Cardiff Blues got a first Rainbow Cup win on Sunday afternoon as Dai Young’s men overcame a spell down to 13 men to beat the Dragons at the Arms Park.
Young had made nine changes to the experimental side that lost to Ospreys last time out, as Welsh internationals Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Cory Hill and Seb Davies returned to action, the experience of Josh Turnbull and Olly Robinson were recalled, Jamie Hill and Sam Moore got opportunities to impress and new British and Irish Lion Josh Adams started on the wing.
A cagey first 10 minutes saw both teams enter the opposition 22 but some poor set piece work on both fronts kept the scoreboard scoreless until Cardiff put together a smart attack. Starting with Ben Thomas and Jason Harries teaming up to return a kick dangerously a Rhys Carre carry dragged us forwards and then Thomas released Josh Adams to go over, before adding the conversion.
Thomas was back on the tee shortly after when Jamie Roberts was pinged for a deliberate knock on, and perhaps fortunate not to be shown a yellow card, but the three points from his boot were the last of the half for the home team as a lineout mistake, a missed kick to the corner and a turnover conceded in the opposition red zone cost us the chance to extend the lead.
In the end the Dragons got their foot in the game with a penalty to end the half as only turnovers at the maul and from Dillon Lewis at the breakdown prevented them crossing with their power game, and Sam Davies made the score 3-10 at the break.
That momentum gained at the end of the first half carried over in the second for the Dragons as they came out firing and through the first 10 minutes after the interval won 100% territory. During that time Owen Lane was shown a red card for a high shot on Gonzalo Bertranou, and Rhys Lawrence powered over from close range with Davies drawing the scores level from the conversion.
The away side returned quickly to the red zone and when Cardiff were offside under the posts Davies took the opportunity to claim the lead off the tee, before more discipline trouble for the hosts when Jason Harries did receive a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on.
Down to 13-men but unofficially still at a maximum complement of players as Josh Turnbull did the work of three men to cover from the subsequent scrum on the left wing 50 metres across the field to the right hand side of the pitch where he won a stunning try saver of a turnover.
Davies added three more points to make the score 10-16, but as the yellow card ran out and Cardiff were able to bring on a replacement for Owen Lane due to the red card replacement trial law being run in the Rainbow Cup, we started to get back into proceedings and playing in the opposition territory.
Maul and scrum dominance saw us camped in the Dragons 22, after they had struggled to deal with a kick-off, and after a few phases of knocking on the door Ellis Bevan committed Greg Bateman on the edge of a breakdown before finding Teddy Williams running a short line off his shoulder to crash over for his first Blue and Blacks try.
Jarrod Evans added the conversion to hand us back the lead and just to add insult to injury for the away side, a Josh Turnbull captain’s challenge saw try scorer Lawrence shown a red card for a shoulder charge to the head of the home captain.
Sam Davies still had the opportunity to nab a victory for the Dragons when Kris Dacey was penalised on the floor, but the kick was just out of his range and Cardiff managed the final two minutes well, a big improvement on the end of the London Irish game, to secure an 11th straight victory over our close rivals.
Dai Young will no doubt have been disappointed by the discipline and some cheap turnovers, but there were plenty of positives again for the director of rugby as the maul defence was superb, the defensive breakdown was a huge threat and our ball retention at attacking breakdowns was very good.
Add in the performances of particularly young players Teddy Williams, Ellis Bevan and Ben Thomas again, and things are heading in the right direction as we look ahead to a trip to Scarlets next Saturday.