A stunning win, but it has to be the start of something

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What a difference a week makes! From the misery and dejection after a thoroughly disappointing loss at the hands of Leicester Tigers, to the sheer joy of an unlikely bonus point win away at Benetton.

A lot has been made of the seemingly negative build up to the game, with pretty much everyone predicting that Cardiff Blues would be on the wrong end of a heavy scoreline at the Stadio Communale di Monigo, including myself I must admit.

I wouldn’t say that was negative though, just being realistic, as when you look at the respective sides there was a clear advantage for a Benetton side not being hampered by international call-ups and on the back of a positive performance against Northampton Saints the week before.

The matchday 23 selected by the home team on Saturday had 14 full Italy internationals in it with a total of 278 caps between them. On top of that there were Argentinian and New Zealand U20 internationals, and four further players with Super Rugby experience.

Meanwhile on the Cardiff Blues side the unavailable list by kick-off was up at 18, with Corey Domachowski, Kris Dacey, Liam Belcher, Dmitri Arhip, Rory Thornton, Ben Murphy, Ellis Jenkins, Josh Navidi, Olly Robinson, Nick Williams, Willis Halaholo and Rhun Williams all out injured.

As well as them Dillon Lewis, Seb Davies, Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans, Josh Adams and Owen Lane were all involved with the Wales team taking on the Barbarians at the Principality Stadium at the same time as Cardiff Blues were playing Benetton.

It meant that we had to pick a side that was full of new combinations and inexperienced players, with only Josh Turnbull, Rey Lee-Lo and one of the starting back three likely to make what would be most people’s strongest Cardiff Blues starting XV on paper, although that is up for argument!

30.11.19 - Benetton Treviso v Cardiff Blues - Guinness PRO14 -

That just made what followed in the 80 minutes of Saturday afternoon all the more amazing, as our pack went toe-to-toe with what was one of the strongest packs in the league last season, particularly dominating at the maul, and laying on a solid platform for the backs to work from.

We didn’t have much ball but what we did have we used very effectively, which hasn’t always been the case during this campaign, and scoring four tries against Benetton in Italy is something not many teams will do this season, especially outside of the international window.

The really noticeable effort was in defence though, where we held the home side for long periods as they exerted plenty of pressure, and although we did conceded four tries it could have been a lot worse but for some excellent scrambling and strong work at the breakdown.

Now the hard work really starts though as, although it was a superb win against Benetton, we are still fighting to save the season in terms of both the Pro14 and the Challenge Cup.

John Mulvihill spoke before the season started about developing consistency. Not always having to bounce back from poor performances like we did on Saturday after the Leicester defeat, and not failing to back the big performances up the following week.

The level we reached against Benetton should now be the minimum level for the rest of the campaign, with room for improvement still across all areas of the game. That starts this Saturday against Pau, with two wins in the next week giving us a great chance of making the Challenge Cup knockout stages.

There are tricky selection decisions to be made for sure, as the international players return to regional duty and injured players return to fitness, but that should only galvanise the squad to battle each other for places in the matchday squad as well as the opposition on the weekend.

We enter a crucial stage of the season on the back of a brilliant win, now it’s time to push on.

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