The New Year started with a frustrating defeat for Cardiff Blues as John Mulvihill’s men fell to Scarlets at the Arms Park in a game the team will feel they could have won.
After wins over Ospreys and Dragons in the first two games of the festive period, the home side were looking for a clean sweep and made five changes to the starting XV as Rhys Gill and Scott Andrews came in up front, Filo Paulo slotted in at lock and Nick Williams and Will Boyde were named in the back row.
Coming out firing a brilliant piece of play from Jarrod Evans right from kick-off suggested Cardiff Blues were right up for the game, with Nick Williams eventually winning a penalty on the floor but Evans couldn’t open the scoring from the tee.
Instead it was Scarlets kicker Leigh Halfpenny who got points on the board first after Ken Owens won a penalty over the ball, before the lead was doubled a few minutes later when Josh Turnbull was somewhat harshly adjudged to have played Uzair Cassiem in the air at a lineout.
Cardiff Blues continued to attack though, with Rey Lee-Lo making a break down the right before some smart handling in midfield allowed us to press into the opposition 22, only for Wyn Jones to cynically slow the ball down at a ruck and count himself lucky to escape a yellow card.
Unfortunately, with the three points turned down, the home side could not secure possession at consecutive lineouts and the Scarlets were able to clear, but just before 25 minutes we finally got on the board, and in some style.
Nick Williams did brilliantly to disrupt a maul and force a turnover, which although it seemed the counter attack would stop when Ben Thomas’ pass did not go to Hallam Amos, the full-back managed to step and offload superbly and release Owen Lane who kicked ahead and chased down himself to score his sixth try of the season.
Jarrod Evans converted but as soon as we got our noses ahead we shot ourselves in the foot when a lineout to the front was thrown into midfield and Gareth Davies was on hand for a trademark interception, finishing well under the posts.
Halfpenny added the extras and kicked his third penalty of the half with the last kick when Cardiff Blues were caught offside, meaning Scarlets took a 7-16 lead in with them at the break.
A half-time blow saw Jarrod Evans fail to return for the second half after failing a Head Injury Assessment, and although the home side dealt well with that setback, the goal kicking issues persisted when replacement Jason Tovey was off target from a relatively central position.
Scarlets went on to dominate possession over the next 15 minutes but struggled to create any decent attacking opportunities against a strong home defence, until we got our hands on the ball to produce another moment of magic just beyond the hour mark.
Hallam Amos plucked a high ball out of the sky before the ball was swung left and Rey Lee-Lo’s smart footwork allowed Josh Adams to break down the left. The Samoan was on hand back on the inside when the cover defence came across before the winger popped back up on the switch and finished well under the posts.
Tovey was on target with the conversion to cut the lead to two points, but a golden opportunity to take a commanding position in the game went begging with 10 minutes to go when another penalty slid wide of the posts.
Cardiff Blues huffed and puffed as the clock wound down but despite winning a penalty with two minutes to go the lineout was a let-down once again and Scarlets were able to see the game out for a narrow win.
A tough one to take for the home team and supporters with a real feeling that the game was there for the taking but for handling errors, a catastrophically malfunctioning lineout and leaving nine points on the tee as well as turning down another kickable penalty.
Still though, it was a positive festive period overall for Cardiff Blues who finish six points behind Edinburgh in third place in the Guinness Pro14’s Conference B, with key games against the Scottish side, Benetton and Connacht coming up during the Six Nations period.
First however attention turns to the European Challenge Cup with an all-important pool stage game against Leicester Tigers coming up at Welford Road next Sunday.