Cardiff Blues put a turbulent week off the field to bed with a big win over 14-man Scarlets at Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday, keeping hopes of Heineken Champions Cup qualification alive.
After John Mulvihill had left his role of head coach, defence coach Richard Hodges took the reins and was able to welcome back Wales internationals Cory Hill, James Botham and Jarrod Evans into the starting XV, as well as Corey Domachowski, Liam Belcher, James Ratti, Willis Halaholo and Matthew Morgan who offered a fresh feel to the side that took the field.
It was two Wales internationals that had retained their places that set the tone for Cardiff Blues though, with Tomos Williams sniping down the blindside from a driving maul inside the first 10 minutes and allowing Josh Adams to chip and chase ahead.
Gareth Davies was forced to conceded a five-metre scrum, and although the hosts were penalised there it was from the resulting lineout that Liam Belcher was able to get over the ball and win a penalty which Jarrod Evans opened the scoring from.
Unfortunately the first try of the game came just a few minutes later for the Scarlets as some tough decisions went against Cardiff Blues at the breakdown and the visitors worked their way up into the opposition 22 before a beautifully delayed pass from Dan Jones put Jon Davies over, with Leigh Halfpenny adding the extras.
The home side had come to play though and weren’t going to let falling behind stop that. Immediately from the restart Matthew Morgan ran a kick return back, and when the Scarlets were penalised for not rolling away, Tomos Williams took the quick tap penalty on the halfway line.
With the ball recycled Shane Lewis-Hughes’ pull-back pass gave Jarrod Evans the perfect amount of time to beat Jon Davies all ends up with the dummy pass and scorch through the gap on his inside shoulder, with the returning Willis Halaholo on his shoulder to beat Liam Williams in a foot race.
There was also desire to play on turnover ball as Rey Lee-Lo made a great defensive read and stripped the ball from Johnny Williams, allowing Tomos to put Halaholo into some stepping space on the right. After Cory Hill had barrelled the ball further up the field, Gareth Davies slapped down a Tomos pass from the base of the breakdown and was shown a yellow card with Evans adding three more to the score.
Unfortunately there wasn’t much to come from the 10-minute period with the man advantage, as some solid Scarlets defence led by Leigh Halfpenny prevented us from adding to the score before another touch-and-go breakdown decision against the home side allowed Dan Jones to score three points of his own.
In the end Cardiff waited until the opposition were back to 15-men to score arguably our try of the season so far. That man Jarrod Evans was crucial again, using a Josh Adams inside line as a decoy to make another blistering line break. Tomos was on his shoulder still with plenty to do as he rolled a tackle and produced a stunning offload for Rey Lee-Lo to score in the corner.
Evans converted brilliantly from the touchline to make the score 18-10 before the key moment in the game saw Liam Williams go into a breakdown leading with his head which struck the head of Shane Lewis-Hughes. A lack of any real technique gave referee Craig Evans no option but to send the Scarlets man off once he determined there was indeed foul play.
Cardiff couldn’t quite capitalise on a good attacking position against a re-organising Scarlets just before the break though, which almost cost Richard Hodges’ men dear as the visitors were able to regroup and come out firing early in the second half.
A Leigh Halfpenny penalty cut the deficit after James Botham was penalised for going off his feet, and that was the start of a spell of ill-discipline from the hosts that saw Craig Evans award five penalties in a row to the away side as they marched down the field.
Eventually a five-metre attacking scrum gave the Scarlets the opportunity to launch a dangerous attack and Sione Kalamafoni came off the back to power over and give his side the lead despite the man disadvantage, which was extended when Leigh Halfpenny added the conversion.
Things then went from bad to worse for Cardiff then as Rhys Carre, only just on the field off the bench, was sent to the sin bin for a tackle off the ball, but the away side became their own worst enemy again as they infringed when setting up the driving maul and the momentum shifted from one side to the other.
The hosts headed down field and from a long attacking set Jarrod Evans spotted the opportunity for a kick pass which James Botham took beautifully on the bounce and stepped past Jon Davies twice until support arrived. The Scarlets were slow to form up and Tomos Williams spotted the opportunity to snipe down the blindside and score another excellent try.
Immediately after re-taking the lead it was almost thrown away, as a loose pass in midfield allowed Steff Evans to run on to the ball and hack it forwards, but his second attempt to put boot to ball failed spectacularly and the danger was averted.
From there Cardiff were not going to let the game slip away, and as Rhys Carre returned to the field a two maul penalties allowed Evans to add six points and took the lead to an unassailable 29-20 as the referee called time.
There’s no doubt the red card played a big part in the game, and that Richard Hodges’ men almost let the win disappear in the third quarter thanks to some ill-discipline and maybe a touch of panic over leading with a man advantage, but in the end the players re-grouped and re-focused well to secure a crucial four points.
Some fine attacking play showed the best of this Cardiff Blues team, alongside a strong set piece and a dogged defence, meaning Dai Young will find a happy dressing room when he returns to the club on Tuesday morning. The future awaits…