Cardiff Blues qualified for next season’s European Champions Cup in style with a seven point thrashing of the Southern Kings to round off the mini South African tour.
Although the opposition offered little resistance defensively, it was still an accomplished performance from the visitors, who secured the try bonus point inside 33 minutes and were able to protect a number of important players in the second half ahead of next week’s European Challenge Cup semi-final.
Danny Wilson had brought back a number of regular starting XV members after ringing the changes for the Cheetahs game last weekend, with the likes of Josh Turnbull, Nick Williams, Jarrod Evans and Blaine Scully being recalled, while Garyn Smith and Gareth Anscombe overcame slight knocks to be involved.
However, it was one of the survivors from last week who opened the scoring as Alex Cuthbert blasted over from short range for his first try since October after good work in midfield by Nick Williams and Jarrod Evans to take us up towards the red zone.
Evans converted and was back on the tee five minutes later after a midfield turnover from Josh Turnbull gave good attacking position. The ball was trucked back into the red zone, and eventually the defence breached after a good line from Seb Davies was spotted by Rey Lee-Lo who offloaded for the second half to score. Evans again with the conversion.
Just as it seemed Cardiff Blues would run away with the game though, they were delivered a wake up call after some sloppy play gave Southern Kings a scrum in our half. Outside centre Luzuko Vulindlu powered up towards the line, but fortunately the scramble defence forced a knock-on and the danger was averted.
After a period of settling down, the next try in the game sprung out of nowhere as Kings tried to exit from a five-metre lineout. Lusanda Badiyana attempted to carry out, but lost position after being hit by Nick Williams and Olly Robinson recovered possession. Josh Turnbull picked and drove and, assisted by Josh Navidi, managed to burrow over the line.
Evans once again converted and as the game just ticked past the 30 minute mark the try bonus point was brought up. Successive penalties took Cardiff into the corner, and from the set piece Tomos Williams through an invitingly flat pass for Willis Halaholo to storm onto and power his way under the posts.
In fairness to the Kings though they were still plugging away and nearly got on the scoresheet through fly-half Ntabeni Dukisa. Spotting a gap in the Blues defence he broke through into the 22 before chipping ahead into the in-goal area. Fortunately Gareth Anscombe recovered well and was able to pressure Dukisa into knocking the ball on in the act of scoring.
With that Cardiff Blues had the chance to clear their lines, and it was made easier by the Kings continually getting on the wrong side of referee Sean Gallagher, who eventually lost patience and sent prop Schalk Ferreira to the sin bin.
Now with a man extra up front, Cardiff turned up the heat at the set piece, and from a lineout in the Kings 22 Kirby Myhill was the beneficiary of a strong lineout drive to score his first try since arriving from Scarlets at the start of last season.
Jarrod Evans missed his first kick of the afternoon, and Cardiff Blues could not capitalise on their extra man before the break, meaning the teams went in with the visitors leading 33-0 at half-time.
With the game pretty much sewn up at this point, Danny Wilson chose to make some changes early on, as Nick Williams and Josh Navidi were wrapped in cotton wool, but it didn’t stop the Cardiff Blues march on the try line.
Another early attacking set at the beginning of the second half saw the visitors march back towards the line, before some heads-up rugby from Jarrod Evans spotted a gap in behind the defence and a kick through was collected by Blaine Scully for the first try after the break.
The conversion made it 40-0, and if there was any doubt over the outcome of that game at half-time, it was all but gone now. However, all respect to the Kings who continued to play attacking rugby for the remainder of the game.
Ever dangerous fly-half Dukisa managed to break through Cardiff’s defence to get his side on the scoreboard, before his break created the platform for replacement lock Lindokuhle Welemu to power over, but they were only consolation tries at best.
Kirby Myhill managed to bag his second try on the back of a rolling maul in the meantime, but Cardiff Blues tempo had slowed dramatically as we went through the motions for the majority of the second half, with substitutions taking place regularly to ensure a number of important players avoided injury ahead of next week.
A 12-45 scoreline more than reflected the dominance of the visitors, and there were celebrations at the end of the game as Cardiff Blues secured a well deserved return to the Champions Cup for the first time since 2013/14.
It’s a fine reward for the players, coaches and staff at the club who have worked so hard this season in returning us to the big time, as well as for us supporters who have stuck out some more than lacklustre years on the terraces before making it back to the top table of European rugby.
However, this season is far from over, and Saturday’s win will also provide a perfect platform for pushing on into this weekend’s European Challenge Cup semi-final against Pau at the Arms Park.
Tickets are moving quickly for what is the biggest game at our famous old ground for a while, so make sure you get yours quick to give Danny Wilson, Matt Sherratt and some crowd favourite players a great CAP send-off, and help to create a proper European knockout atmosphere. Come on Cardiff!