Cardiff Blues marked a return to Cardiff Arms Park with a good performance against the Ospreys in a friendly on Friday afternoon, setting Dai Young’s men up well for a return to Guinness Pro14 action.
The interim Director of Rugby had named a mixed side of first team players needing game time, some on the way back from injury and a few stars of the future for the fixture, which started in tense fashion in bright but freezing conditions in the Welsh capital.
Both teams had opportunities to get their hands on the ball early on but it was Cardiff Blues who grew quicker into the game quicker, with Mason Grady and Owen Lane stretching their legs down the right and left wings, respectively.
Eventually the attacking pressure caused the Ospreys to infringe and then they gave up a penalty advantage at the ensuing maul it was fairly simple for Max Llewellyn and Jason Tovey to combine to put Dan Fish into space and then for the full-back to put Aled Summerhill over out wide for the game’s first try.
The away side tried to hit straight back, setting up camp in the Cardiff 22, but a welcome sight brought an end to the attack as Ellis Jenkins, making his first appearance in just over two years, won the turnover over the ball and we cleared our lines.
From there we set about building another good attacking set and after pushing and pulling the Ospreys through five or six phases, Grady was able to break one tackle and shrug off another before finding Summerhill on his shoulder for the Rhondda Rocket’s second try of the game. Jason Tovey adding the extras.
This time the Ospreys were able to hit straight back though as Cardiff failed to deal with the kick-off again, and a lax piece of defending allowed Callum Carson to run a good line off Matthew Aubrey and head straight under the posts, with Luke Price converting.
The visitors weren’t able to capitalise on that though, as inaccuracies let Cardiff Blues back into the game. First a lineout was lost and then a knock-on in midfield allowed us to scrum. A big carry from Keiron Assiratti from that secured front foot ball and Dan Fish glided around the outside to put Owen Lane one-on-one with the full-back, using his strength to get over easily.
Tovey converted again but a see-saw first half swung back to the Ospreys again as a high tackle let them kick to the corner. They set up camp in the red zone and eventually Matthew Aubrey sniped over from close range, with Luke Price adding the extras.
Defensively Cardiff were the dominant side, putting huge pressure on at the breakdown and that led to another penalty. The resulting lineout saw a first phase strike set up, with Owen Lane coming across from his wing to break the line. He had Aled Summerhill in support but the pass back inside was patted down by an Ospreys hand.
Fortunately Mason Grady was on hand to kick the loose ball forward and that man Ellis Jenkins, tracking the play from the right wing lineout to the left wing break, was able to sprint through and touch the ball down. Tovey converted for a 26-14 lead.
The scores stayed that way through half-time and into the start of the second half, where a number of replacements on both sides caused the game to become bogged down slightly.
A few Cardiff Blues errors allowed Ospreys to set up an attacking lineout in our 22, and the driving maul was formed to good effect with Dewi Lake in possession as they crashed over the line. Price converted again to cut the lead.
However, that seemed to spark the home side into life with the Ospreys pinned in their own half. An infringement on the floor and then a tackle in the air after a good Jason Harries take. We kicked to the corner and started pounding the line with Ioan Rhys Davies, Alex Mann and Ben Murphy carrying hard before Iestyn Harris powered over and Luke Scully converted.
Then turnover ball saw Dan Fish release Harri Millard down the left. He has Mason Grady in support but the attack was stopped when Millard took the ball back on the inside and was cut down by a high tackle. The ensuing set piece saw Ellis Bevan carry off the back drawing defenders before putting in a perfect pass for Millard to power over.
That was the last score of the game as Cardiff Blues saw out the final five minutes with some strong defence and earned a 38-21 victory, but more importantly got crucial game time for a number of first team players and gave valuable exposure for the future stars of the club.
Injuries to Iestyn Harris, Rhys Anstey and Max Llewellyn took the shine off proceedings slightly, but the return of Ellis Jenkins, seeing Owen Lane back and scoring tries, and a typically classy performance from Dan Fish, as well as standout showings from youngsters Alex Mann and Mason Grady, were main takeaways from a good afternoon’s work.