Cardiff Blues once again found the mental strength to bounce back from a disappointing performance as the Ospreys were beaten at Rodney Parade in the final round of the Guinness Pro14 season.
After last week’s defeat away at Scarlets, John Mulvihill made 13 changes to his starting XV for the ‘home’ game against the Ospreys, with only Josh Turnbull and Josh Adams retaining their places as the squad was rotated for this second encounter since rugby’s return.
The opening 20 minutes of the game were unsurprisingly a little slow from a Cardiff Blues side with that many changes. Getting on the wrong side of the penalty count early on, Stephen Myler slotted two penalties to keep his side in the lead.
However, the home side started to grow into the game, getting through some promising looking attacking sets that got over the gain line and opened up the chances for half-breaks out wide, with the Ospreys eventually creeping offside and allowing Jason Tovey to get us on the scoreboard.
Then on 20 minutes one of those half-chances became a dangerous attack as Max Llewellyn’s offload released Josh Adams to break into the opposition 22. Some patient phases eventually saw Josh Navidi get into some space and although his offload didn’t go straight to hand, Adams popped back up to scoop up the loose ball and put Jason Harries over for the game’s opening try.
Tovey converted superbly from the touchline, and was on hand to do the same 10 minutes later when a first phase strike play got Harries on the ball in midfield, swapping roles with Adams as his kick through allowed his opposite winger to race through, collect the ball and dive over.
17-6 up heading towards half-time it seemed Cardiff Blues were in total control, defending well, gaining parity at scrum-time and using possession wisely, but it only takes a rogue bounce to change the course of a game.
Ospreys went through a lengthy attacking set unable to break the home defence down, but a chip towards the corner from Myler sat up perfectly for Justin Tipuric to claim possession over Matthew Morgan and a few phases later Dan Evans hit a sweet line to score his team’s first try.
Myler converted to make the scores 17-13 at the break, but the interval did nothing to abate the Cardiff Blues defence as Shane Lewis-Hughes secured a maul turnover straight from kick-off and when the away side infringed Tovey was on hand to add the three points.
Lewis-Hughes was on hand a few minutes later with a big carry that saw the Ospreys pinged for offside in the aftermath, and when Tovey kicked that and a third penalty of the half on 55 minutes, Cardiff Blues had taken a strong hold of the game.
When Olly Cracknell was sin binned on the hour mark it seemed a long way back for the away side, as the hosts controlled possession and territory although the substitutions stunted the flow of the attack somewhat so tries were just out of reach.
Tovey made it seven from seven off the tee with less than 10 minutes to go, so that when Luke Morgan went over for an Ospreys try at the death it was nothing more than a consolation try. Myler’s conversion meant the game finished 29-20 as Cardiff Blues did the double over our Swansea-based rivals for the first time since 2005/06.
While that is a pleasing stat, a less impressive one is that this was the sixth time John Mulvihill’s men have won a game the week after a loss this season. That mental toughness is admirable, but the inconsistency is crippling when a team wants to challenge for Heineken Cup qualification or a Pro14 play-off spot.
With five weeks until the 2020/21 campaign is set to get underway the hard work begins for Cardiff Blues to ensure there are far more Ospreys performances than Scarlets performances, and just maybe we can get to a point where supporters are allowed in to witness something special next May!