Cardiff Blues secured the best Christmas present we could ask for with a first league win over the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium for 14 years on Saturday.
Despite the home side being in such poor form and with plenty of off-field issues, going down to Swansea has been a long-term issue for John Mulvihill’s men, but the head coach has got the team playing with confidence over the last few weeks and made just two changes to his starting XV.
Brad Thyer was preferred to Rhys Gill at loosehead while James Ratti started at lock against his old club with Josh Turnbull dropping back to number eight, Will Boyde shifting to openside and Olly Robinson taking a seat on the bench.
The conditions were to dictate the game in early stages as constant heavy drizzle resulted in a wet ball and wet hands, and it was Ospreys who got the early advantage from that as Cardiff Blues blinked under the high ball.
Nicky Smith had the upper hand over Scott Andrews in the scrum and allowed Marty McKenzie to open the scoring off the tee, while the home side arguably should have got the opening try of the game when Matthew Morgan misjudged a Scott Williams kick through but Hanno Dirksen couldn’t get on the end of it.
However, solid work under the high ball from Owen Lane and Josh Adams turned the tide of the game with 15 minutes to go and as Cardiff Blues spent two attacking sets in the Ospreys half, so followed two penalties with Jarrod Evans kicking them both for a 3-6 lead.
In a back-and-forth first half though there was another swing in momentum on the half-hour mark when Filo Paulo was penalised for an off-the-ball hit on Dirksen and somewhat harshly yellow carded.
The resulting penalty was kicked into the corner and although it appeared Cardiff Blues had defended the driving maul well, replays showed Tomos Williams’ arm was around the neck of Dan Lydiate with a penalty try and yellow card subsequently awarded.
Down to 13 men and on the back foot the away side defended valiantly, with Josh Turnbull securing a superb turnover and even sending us on the attack as we saw out the period before half-time well, even having the chance to cut the lead to one point but Jarrod was just off target.
As quickly as Paulo and Tomos returned at the start of the second half though, Josh Adams was also sent to the sin bin after being adjudged, harshly again, to have committed an offence close to our own try line, and this time McKenzie was at least able to add three points to his team’s score.
Finally back up to 15 men John Mulvihill turned to the bench in what would be pivotal moments of the game, making six substitutions in a short amount of time but in doing so adding the fresh legs required after being men down for so long.
With possession once again in our hands, Cardiff Blues started to dominate going forward and when Will Boyde won a penalty on the floor, Jason Tovey made no mistake having taken over the kicking duties after his introduction.
Then with an hour on the clock a piece of magic sent us ahead as, just like in the home game against Pau, Tomos Williams produced a perfect chip kick with the outside of his boot for old mate Jarrod Evans to run on to and score. Tovey added the conversion.
To their credit the Ospreys did not give up, working their way back down field and winning a penalty that McKenzie kicked to level the scores at 16-16, but there is something different in the mindset of this Cardiff Blues team over the last few weeks that wouldn’t allow us to be beaten.
Olly Robinson had the chance to grab a winning try but fumbled the ball over the line. From the resulting scrum though a huge shunt won us a penalty which Jason Tovey kicked to put us ahead with seven minutes to go.
The continuation of a monumental defensive effort based on physicality and commitment ensured the game was seen out and Cardiff Blues celebrated a win in the league at the Liberty Stadium for the first time since 2005.
Now the hard work has to continue though with the visit of Dragons to the Arms Park on Boxing Day, with a full house expected as John Mulvihill’s men look to keep hopes of achieving something in the Guinness Pro14 alive.