Cardiff Blues kicked off their European Challenge Cup campaign with a bonus-point win over Top14 leaders Lyon at the Arms Park on Friday night.
With seven tries on the night it was a feast of rugby for those in attendance, but the match was overshadowed by a potentially serious injury to Blues prop Anton Peikrishvili.
Both coaches made a number of changes to their sides which won in their respective leagues last week, with Cardiff introducing 10 new faces, while Lyon changed 13 players, continuing a trend of sides not taking Europe’s second tier competition very seriously.
It was the hosts who got off to the more impressive start, immediately moving into Lyon’s 22, but could not get over the try line due to a number of handling errors.
One of those allowed the visitors to break, and they set up camp five metres out from the try line, only for some fast and furious Cardiff defending to force a knock on as Lyon threatened to open the scoring against the run of play.
A dominant Blues maul almost broke the deadlock, but in the end it was the sheer determination of George Earle to carry the ball close to the line, break through the Lyon defence and get back to his feet to stretch over after 22 minutes.
This gave the home side the confidence that they could break down the Top14 pace setters, and soon they were over again after a superb counter attacking move on turnover ball.
Matthew Rees spun the ball wide to Jarrod Evans who worked with Garyn Smith to straighten the line and release Blaine Scully down the left. Just before being disgracefully high tackled the winger was able to find Tomos Williams on a support line and the scrum-half touched down under the posts.
Evans was able to convert both tries and although the floodgates threatened to open for the Blues, it was only 14-0 as both teams went in at half-time.
Two interceptions almost extended the Cardiff Blues lead early in the second half, with Rey Lee-Lo making it over the try line only to spill the ball, before Garyn Smith was able to offload his possession steal to Olly Robinson, who was pulled down short.
Fortunately the ball was retained and Matthew Morgan was able to inject some pace into the attack before the deft hands of Lee-Lo allowed Macauley Cook to crash over in the corner after 50 minutes.
With three tries on the board the Blues were hunting for a bonus point, however it would be Lyon the next to trouble the scoreboard as they took advantage of Kris Dacey being sin-binned to maul over for their first points of the evening.
A crucial 10 minutes awaited with Cardiff down to 14-men, but just like last week against Dragons, they came back fighting, taking advantage of uncontested scrums to attack off first phase ball.
Aled Summerhill carried well to make metres, and from a second uncontested scrum Lee-Lo was able to make up for his earlier howler to cut back against the Lyon defence and secure the bonus point for the Blues.
Unfortunately it was at this point that Anton Peikrishvili was cleared out of a ruck in a way that ended up with him being stretchered off in a neck brace and attached to a spinal board.
Due to front row substitutions having already been made and other injuries, it was a makeshift Cardiff Blues pack who finished the game, with only 14-men on the field in blue, and 13 Lyon players as Timilau Rokoduru and Etienne van der Oosthuizen were yellow carded.
Steve Shingler kicked a penalty from one of the penalties resulting in an away side sin binning, before Lyon got late hope of a bonus point when Jone Tuva was found wide open on the left wing.
However, Cardiff Blues saw out the remaining time for a 29-19 bonus-point win, which them top of pool two after Sale and Toulouse drew 20-20 in the other game.
Danny Wilson’s men now travel to Toulouse next Friday, and the head coach is looking forward to the challenge, telling the Cardiff Blues official website, “now there’s a patch-up job to be done before we go out to play Toulouse.
“What a great place to play, first of all, on the back of a bonus point win at home, a huge challenge as we all know as I think we’re more accustomed to seeing them in the Champions Cup.
“We’ll go there motivated to play a style of rugby a score tries – we’ve scored ten tries in the past two games so we’ll go there with the same intent, while being aware of the challenge.
“We didn’t play some boys tonight who might come back into contention next week, boys who deserved and needed a bit of a blow, and that week off might do them the world of good, so we’ll be confident going out to Toulouse.”