Cardiff Blues completed an excellent double over West Wales rivals Scarlets to get the second Dai Young era up and running with a win and keep hopes of a competitive season alive.
Young had made two changes to the side that had won the reverse fixture two weeks prior, as Seb Davies returned to the second row and Alun Lawrence got the nod at 8. Kris Dacey, Rory Thornton and Josh Navidi were all named on the bench.
After some rain during the day in Llanelli the wet conditions under foot caused some problems early on as both teams made handling errors, with the Scarlets’ struggle to maintain possession the most expensive as they missed out on the first visit to an opposition 22.
A solid opening 10 minutes of defence from Cardiff Blues was then rewarded with a penalty that secured field position for the first time and the attack set about creating a scoring opportunity. It eventually came when Jarrod Evans delivered a beautifully delayed pass for Matthew Morgan to celebrate his 100th appearance for the club in style.
Scarlets attempted to hit back straight away, with Dan Jones kicking in behind cleverly before Jon Davies made a half-break, but the away defence was strong once again. Scrambling well and recovering shape quickly, before pushing the hosts back into their own half and forcing a knock on.
With the ball back in Cardiff hands and field position secured we set about looking for a second score, and with a penalty advantage in the opposition 22 there seemed to be an opportunity with Seb Davies coming short off a breakdown, but unfortunately the ball was spun wide and the attack fizzled out. Three points on top of the earlier conversion from Jarrod Evans saw us to a 10-0 lead, nevertheless.
The remainder of the half saw the Scarlets repeatedly knocking on the door but they went in at half-time scoreless as the visitors stood firm, perhaps wondering whether points had been left on the field as they headed for the sheds.
Just as two weeks previously it was the home side who started the second half the strongest, setting up camp in the corner of the Cardiff Blues 22 as maul infringements allowed them to repeatedly kick to the corner until Josh Turnbull’s lineout steal and Rory Thornton’s cleaning up allowed Tomos Williams to relieve the pressure.
Not to be deterred the Scarlets returned to the 22 shortly after, again going phase-after-phase in an attempt to cross the line and they finally did when a cross kick was touched down by Leigh Halfpenny, but Johnny McNicholl was adjudged to have pushed Matthew Morgan out of the way. A penalty advantage did allow Halfpenny to get the hosts on the scoreboard off the tee though.
Then some controversy as Dmitri Arhip carried into contact and Sione Kalamafoni suffered a serious head injury. The Moldovan tighthead’s forearm made contact with the Tongan’s head first, but the TMO decided there was no separation between the arm and the body so there was no infringement. A grey area in the laws that will no doubt spark debate.
After another spell of Scarlets pressure a momentum shift occurred just at the right time for the away side once again as a high kick was chased hard by Josh Adams who drove Angus O’Brien back on contact and with support from Rey Lee-Lo and Rhys Carre won the penalty on the floor. Evans stepped up to extend the lead by three points.
Eventually the home side did get over the try line legally though as Steff Hughes was able to execute a cross kick just before the Cardiff defence was on him once again, and the bounce was kind for Blade Thomson to score in the corner, with Halfpenny converting brilliantly from the touchline.
With the score at 10-13 heading into the last 10 minutes it started to seem a bit nervy for Dai Young’s men, but a Kieran Hardy box kick went out on the full, before good carries from Aled Summerhill, Josh Adams and Ben Thomas forced Scarlets into conceding a penalty.
Despite there being two minutes to go and just three points between the sides the brave decision to kick to the corner and pin the home side into their 22 was taken, and although possession was spilled before time was up, a massive Cardiff scrum won the ball against the head and secured a double over the West Walians in the standalone derby.
A monumental defensive effort orchestrated by Richard Hodges, as well as moments of attacking inspiration from Jarrod Evans and Matthew Morgan, and some good decision making from the on-field leaders all led to a win that gives Cardiff Blues a chance to make the top three in the Guinness Pro14’s conference B going into four weeks without a game.