Cardiff Rugby fell to a second half comeback from Gallagher Premiership champions Harlequins but there were plenty of positives to take from the first pre-season outing of the 2021/22 campaign.
Dai Young was without his internationals who had played for Wales and the British & Irish Lions over the summer but still named a strong starting XV with the likes of Shane Lewis-Hughes, Ellis Jenkins, Max Llewellyn, Garyn Smith and Aled Summerhill all returning from injury.
1st Half XV: Matthew Morgan, Jason Harries, Garyn Smith, Max Llewellyn, Aled Summerhill, Jason Tovey, Jamie Hill; Rhys Gill, Kirby Myhill, Will Davies-King, James Ratti, Rory Thornton, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Ellis Jenkins, Alun Lawrence
It was a fast start from the Blue and Blacks who showed intent to play at pace from the word go, and subsequently scored the first try of the game after nine minutes when a Jamie Hill snipe and offload, a good angle from Kirby Myhill and sharp hands from Jason Tovey and Matthew Morgan freed Aled Summerhill and Ellis Jenkins down the left wing.
The latter was hauled down short but some patient red zone attack moved Cardiff to the centre of the field where Max Llewellyn was on hand to run a line reminiscent of another former Ysgol Glantaf inside centre to go over under the posts. Tovey adding the extras with ease.
Just four minutes later and Tovey was doing the same again having started a move which half-back partner Hill finished under the posts. A smart carry from Will Davies-King provided a platform and the Blue and Black 10 fed Garyn Smith on a short line with a no-look pass. The centre scorched through and found Hill tracking on his shoulder to score bravely under pressure from the Harlequins back three.
At the half-way point of the first half the lead was extended further when good offloading from Kirby Myhill and Ellis Jenkins off an attacking lineout allowed Llewellyn to carry up to the red zone and this time the forwards got to work with Alun Lawrence the man staying strong in contact and reaching out to score. Tovey’s conversion making the score 0-21.
Harlequins did strike back as the game reached the 30-minute mark, and disappointingly it came from a Cardiff attack as an understaffed breakdown in the opposition 22 allowed the home side to steal the ball and Huw Jones twice back tackles to head into our territory.
An offside penalty saw the English side kick into our 22 and some big carries eventually ended with Tom Lawday diving over from close range for a converted try.
However, Cardiff struck back quickly, largely thanks to big number eight Lawrence who won a penalty over the ball at a breakdown, allowing Tovey to kick into the corner. Smith carried hard on first phase, being pulled back from over the try line just before touching down, but Big Al was on hand to power over for his second close range try and give the visitors a 7-26 lead at the break.
2nd Half XV: Matthew Morgan, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, Garyn Smith, Harri Millard, Aled Summerhill, Rhys Priestland, Ethan Lloyd; Brad Thyer, Kris Dacey, Scott Andrews, Rhys Anstey, Sean Moore, Gwilym Bradley, Olly Robinson, Sam Moore
Dai Young took the opportunity to make a number of changes at half-time and early into the second half, which saw Cardiff lose some of that attacking intent and tempo. A box kick from halfway was too long and Louis Lynagh ran it back with ease to carry 60 metres before putting Tyrone Green over for a score.
Three minutes later Lynagh turned scorer as a fast-paced Harlequins attack went through multiple phases in the away side’s half, and when the ball was switched out left the winger was on hand to pounce on lost possession and continue his impressive try scoring form from the Premiership title winning run at the end of the last campaign.
The pendulum can swing quickly though and a remaining member of the Cardiff squad from the first-half capped his return to action after an ACL injury with a superb try as Garyn Smith read a first phase Quins strike play to perfection, making an interception and running away under the sticks with Tovey converting before heading off the field.
However, as soon as it had swung towards the away side, the Quins were back over the try line, with the Blue and Blacks maul defence once again called into question as it conceded a penalty before giving the hosts a platform to attack from. Andre Esterhuizen powered over and Tommaso Allan added a second conversion to make the score 26-33 at the hour mark.
Cardiff had opportunities to get back into the game, with an attacking set in the opposition red zone ending after an accidental offside on our side, before some disappointing lineout work saw us lose two good field positions.
In the end Harlequins would win the game in the final 10 minutes, although slightly controversially as Harri Millard was tip tackled out of the way at a breakdown but the referee overlooked it as the home side moved the ball down the left wing where Cassius Cleaves ran clear before finding Will Trenholm on his inside shoulder.
Trenholm added a second try and Jack Kenningham got on the scoreboard late on too as the English side pulled away in the final few minutes after more Cardiff lineout problems, for a final score of 45-33 at the Twickenham Stoop.
A disappointing second half, but it comes with the context that while the Blue and Blacks were introducing the likes of Sean Moore, Rhys Anstey and Ethan Lloyd to senior professional rugby, with Gwilym Bradley and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso not yet in double figures of appearances, Harlequins were bringing on the likes of Kenningham, Scott Steele, Allan, Esterhuizen, Green and Lynagh.
The first 40 minutes was a hugely encouraging half for Dai Young as Cardiff attacked with tempo and accuracy, bringing a skill level through the offloading game we have not seen for some time, and it will be that which we build on heading into the return of supporters to the Arms Park next week when Bath are the visitors for the second, and final, pre-season friendly.