Cardiff Blues returned to winning ways as a poor Zebre side were comfortably put away at the Arms Park with Gethin Jenkins bowing out in style, albeit with a pushed kick!
It comes after two weeks of disappointing performances accompanying defeats, and as we head in to three weeks away from Pro14 action, it is a timely five points to keep John Mulvihill’s men involved in the race for the play-offs into the crucial December period.
After the loss to Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last week there were four changes to the starting XV, with Brad Thyer and Kirby Myhill packing down in the front row, Nick Williams coming in at number eight with Seb Davies shifting to lock, and Tom Williams replacing Matthew Morgan at full-back.
And it was the big man himself, Nick Williams, who made the first play of the game after two minutes with an excellent turnover at the breakdown which allowed Steve Shingler to kick through the posts well from 40 metres.
Cardiff Blues almost allowed Zebre straight back into the game when Olly Robinson was left isolated when carrying in his own 22, but there was a let off as Francois Brummer missed a fairly straightforward kick.
Following that the home side set about dominating the game, with two lengthy attacking sets ending with chips through that didn’t quite stay infield. Although the referee’s whistle threatened to stop the momentum, the team stayed patient well.
Eventually after two strong carries from a set piece, the Zebre defence was caught too flat with no sweeper and Steve Shingler spotted the space to stab the ball through perfectly for Tom Williams to score on his second full debut.
Zebre, to their credit, tried to get back into the game quickly as Ricardo Raffaele sniped from scrum-half and when Giovanni D’Onofrio was on his shoulder and offloaded for Nicolas De Battista it seemed the try line was looming. A superb James Down cover tackle put a stop to that though, swiftly followed by a vital Shingler turnover.
Although the counter attack didn’t quite come to fruition, the Italian side strayed offside and Shingler added three more points to the scoreboard after 25 minutes.
The remaining 15 or so minutes of the half saw Cardiff Blues push for another try to go in with at half-time, but a somewhat over-complication of our attacking game saw some low quality passing lead to handling errors and the score stayed 11-0 at the break.
In the end the try came at the beginning of the first half via a simple and direct method, as the driving maul returned to the Arms Park.
Nick Williams won a penalty over the ball in midfield, Steve Shingler pushed us to the corner and once the lineout found Seb Davies and once we set up the maul well there was a sense of inevitability. Kirby Myhill was the man who benefited at the back of the drive.
Once again Zebre attempted to get back into the game, but the Cardiff Blues scramble defence swung into action well once again as Aled Summerhill and then Tom Williams made important last ditch tackles.
On 57 minutes the moment many had been waiting for arrived as Gethin Jenkins was introduced into the fray, and within 10 minutes he had played in a part in the home side’s third try of the afternoon as the hunt for the try bonus point got well underway.
It almost came from open play as Aled Summerhill flew towards the line after a clever inside ball from Steve Shingler, but he was pulled down just short and Olly Robinson was held up over the line from the next phase.
As a result the scrum was set on the five metre line and a dominant Cardiff Blues pack drove Zebre over the line with Nick Williams flopping on the ball to get a well deserved try in what was an assertive display from the big man.
Shingler converted and within five minutes the bonus point was secured as a penalty saw the fly-half nudge us back to the corner, but instead of driving over Lewis Jones took the ball to the line and found Rey Lee-Lo on his shoulder running a perfect line to go under the posts.
It seemed like the scoring was over, especially when a Lewis Jones poke through was just beyond Aled Summerhill, but in fairness to Zebre they still played even beyond the clock turning red as they searched for a point.
In trying to break out from their 22 they put a chip kick in that was read well by Dan Fish, and Cardiff Blues managed to recycle the ball quickly with Rey Lee-Lo taking advantage of the space left by the visitors to cross for a second try of the game and a fifth on the night for the hosts.
There was just time left for Gethin Jenkins last act as a rugby player to take a conversion, and just push it wide! A legend bowing out with a video of contemporaries from around the world wishing him well, a guard of honour from his teammates and a huge ovation from the Arms Park faithful. Fitting.
Looking at the performance it wasn’t fantastic, it was Cardiff Blues cruising past a poor Zebre side, but we did the job that needed to be done and stay fourth just two points behind Munster in second place.
However, it can be a good confidence booster heading into three weeks off Pro14 action now, and is a platform to build on ahead of two tough away matches at the end of the month.