Cardiff Blues brought the mini Six Nations fixture block to a successful bonus point winning conclusion on Saturday night, despite a slightly under par performance against the Southern Kings.
Wet and windy conditions at the Arms Park made it difficult for both sides, but when John Mulvihill’s men went behind shortly after half-time it seemed things may go terribly wrong, until a dominant last 30 minutes got the hosts the five points they desired.
Four changes to the side which beat Edinburgh last week saw Brad Thyer and Scott Andrews come in at prop, Macauley Cook start in the second row and Harri Millard return to outside centre.
Jason Harries also started, coming onto the wing, with Aled Summerhill switching to full-back, but it was the other member of the back three in Owen Lane who got the game off to a flyer for Cardiff Blues when a half charged down kick in midfield fell perfectly for him to speed away and score the match’s first try.
Jarrod Evans converted and over the next half an hour the home side looked to increase that lead, building up to good attacking positions, but regularly failing to convert that into points.
Handling errors, forward passes, a misfiring lineout and one or two missed opportunities with ball-in-hand prevented us from taking control of the game, before the Southern Kings worked their way back into the contest in the 10 minutes before half-time.
A penalty allowed them to kick to touch on the edge of our 22, and as the driving maul barreled towards the try line, an almost comical side entry from Nick Williams stopped it’s progress and earned the number eight a yellow card.
Kings continued their assault on the line against the 14-men of the hosts, and eventually an 18 phase attacking set came up trumps as Dries van Schalkwyk was awarded the score, Bader Pretorious converting to bring the scores level at the break.
Despite that there wasn’t too much concern from Cardiff Blues supporters at half-time with the prospect of playing with a strong wind at our backs in the second half, but more than a few eyebrows were raised when the visitors took the lead shortly after the interval.
Hooker Michael Willemse was the beneficiary of another well organised driving maul and Kings, who we beat comfortably at the set piece in Port Elizabeth last season, put us to the maul to go 7-12 up.
However, that seemed to spark Cardiff Blues into life both on and off the field as John Mulvihill went to his replacements, bringing on Wales squad members Seb Davies and Tomos Williams, and the team began to dominate territory.
Despite the lineout wobbling badly in the gusting wind, we were able to march up the field and after nine phases of attacking the Kings line during which Willis Halaholo went close, it was left to the battering ram that is Nick Williams to score the try having returned to the field.
Then just after the hour mark Cardiff Blues took the lead as Matthew Morgan stepped off the bench to dance ridiculously past three defenders despite having no space to maneuver, before Tomos Williams found Olly Robinson running a sublime angle to crash over the line.
The Southern Kings did attempt to get back into the game and are always a threat with ball in hand no matter what the conditions, but the work on the floor from our back row caused huge problems, and in the end it was eight turnovers won at the ruck.
As the game ticked into the last 10 minutes Cardiff Blues were still pushing for the try bonus point, and the door started to open when a moment of madness from away centre Tertius Kruger saw him tip tackle Corey Domachowski and earn a yellow card, despite the prop having already lost possession.
Up against 14 men the home side smelled blood and from a scrum close to the line we went through the phases before Jarrod Evans spotted space on the wing and put Jason Harries over in the corner for his third try in a week.
Evans’ conversions made the game safe but there was still enough seconds left at the end of the game for Kings to recover their own kick-off and storm down field with Maxisole Banda grabbing the try and converting it himself to earn a well deserved losing bonus point for the South Africans.
All in all a fairly forgettable game performance-wise, but another important win and the crucial five points that mean, although we don’t quite jump Connacht due to an inferior points difference, we are still right in the hunt for the final play-off spot with four games of the season left.
Next up is the visit of Scarlets to the Arms Park on Friday 22nd March, so make sure you get your tickets and get behind the boys as we continue the push to play Heineken Champions Cup rugby again next season.