Cardiff Blues returned to winning ways on Saturday evening as we beat 14-man Cheetahs at the Arms Park to celebrate Lloyd Williams’ 200th appearance.
On the back of four defeats John Mulvihill had named a slightly different starting XV, with Seb Davies, Nick Williams and Harri Millard returning, although the most noticeable change saw Jason Tovey start at fly-half with Jarrod Evans sliding out to inside centre.
That selection signalled a change in attacking shape which worked perfectly in the first 10 minutes, creating an early try in the process.
Initially Harri Millard made a superb outside break and released Aled Summerhill on his shoulder, only for the winger to stumble and be caught. However, the Cardiff Blues attack stayed calm and the wing duo managed to team up again with Summerhill scoring at the second time of asking.
Jason Tovey missed the conversion but kicked a penalty for an 8-0 lead, before being at the centre of a piece of play that would change the dynamic of the game entirely as he entered a defensive breakdown.
Cheetahs number eight Jasper Wiese took it upon himself to remove the home fly-half from the contact area with a no-arms shoulder charge to the head, leaving referee Ben Blain with no choice but to brandish a red card after just 14 minutes.
Tovey got up to kick the resulting penalty but missed a further effort after Corey Domachowski had won a turnover over the ball, and despite being a man down it would be the visitors who took control of the game as we approached the 30-minute mark.
Firstly wily old scrum-half Ruan Pienaar used all of his years of experience to secure a cheap penalty before taking a quick tap and putting Anthony Volmink through a gap. He in turn found Rhyno Smith on his shoulder and the Pro14’s top try scorer added another to this season’s tally.
Then from a 22 dropout a few minutes later Clayton Blommetjies was able to flap the ball back straight to Junior Pokomela who broke on the outside before offloading back to Blommetjies who had a free run in the score.
Pienaar converted both scores for an 11-14 lead but Cardiff Blues stuck back just before the break as Jarrod Evans, taking over kicking duties after Tovey had departed with an ankle injury, kicked two penalties to nudge his side ahead at half-time.
In the final moments of the first half there was further discipline trouble for Cheetahs as Gerhard Olivier was sin binned for a breakdown infringement, so with a two-man advantage the home side got to work early in the second half.
Two trademark sidesteps off the left foot allowed Willis Halaholo to break through the middle of the opposition defence before with quick ball a Jarrod Evans miss-pass created a two-on-one which Rey Lee-Lo and Josh Turnbull executed perfectly for the latter to score.
Evans converted well and Cardiff Blues continued to add to the lead, operating with a policy of taking any chances to kick at goal. Six points came off the tee with another three left out there, while opportunities to attack were not fully seized upon.
If there was one criticism of the home side in the second half it was the somewhat lateral angle of attack that didn’t quite take advantage of the space that having the extra man created out wide.
Nevertheless, enough was done going forward and when matched with a strong defence in the second half there was only three points for Cheetahs in the second half, securing a 30-17 victory for the hosts.
After the disappointment of the last few weeks the psychological boost that win will give, and the visible return to confidence of a number of key players, will hopefully stand us in good stead as European competition returns next week.
It was also the perfect way to celebrate Lloyd Williams becoming only the second man to reach 200 appearances for Cardiff Blues, as well as rewarding the Arms Park faithful who were in fine voice supporting the boys. Onwards and upwards!