Cardiff Blues earned an all-important bonus point win to keep pressure on the Scarlets and Edinburgh at bay as Benetton were swept aside by a second half salvo in Treviso.
Dai Young had largely kept faith with the side that fell to Munster the last time out, with only Liam Belcher and Keiron Assiratti introduced, while Olly Robinson replaced the injured Shane Lewis-Hughes, but the day before the game Owen Lane was forced to withdraw after pulling up in the team run with Jason Harries starting in his place.
Early signs seemed positive with Benetton being pinned back in their 22, but ill-discipline reared it’s head once again allowing the hosts to kick into our half and then into our 22. The initial drive was halted but a switch of the attack back to the blindside saw sharp hands put Ratuva Tavuyara into space to produce an excellent diving finish, with Tommaso Allan converting.
The Italians continued to put Cardiff under pressure but an excellent intercept from Olly Robinson and then an Ellis Jenkins turnover after a good Rey Lee-Lo tackle relieved some pressure and allowed us to retain possession. An infringement at the breakdown saw Ben Thomas gets us on the board off the tee.
Unfortunately the Welsh side were not able to maintain that pressure on Benetton, instead too often choosing to kick possession away over the next 30 minutes against an opposition keen to run the ball back and try to assert a physical dominance up front.
That, coupled with some surprising scrum decisions, meant Cardiff operated largely in our own half and without the ball, as only some superb Olly Robinson maul defence and a Liam Belcher rip in contact prevented the hosts from extending their lead.
In the end though Benetton got their deserved try. We box kicked possession away on our own 10 metre line, with the Italians taking possession on their own 10 metre line and setting about stringing attacking phases together until they reached the red zone. From there the heavy forwards set about their work and Ivan Nemer barrelled over for the try despite a slightly suspect grounding.
Tommaso Allan converted but fortunately that seemed to spark Cardiff into life and we began to keep hold of the ball again. A smart break orchestrated by Rey Lee-Lo and Ben Thomas took us into the opposition half where they infringed on the floor again. The kick to the corner allowed us to set up camp in the red zone, and after a number of big carries it was Keiron Assiratti who got the try.
Jarrod Evans’ conversion made it 14-10 at the break, but the score on the stroke of half-time had given the visitors the confidence to play with ball-in-hand and when the second half got underway we put that confidence to good use.
An overthrown Benetton lineout was picked up by Olly Robinson who put Ellis Jenkins through a gap. He was brought down but quickly recycled ball got to Ben Thomas who beat a man and drew a defender to get Aled Summerhill into space to finish well.
The next 15 minutes saw a much more open game as Summerhill and Evans both made dangerous breaks, while Seb Davies covered Tavuyara brilliantly across the field and Summerhill produced an interception at a key moment.
On the back of the interception the home side were penalised and Evans kicked us into the corner. A first attacking set was stopped when Josh Turnbull was held up over the line, but the second was more successful as Corey Domachowski dived over a breakdown to score under the posts, with Evans adding the extras.
Substitutions stunted the flow of the game over the next 10 minutes but it was Evans who got us moving again with a delayed pass allowing the returning Dillon Lewis to get us over the gainline and another Benetton infringement returned us to the corner. The driving maul couldn’t get going but the first phase strike play saw Ben Thomas get his hands through the tackle to release Rey Lee-Lo for the bonus point score.
Evans converted to stretch the scoreline to 14-29 which is how the game finished, with Cardiff winning the second half 0-19 in order to secure a morale boosting victory and head back home with all five points in the back pocket.
All eyes now turn to next Monday as Edinburgh arrive at the Arms Park. A win would likely secure us fourth place in Conference B, and give us a chance to jump the Scarlets into third. A loss would likely leave us fifth in the table and with another disappointing campaign to look back on. It all comes down to this!