Cardiff Blues battled back for two bonus points in defeat against Pau on Saturday, nearly turning over a 24-7 half-time deficit to earn a famous win at the Stade du Hameau, but steeling for four tires and a five-point losing margin.
It keeps John Mulvihill’s men in the hunt for a European Challenge Cup quarter-final spot but means the pressure is increased on the fifth round match away at Leicester Tigers in January.
Dragged into it
On a windy day at the foot of the Pyrenees, and on a heavy pitch that had seen some serious rainfall in the week preceding the match, Pau were clearly keen to operate a kicking policy in the first half as they had conditions at their back at the Stade du Hameau.
Unfortunately Cardiff Blues fell into that trap hook, line and sinker, getting bogged down in a kicking game that we were always likely to lose, and that did not play to our attacking strengths in any manner.
In the end we managed to make more kicks from hand than Pau themselves (27-29), but averaging less metres per kick (44-39) and giving up more possession (56%-44%) as the home side secured a try bonus point by half-time.
The Lane Train
With Josh Adams going off at half-time there was an opportunity for others to step up in the second half on Saturday, which was duly taken. Hallam Amos bagged himself a first Cardiff Blues try but it was the man on the opposite wing who stole the headlines.
Owen Lane opened the scoring in the first few minutes of the first half, popping up on the shoulder of Josh Turnbull, before doing the same to Lloyd Williams in the second half. It was his third try that was the pick of his hat-trick though, getting on the end of a Matthew Morgan kick through and beating a defender before turning the afterburners on.
Those three tries have pushed him to the top of the Cardiff Blues top try scorers list for 2019/20 with five in all competitions, and his four in the Challenge Cup see him go joint-top in the competition’s top try scorers list alongside fellow Welshman Jonah Holmes of Leicester.
The crucial attacking stat
After overcoming the defeat in the first half kicking battle, Cardiff Blues looked much more comfortable in the second half as we kept ball in hand and built pressure on Pau, to the point where a win was within sight as the score showed 31-26 with 10 minutes to go.
That attacking improvement was reflected in the statistics, as we made 506m at over five metres per carry, made 10 offloads, beat 24 defenders and made 12 line breaks, scoring four tries and causing the home side to miss 24 tackles.
Unfortunately the key attacking stat throughout the game for Cardiff Blues was turnovers conceded though, and the 13 we coughed up, mostly through handling errors, really took the wind from our sails. Keeping ball in hand in the first half would have resulted in a very different game, but knock-ons resulted in scrums, scrums resulted in penalties, penalties resulted in mauls and mauls resulted in tries for Pau.
Holding on to possession will be key against the Ospreys next week.