John Mulvihill can boast a 100% record in Welsh derbies after his Cardiff Blues side beat Dragons on Saturday to finish the first block of Guinness Pro14 fixtures with three straight wins.
It was a second comeback win for the visitors, who had to claw the game against Cheetahs back from 10-21 down, but they will be pleased with a dominant second half performance that sees Cardiff Blues sit third in Conference A going into the first two rounds of European games.
Ahead of the derby Mulvihill welcomed back three players not included against Cheetahs, with Dmitri Arhip, Josh Navidi and Nick Williams returning to the pack, while Lloyd Williams was preferred to namesake Tomos at scrum-half.
Despite being on a 21-game Welsh derby losing streak though, it was the Dragons who came out of the blocks the stronger thanks in part to a number of Cardiff Blues infringements giving the hosts field position.
From the first attack some valiant defence from Matthew Morgan, Rey Lee-Lo, Brad Thyer and, latterly, Owen Lane to hold up Cory Hill, saw off the Dragons, before a turnover from Josh Turnbull prevented the second wave.
However, from that turnover Cardiff Blues decided to try and play from our own 22 and conceded a turnover to Ollie Griffiths. The hosts kicked to the corner and although the driving maul was stopped, the ball went wide through Josh Lewis to Jordan Williams who managed to offload back to his fly-half for a try in the corner.
Lewis missed both conversion attempts and was subsequently relieved of kicking duties when Jared Rosser crossed at the mid-point of the first half after a flowing first phase attack that came after more Cardiff Blues ill-discipline. Jordan Williams added the conversion for a 12-0 lead.
At this point it seemed like the visitors were really struggling to get into the game, but a moment can change everything and as Gareth Anscombe kicked the ball high into the late afternoon Newport sun, Jordan Williams dropped possession for Lane to pounce and set up good attacking ball.
Five different attacking sets came and went, the fourth of which was seen off by the TMO as Willis Halaholo dived after a Lloyd Williams grubber kick, but in the end it was a moment of magic from Lane that got Cardiff Blues on the board.
Given the ball while standing still and with covering defenders coming across, he got back to his feet after half-riding one tackle before taking four Dragons across the line with him and slamming the ball down in the corner. Anscombe missed the conversion but at least the game was starting for the visitors.
The rest of the first half played out without real incident, as it was the second period that would see Cardiff Blues really get their foothold in the game.
Anscombe’s boot was spot on for two penalties as the visitors asserted dominance at the set piece, especially the scrum as Rhys Gill and Dillon Lewis came off the bench to add real power to the scrum, and as the momentum got with Cardiff Blues, Dragons struggled with their own errors.
A dropped kick-off sent us hunting in defence before Olly Robinson came off the substitutes bench to win a superb turnover. We promptly kicked to the corner and Kris Dacey was the beneficiary of a driving maul that stayed just in play when it seemed for all the world as if it was heading into touch.
The missed conversion left the lead at a point but as Dragons looked to put pressure on with a high kick, an Anscombe special saw him claim possession and set off 60 metres down field.
Although he was pulled down short of the line he remained calm and Cardiff Blues recycled possession before Jarrod Evans orchestrated the attack to get the ball to Owen Lane out wide and the winger scored his second try of the game.
This time Anscombe was on target with his kick and with 10 minutes to go the eight point lead was looking solid.
Opportunities came and went to extend the gap between the two side as Cardiff Blues searched for a bonus point, but two attacking lineouts and a Jarrod Evans line break came to nothing. The defence lived through one dangerous looking Dragons attack, but there wasn’t a huge amount to worry about in the second half.
John Mulvihill will be very happy with the impact of his replacements, and that energy when linking up with the quality already on the field who under-performed in the first half brought Cardiff Blues home in a more comfortable fashion than the scoreline suggested at the final whistle.
There may well be a slight concern about going behind in the last two games before coming back to win, Cardiff Blues won the second half 3-15 at Rodney Parade, but it’s a better problem to have than losing in the last minute three weeks in a row.
For now though all roads lead to Lyon as the Heineken Cup gets underway. We’re back in the big time, have won three straight games and are third in Conference A. Now it’s Europe time. Come on Cardiff!