An experimental Cardiff Blues side were well beaten by the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday evening as the Rainbow Cup got underway in Wales.
Dai Young had taken the opportunity to have a look at a number of players around the fringes of the senior squad having recently signed a long-term deal to stay as director of rugby, while the bench had a very low average age including two debutants, and James Ratti, Owen Lane and Ben Thomas were all looked at in different positions.
With the Ospreys naming a stronger starting XV it was them who controlled proceedings early on, helped in part by a Ben Thomas kick out on the full, a scrum penalty and Alun Lawrence putting his hands in the ruck. The latter of those allowed the home side to kick to the corner and a well organised driving maul saw Ifan Phillips go over.
There was a feeling that could open the floodgates but Cardiff Blues stayed in the game well, with some gritty defence seeing Alun Lawrence and Gwilym Bradley win big turnovers, while there were even attacking opportunities as a Ben Thomas kick-pass released Hallam Amos on the left, and Owen Lane made a searing break on a counter attack, although neither could be converted into points scored.
In the end it was errors and penalties that again invited Ospreys into our half, as well as a small slice of misfortune, as a Ben Murphy half-charge down was not dealt with by Jason Harries and Mat Protheroe pounced on the loose ball before releasing Keiran Williams to score.
Josh Thomas converted and was back on the tee for the last kick of the half as another Cardiff half-charge down, this time from Owen Lane, fell kindly for Morgan Morris who had Matthew Aubrey on his inside shoulder to give the hosts a 19-0 lead at the break.
The second half started in back-and-forth fashion as a Lewis Jones offload freed Jason Harries, before some clever Ospreys handling put Owen Watkin into space on the right wing. Neither break led to a try due to handling errors, but the home attack ended in particularly tough circumstances as George North suffered a worrying knee injury. Best wishes to him on his recovery.
On the back of that though the home side did benefit in a round-about way as the resulting scrum saw Keiron Assiratti pinged yet again, and shown a yellow card, with the ball being kicked to the corner and Ifan Phillips adjudged to have scored his second try from the back of a driving maul.
Having weathered the rest of the period down to 14-men, Dai Young started to look to his bench with the youthful enthusiasm of Rhys Carre, Liam Belcher, Teddy Williams and Ellis Bevan, alongside the experience of Olly Robinson and Dan Fish, immediately starting to pay dividends.
Ben Thomas, now slotting in at fly-half after the departure of the starting half-backs, took the ball at first receiver and brought old Cardiff Schools mate Max Llewellyn off his shoulder on a classic line reminiscent of another Glantaf inside centre, with the 22-year-old screaming through the Ospreys defence and backing himself to beat the covering Protheroe to get the away side on the board, with Thomas converting.
The hosts were allowed to score next fairly comfortably though, with back-to-back penalties seeing them set up camp in our 22 and off the back of a scrum in front of the posts Matthew Aubrey went sniping before offloading to Sam Cross on his inside shoulder to go over unopposed, Josh Thomas converting.
Cardiff weren’t done with scoring yet though, with the bench having more impact in attack. Olly Robinson, with help from Gwilym Bradley and Liam Belcher, won a penalty on the floor and Dan Fish was alive to the tap penalty, linking with Ellis Bevan to release Max Llewellyn. The centre stepped past Dan Evans with ease and found Bevan tracking on the inside shoulder for a debut score, Thomas adding the extras.
There was just time left for one final Ospreys score, after yet another spell of penaties awarded against the away side, with a first driving maul seeing Jason Harries sent to the sin bin before a second saw Sam Parry going over the try line for a 36-14 final scoreline.
As soon as the teams were named it was clear that the result would be largely irrelevant from a Cardiff Blues point of view, but Dai Young will still be disappointed with some cheap errors, too many penalties conceded and a distinct lack of control from some of the more experienced players in the first hour.
However there were positives, mainly in the form of the younger players as Gwilym Bradley, Ellis Bevan, Ben Thomas, especially after he moved to fly-half, and Max Llewellyn in particular stood out in some of their first proper appearances under Young.
He will certainly have learned a lot about his squad though, and it should be expected that he sticks with a similar selection policy for at least the second round of the Rainbow Cup at home to the Dragons in two weeks’ time.