that faint hope was killed four minutes later when Josh Matavesi ran a perfect crash ball line through a massive gap in our defensive line, smashing Anscombe out of the way before brushing Matthew Morgan aside and rather carrying the full-back over the line with him as the former Osprey man clung on for dear life. A rather fitting image for the game in general really.
There was time for Cardiff to produce one decent piece of play in a very consolatory fashion as, with a penalty advantage in the bag, Anscombe sent a cross-field kick to the right wing to high ball expert Blaine Scully. The American tapped it down to Morgan who managed to squeeze on offload for Lee-Lo to cross in the corner.
The end finally arrived with Ospreys almost making it a half-century of points when Ashley Beck attempted to score in the corner, but Morgan did enough to squeeze him into touch. Nevertheless it was still a general embarrassment and one which the players will need to forget quickly.
Every team has it’s off days, unfortunately ours was just against one of our biggest rivals. However, Friday can’t be dwelled upon, the measure of the team will be how they bounce back from this when they take on Bristol in the Challenge Cup on Friday. I still have faith in the ability in this team, they just need to believe in themselves. Come on Cardiff!!