A 78th minute Steve Shingler penalty secured a last-gasp victory for Cardiff Blues away at Section Paloise to keep the dreams of Challenge Cup knockout stage qualification alive, but considerably shortened the lives of fans everywhere.
Danny Wilson had been forced into a number of changes from the team that lost to Glasgow, in a squad selection that was down to how uninjured a player they were over how good they were. Full debutant Corey Domachowski was joined by Matthew Rees and Fa’ao Filise in an all-new front row, while Tomos Williams, Nicky Robinson, Steve Shingler and Willis Halaholo were a makeshift three-quarter line inside a new wing combination of Rhun Williams and Cory Allen.
Quick disclaimer before I get into the body of the writing, this isn’t a match report as such as I wasn’t in Pau on Saturday, and due to the lack of television coverage I was doomed to listen to BBC Radio Wales and Gareth Charles desperately trying not to say the dreaded ‘C’ word. As such, this is a quick report on the game and some thoughts on what it means going forward.
Cardiff got off to a flyer thanks to Steve Shingler’s penalty inside the first two minutes, but Pau winger Louis Dupichot took advantage of an initial an overlap as Cardiff’s scramble defence failed.
Fly-half Brandon Fajardo converted and was back on the tee 15 minutes later as half-back partner Julien Tomas took advantage of a rolling maul to snipe over from close range. Shingler kicked another penalty but a 14-6 half-time scoreline wasn’t ideal for Danny Wilson’s men.
The Cardiff fly-half added another two penalties either side of a Willis Halaholo try to put Cardiff in the ascendancy at 19-14 up with twenty minutes to go, but almost ten minutes later Pau were back in front as Pierre Dupouy made pressure pay to cross the line and Fajardo kicked his third conversion of the day.
However, as disappointing as some of the play has been over the last few weeks, one thing it’s difficult to fault from the players is their effort, and they threw the kitchen sink at the French side in the knowledge that a win was crucial. Eventually referee Gary Conway awarded a penalty right under the posts, and Shingler held his nerve to do the honours.
Writing this a few days later I’ve still not stopped breathing the same sigh of relief that I held at the final whistle, although there was enough time to curse the team a few times for putting us through that hell. Overall though, I’ve decided to look at the whole thing in a positive light, because if we didn’t have hope as Cardiff fans, there’d just be tears.
Of course I can’t not mention the number of errors, particularly in the first half, which again threatened to derail attempts to put a decent result on the board. A grand total of 18 turnovers conceded for each side made for an overall poor spectacle, with only Cardiff’s heart keeping their noses ahead in the end.
Add to that some tackling issues that allowed Pau to make 24 offloads during the 80 minutes, and Cardiff were on the back foot for most of the first half, and a lot of the game, but yet again due to their own doing rather than actually being the second best side.
However, there were plus points and even some improvements that the positivity clings to. Altogether it was 25 Pau defenders beaten during the game, which is a massive number for any side, and coupled with eight line breaks means we are still looking dangerous in attack, just not converting.
A 100% scrum record off our own put-in is a basis to work off, impressive when considering that 20 year old Corey Domachowski was making his first start at loosehead, while missed tackles was down in single figures despite the number of offloads, restricting Pau to just four line breaks.
There’s a basis to work off there, but once again I’m sure the player and management media sound bites will be dominated by the words ‘accuracy’, ‘converting’ and ‘execution’ this week. However, the difference is that ‘confidence’ should be amongst them as we move forward off a narrow win rather than a disappointing loss.
Although I’m sure there was plenty of frustration at the performance, actually having a sense of joy at the result is important going forward, and as Willis Halaholo so wisely tweeted after the game ‘an ugly victory is better than a pretty loss’. A win is a win, as a cliche loving person may say, and it’s difficult to argue with.
Looking ahead, we welcome Bristol to the Arms Park next week, and once again it’s a must-win encounter to ensure qualification to the Challenge Cup knockout stages, and fingers crossed we can welcome a few more senior players back into the fold in an attempt to fix the execution issues.
Gareth Anscombe may well be the most important of those, but with Steve Shingler baggin 17 points in France he will be hard to drop. The big thing will be Danny Wilson actually having a selection headache again though.
Usually a small preview of next week would end the match report, but this week that spot is saved for the Cardiff Blues fans out in Pau. Those of us listening at home were treated to an array of chants and Welsh songs heard loud and clear over the radio waves, and not only did they undoubtedly spur the boys on, but they partially blocked out Charlo!
Home attendances may be falling, and we may be accused of never travelling in huge numbers, but you can’t ever question the passion of those who are in the cold, wet and dark cheering on the lads all year round. Cardiff fans really are the 16th man!