There was a second Anglo-Welsh Cup loss in five days for Cardiff as they went down to a bonus-point defeat at home to West Wales rivals Ospreys, with the game turning on a 46th minute red card to Georgian prop Anton Peikrishvili, making his first start for the club.
After last week’s heavy 62-25 defeat to Exeter acting head coach Richard Hodges rang the changes with nine new faces coming in, the experience of Matthew Rees, Jarrad Hoeata, Macauley Cook, Cory Allen and Dan Fish joining the younger players who struggled badly at Sandy Park. There was also a late change to the advertised XV with James Beal replacing Rhun Williams on the wing.
Despite a restructured team and the forwards especially being loaded with senior players there was a certain deja vu feeling after just two minutes of the game when Cardiff infringed on the floor, Ospreys kicked into the corner, and promptly pushed hooker Scott Otten over the line at the back of a rolling maul. Phil Jones kicked the conversion and a long evening awaited!
However, despite Ospreys probably edging the possession statistics, handling errors and better work at the breakdown from Cardiff stopped them gaining any momentum. Cardiff themselves had a fair share of territory, with scrum half Rhodri Davies looking particularly lively providing quick ball for the backs.
It was this quick ball that got Cardiff back into the game as possession moved quickly to the left wing where Dan Fish released James Beal. The winger couldn’t beat the last man but Ospreys were penalised for failing to roll away and quick thinking 9 Davies saw the opportunity to tap and go from 10 metres out as the defence couldn’t touch him and he reached over the line.
Young fly-half Ben Jones, clearly benefiting from being able to prepare for lengthy game time, kicked the conversion and Cardiff were level after 17 minutes. The team took great confidence from this and looked to kick on but were met with some fierce Ospreys defence, failing to turn chances into points.
Owen Lane looked particularly good in both carrying and chasing high kicks, Shane Lewis-Hughes was always keen for work, either carrying, tackling or jackaling, despite playing out of position, while the front row of Brad Thyer, Matthew Rees and Anton Peikrishvili were the basis of an extremely strong Cardiff scrum.
We were also let down by a few handling errors and stray passes that largely came from players not used to playing together. Attacking pods were quite disjointed and one or two players slightly too keen to impress went for the miracle ball too often.
The other point I’d like to make from this section of play is that Garyn Smith, despite the insistence of the coaches to continually pick him at 12 whenever possible, is definitely a 13. He doesn’t particularly have the size to play inside centre or the creativity, however he has the pace and positional ability to operate at outside centre with ease.
In terms of actual match action, there was little to report on for the last 20 minutes of the first half. Both teams flirted with the red zone but never really threatened, and in fact it took until the last kick of the half for Ospreys fly-half Jones to have a clear shot at some points, but his penalty drifted wide.
Richard Hodges used half-time to bring in Seb Davies in place of Macauley Cook, presumably with Connacht away in mind next week, while Hemi Barnes of Pontypridd was also given a chance to have a decent crack at professional rugby, coming on for James Sheekey, who did little to harm his reputation in both Anglo-Welsh fixtures.
The second period started much as the first had ended with both sides largely cancelling each other out, and it seemed we would be in for an incredibly tense climax to the game as the scores remained solid on 7-7, but by the 48th minute everything had changed.
In terms of the actual incident which saw Anton Peikrishvili sent-off I’m afraid I can’t offer a huge amount of insight. I only became aware something was wrong when play stopped and the Georgian was scrapping on the floor with an opposition player, which at the time seemed like the Ospreys man was the main instigator of.
However the red card soon came out for the tighthead making his first start for the club, after Ben Whitehouse had consulted with his assistant referee who was on the far side of the pitch from the incident. Nigel’s boy told WalesOnline’s Simon Thomas that Peikrishvili was dismissed for a bite post-match and I guess we have to take his word.
Questions remain over who saw the incident. If it was the assistant he was a good 40/50 metres away, while if it was the referee then why didn’t he stop the game as soon as the bite occurred? Rather than waiting for the game to naturally stop and let the players start brawling?
Anyway, if Peikrishvili is charged and found guilty he could well be looking at a few weeks off, and with him only being a game into his Cardiff career and on a short-term deal until the end of the season, there are serious questions being asked about whether his contract is worth honouring.
A non-Welsh qualified spot in the squad being taken up by a player who could be sitting out a month or more, and who plays in a position where Fa’ao Filise is still operating as well as he’s ever been, Scott Andrews is enjoying the form of his life, Dillon Lewis is a very hot prospect and Kieron Assiratti is waiting in the wings.
The extra annoying thing about Peikrishvili’s ill discipline is that he was having a good game until the red card. He carried well, put in a few big hits and most importantly he was sending Ospreys loosehead Gareth Thomas backwards at each scrum time. Is that enough to justify a second chance? We shall see.
Going down to 14 men unfortunately undid all of the good work of the previous 55ish minutes and soon Ospreys were running in their third try. With two subs already made, the bench stocked with teenagers, and a whole host of young players left on the field not quite fit enough for 80 minutes of senior professional rugby, a recipe for disaster was ready to be taken advantage of.
Ospreys played the extra man cleverly, moving the ball wide early, and with speed. Winger Tom O’Flaherty in particular showed the Cardiff defence a clean set of heels twice, albeit the final one coming slightly fortunately as a Ben Jones chip fell straight to him, but nevertheless four tries later the away side had a 31-7 victory to take back down the M4.
The scoreline told the story of a red card, in all honesty, as the game completely turned on it’s head after Cardiff went down to 14. It was actually a great shame as it was such a close encounter before that, and just became an Ospreys rampage afterwards. Taking the first 55 minutes into account though, it was a positive night.
Cardiff were very competitive and it was encouraging to see that the young players had not lost any confidence during last week’s hammering. Anglo-Welsh Cup dreams are over for this year, but with Pro12 riding high above all other competitions as the main aim this season, and still two games to allow youngsters more exposure to professional rugby, there’s no great failure here in terms of development.
Hopefully in the games away at Sale and home to Worcester after Christmas we can keep all XV players on the pitch and compete for the full 80 minutes. Fingers crossed, come on Cardiff!!!