A massive defensive effort secured a narrow victory for Cardiff Blues away at Edinburgh, after a Lloyd Williams inspired 10 minutes helped turnaround a 17-6 scoreline and make it two wins in a week, keeping top six hopes alive.
Danny Wilson was able to stick largely with the side that had hammered Treviso the week before, making just two changes to the starting XV as Anton Peikrishvili replaced Fa’ao Filise at tighthead while Tom James made his first start for nearly three months in place of Blaine Scully. On the bench Aled Summerhill made a long awaited return to the Pro12 squad.
With the rain falling and wind swirling at Edinburgh’s new Myreside home, Cardiff opened the scoring after seven minutes with a Steve Shingler penalty, however for the next 10 minutes the play was all about the hosts, and the referee.
Initially Cardiff got unlucky as Willis Halaholo conceded a penalty for a high tackle with Rory Scholes falling into him. Edinburgh went to the corner and from the lineout quickly organised a dominant driving maul, with George Earle penalised for a side entry to bring it down.
Bizarrely he was also penalised for giving the scrum-half a good old fashioned shove after Sam Hidalgo-Clyne had dragged him out of the maul initially. Obviously rugby isn’t such a contact sport anymore.
Anyway, Edinburgh returned to the corner and this time it was Anton Peikrishvili at fault for trying to drag down the maul, receiving a yellow card for his trouble, which he may not have had Mr David Wilkinson not perceived the handbags from Earle to be a punishable offence.
Quite wisely the home side returned to the corner and with 15 minutes on the clock they were over for the opening try courtesy of hooker Neil Cochrane. Hidalgo-Clyne kicked the conversion and Edinburgh were in the lead with a man advantage.
Despite that it was Cardiff next on scoreline as Shingler kicked a second penalty of the evening with Edinburgh entering our driving maul at the side. However, Mr Wilkinson would soon be striking again.
First up he penalised Earle and Jarrad Hoeata for going ‘off their feet’ at an attacking breakdown when Cardiff were in a good field position, then totally ignored Hidalgo-Clyne for using his hands at the ruck before Peikrishvili, now back on the field, and Rhys Gill were next to go ‘off their feet’.
At this point Lloyd Williams was warned another yellow card would be waiting for further ‘infringements’ on the floor, and when Hoeata was unable to roll away quickly enough he was sent to send 10 minutes in the sin bin. Fortunately Hidalgo-Clyne was unable to capitalise twice off the tee.
The frustration at the refereeing seemed to invigorate Cardiff in defence as Gareth Anscombe ripped the ball from Murray McCallum before Shingler hacked the ball away. A poor clearance kick gave the visitors an attacking chance, but a handling error and forward pass lost possession.
Only 7-6 down at half-time with the full compliment of players back on the field was still a positive though, even if Cardiff were now playing into the wind in the second half. This would be a problem right from the off as Lloyd’s clearance kick was blown right back to where it came from.
Edinburgh were on the receiving end of the dodgy refereeing just after the restart as Chris Dean was adjudged to have been held in a tackle before he had got up and run under the posts. A decision in our favour at last.
Cardiff tried to keep the ball in hand with the wind in their faces but a slow and telegraphed attacking set soon got bogged down in the fringes and a knock-on was inevitable. From the first phase off the scrum Rory Scholes ran a beautiful delayed line from the blindside and Jason Tovey put him through a gap before the winger rounded Matthew Morgan far too easily.
It was a poor moment for the Cardiff full-back who had been very good in the first half, showing off his kick recovery and kicking from hand game, but his defensive frailties continue to be a concern even when he’s in the best form we’ve seen since he signed.
The away side attempted to get straight back into the game, with a lineout in midfield being the perfect basis for that, but when Anscombe’s pass from first receiver found nobody, Edinburgh picked the ball up and headed towards the line. Yards were made at speed before the blindside opened up for Scholes to grab his second try.
Two tries, but crucially no conversions, in seven minutes had put Cardiff 11 points behind and firmly on the back foot, as the players seemed shell shocked. There was also an obvious fear of competing at the breakdown, both in attack and defence, created by the refereeing. Playing into the wind it seemed a hammering may be on the way.
However, the tide turned dramatically thanks to Matthew Morgan recovering from his defensive misdemeanour and doing what he does best, counter-attacking. His first clean break only resulted in Shingler being put into touch, but when Edinburgh kicked possession straight back to the full-back he get the ball alive, allowing Alex Cuthbert to set up good field position in midfield.
The ball was now being moved wider and at speed, Tom James made a half-break as confidence visibly grew in the team. With the wind in their faces playing a short game off Lloyd at scrum-half would be crucial, as shown when he went sniping from the breakdown and got his hands free to offload.
Hoeata streaked away, but when he was pulled down short it seemed Edinburgh would have sufficient numbers present to counter-ruck effectively. The All Black had other ideas though, producing an excellent offload from the floor to Nick Williams who offered up an offload of his own for Sion Bennett to grab his second try of the week.
The conversion made it a four point game, and with an hour gone Cardiff were beginning to get the upper hand. Kicking was improved, particularly by Lloyd from the breakdown, as grass was found regularly and Edinburgh gave up field possession, before their centre Glenn Bryce kicked too long and allowed an away scrum just outside his own 22.
Penalties came from Matthew Rees, on for Kris Dacey, turning the screw at the scrum, before Edinburgh failed to roll away. Anscombe put us in the corner but Cardiff could not break down the home defence, with Cuthbert going close up the middle but Shingler and Cook getting no success out wide.
In the end Cardiff had to benefit from a huge stroke of fortune. Wilkinson played advantage from the hosts going in at the side of the ruck, allowing Lloyd to go for an all-or-nothing play. He chipped over the top for Hoeata to chase, but the ball bounced wickedly back into our captain’s hands for the easiest of scores.
Steve Shingler’s conversion in front of the posts was actually legally charged down as he kicked low into the wind, but fortunately it did not come back to haunt Cardiff as Blair Kinghorn missed a penalty before a quite magnificent period of defending.
For around the last four minutes of the match Edinburgh pounded the Cardiff defence from just beyond the halfway line, but 35 phases later they lost possession and a defensive set to go down in history was complete.
The commitment, passion and desire of the players to not only make 35 tackles, but to overall concede no ground, commit no offences either at the breakdown or beyond the offside line and continue to organise an excellent defensive line time-after-time on tired legs was massively impressive and deserving of a match win in anyone’s book.
Edinburgh will likely be disappointed and feel that they lost the match as much as we won it. When they scored two quick tries after half-time with the wind at their backs they should certainly have gone on to victory, but a failure to manage the game properly and that hugely lucky bounce to Lloyd Williams meant the game slipped away from them.
In Cardiff terms they are sure to take huge confidence from that match ending, but also at the way they were able to get back into the game through some attacking sets into the wind and against a frustrating referee.
Of course there is a knowledge that if we play below par against Munster next week then they will take us to the cleaners and not allow us back into the game, but for now it’s time to bask in the glory of a snatched win at the death.
It’s also not the time to start looking up the table or at other results in terms of Pro12 finishing spots. We must continue plodding along, picking up victories and returning to that winning mentality that served us so well at the start of the season. Starting with Munster on Saturday let’s pack the Arms Park and get behind the lads, come on Cardiff!!