Cardiff Blues completed a superb double over Scarlets at the Arms Park on Friday night as a whirlwind first half simply blew the West Wales side away.
Although Connacht managed to steal themselves a try bonus point at home against Benetton over in Galway to keep hold of third place in the Guinness Pro14 Conference A, John Mulvihill’s side cut the gap in points difference between the two teams and stay right in the hunt for that final play-off spot.
There were a number of changes to the Cardiff Blues team that beat Southern Kings last time out, with only Rory Thornton, Olly Robinson, Nick Williams, Jarrod Evans, Willis Halaholo, Owen Lane and Aled Summerhill surviving, as Grand Slam winning heroes Josh Navidi and Gareth Anscombe returned.
However, the game got off to a worrying start as within two minutes of kick-off Navidi was down on the ground and in some quite serious pain. An innocuous looking tackle had left him with a dislocated elbow, and although it popped back in his involvement on the night was over.
Scarlets tried to take advantage of that early blow to the hosts, with James Davies securing a classic Cubby turnover before Rhys Gill was penalised for not rolling away, but Leigh Halfpenny could not capitalise from the tee as his kick struck the upright.
From there Cardiff Blues began to take a stranglehold on proceedings, going through two strong attacking phases, one of which saw Owen Lane almost cross in the right corner, before Gareth Anscombe opened the scoring with a penalty.
A few minutes later Halfpenny was forced to concede an attacking lineout after a clever Jarrod Evans kick, with Shane Lewis-Hughes carrying towards the try line before Evans switched the attack to the blindside and found Lane on his shoulder for the first try of the game.
Five minutes on and the lead was extended as Evans stepped past Paul Asquith in midfield before the ball went through the hands of Anscombe for Aled Summerhill to fly over the line down the left wing.
Scarlets tried to get back into the game with a multi-phase attacking set in midfield, but the home defence followed the example of the attack and held firm, with two key Evans tackles on Kieron Fonotia book-ending the set, the second of which led to a Kris Dacey turnover.
Then as the game approached the half-hour mark, two more tries in five minutes put Cardiff Blues in a seriously commanding position.
First a midfield penalty allowed Evans to kick us into the opposition 22, and after a few phases of forward carrying another switch to the blindside saw Owen Lane mis-matched with a number of Scarlets forwards, getting his arms free to offload for Josh Turnbull to score.
Then a Scarlets knock-on gave us a scrum in midfield and from first phase ball Willis Halaholo was able to easily brush Rhys Patchell off before finding flying Aled Summerhill on his shoulder for the winger’s second try of the evening.
As if securing a bonus-point after 33 minutes wasn’t enough, Cardiff Blues rubbed salt into the wound just before the break as some strong forward carries narrowed the opposition defence, allowing Jarrod Evans to produce an inch perfect cross kick and the ball to sit up ideally for Lane’s second try of the game.
While all the try scoring excitement was going on Gareth Anscombe was quietly kicking his way to fourth in the post-2003 Cardiff Blues points scorer list, on a run of 15 straight successful kicks across the Ireland game and this Welsh derby, to make the score 38-0 at half-time.
The start of the second half saw Scarlets make big changes, with Rob Evans, Ken Owens, Gareth Davies, Dan Jones and Steff Evans all entering the fray, and with that the visitors became a different side.
Playing with the reckless abandon that can only come with being so far behind on the scoreboard, they pushed into the Cardiff Blues 22 and thought they had scored within the first eight minutes of the restart, only for Ioan Nicholas’ try to be ruled out as Tomos Williams’ challenge was adjudged to have knocked the ball free.
A number of reset scrums and offside penalties continued to keep the West Wales side at bay until eventually Rob Evans was able to crash over, but the home side were not in the mood for a Calcutta Cup style comeback, continuing to frustrate the Scarlets as Gareth Davies was held up over the line by Owen Lane.
More reset scrums continued to waste away time, with Dillon Lewis eventually getting sin binned, so that when Rob Evans was able to go over from close range for a second time the clock was showing 67 minutes and there was little chance of the lead slipping away.
Cardiff Blues were getting more used to Scarlets throwing the ball around by now, so that when pressure came on from the line speed the ball went to ground and Lloyd Williams sped away, with the away side penalised after the scrum-half was brought to the ground, Anscombe kicking us over the 40 point mark.
All that was left was time for a moment of madness from Rhys Carre who, after Dillon Lewis and Olly Robinson secured a turnover on our own goal line, sprinted away and tried to find Lloyd Williams or Aled Summerhill outside him, but the pass was picked off by Ioan Nicholas for an easy try.
That didn’t take the shine off the occasion though, and with the news that Josh Navidi’s injury might not be as bad as first feared, it is a superb result to savour for some time over our old rivals from Llanelli.
The first time since the 2015/16 season we have done the double over the Scarlets, and with a 75-22 aggregate score it is a complete thrashing from John Mulvihill’s men.
Now it’s a week off before a season defining week away in Ireland, with first Munster and then Connacht to visit. After this first half performance I fancy us against anyone. Even when John Lacey is refereeing!