Cardiff Blues cruised to a comfortable 14-39 victory over Bedford Blues at Goldington Road on Saturday in the one and only official pre-season friendly.
A number of first team players had been given the opportunity to get minutes under their belts against Dragons A in the Celtic Cup last week, but there were plenty getting their first action of the season.
Dmitri Arhip, Willis Halaholo and captain-on-the-day Nick Williams all featured having been not able to play the week before as non-Welsh qualified players, while Kris Dacey, Rhys Gill, Scott Andrews, Josh Turnbull and Olly Robinson were all named on the bench after recovering from summer surgery.
On a beautiful day in the South-East of England it was the visiting Blues who made a blistering start when an overthrown lineout was pounced on and Jason Harries made ground on the counter attack.
He was brought down before Jason Tovey went through a big hole in the Bedford defence before being stopped himself, but possession went back to the left wing where Harries finished the move he had started.
Tovey hit the post with the conversion but had the chance to right that just minutes later when Ioan Davies intercepted a long pass in midfield before showing maturity beyond his years to pull in the covering defender and wait for the support of Lewis Jones on his inside shoulder.
This time the conversion was good and the attack was given a rest with the defence and set piece taking over the good work. Seb Davies and Nick Williams teamed up well in midfield to hold up a ball carrier, before a penalty was won at the resulting scrum.
The kick to the corner allowed Cardiff Blues to set up a well-constructed maul and the power was too much for the hosts, driving them over the line with Kirby Myhill in possession and Tovey adding the extras for a 0-19 lead.
It seemed like the margin would be extended again when a strong Willis Halaholo tackle allowed Shane Lewis-Hughes to win a penalty over the ball, but a familiar foe from last season reared its head again.
The penalty was kicked to the corner before a second penalty saw us opt for a scrum. Two big scrums resulted in a Bedford prop being sent to the sin bin, but from the subsequent attack the visitors could not break down the defence despite the man advantage and ended up turning over the ball.
Some smart kicking from the hosts pinned Cardiff Blues back in our own 22, but we exited well and worked up field with a clever Garyn Smith kick through almost resulting in a second try for Harries but he spilled possession with the try line begging.
In the end it was more set piece power that secured the next try, with the visitors camped in the opposition 22 and Alun Lawrence, on for Nick Williams in a pre-arranged early substitute, powered over from close range.
Again Bedford attacked, but a second Ioan Davies interception of the day saved a certain try before we once again returned to the opposition 22 after winning an offside penalty and the driving maul went over with Will Boyde in possession.
Tovey missed both conversions but the five tries secured a commanding 0-29 lead at half-time.
A number of changes made at the break would be the start of the game changing in the second half, as Cardiff Blues struggled to rediscover the rhythm of the first period through all the interruption.
There were still flashes of good play though, with Kris Dacey getting over the ball to win a penalty before a quick tap released Smith down the right. He was stopped short but the recycled ball switched to the left where Harries did grab his second try of the game this time.
Defensively Seb Davies kept up his strong showing with a huge midfield rip of the ball, while Ben Thomas and Smith teamed well as a new centre partnership to hold up a ball carrier.
However, Bedford, who didn’t appear to be making as many changes as the visitors, continued to work hard and got their rewards when Jordan Onojaife pushed over from close range and Sam Leeming converted.
Cardiff Blues briefly threatened the line again when Matthew Morgan plucked a high ball out of the sky and was tackled in the air, with replacement scrum-half Jamie Hill taking a quick tap penalty but being bundled into touch just short of the line.
However, Bedford grabbed the next try as well when Joe Wrafter took advantage of some slightly lax midfield defending to score, with Leeming making the score 14-34 as the game entered the final 10 minutes.
As the game opened up Morgan was involved again, making a classic Nipper break into the opposition 22. Bedford knocked on in defence and from the resulting scrum Ioan Davies went over in the corner down the blindside to cap a fine individual performance.
Tovey missed the final conversion but it didn’t matter on the day as a 14-39 win will give John Mulvihill’s men confidence when heading over to South Africa for the round one Guinness Pro14 clash with Southern Kings in two weeks.