For reasons based on circumstance more than anything else, Cardiff’s games with Benetton are ones that often become memorable, especially in recent years.
Back in November 2019 a superb performance in Treviso secured a 28-31 victory on the same day as Wales played the Barbarians in a Welsh Rugby Union money spinner, depriving the Blue and Blacks of our star internationals after the Rugby World Cup, while just a three months later the return game saw Cardiff claim another bonus point win in what would be the last home game before the covid-19 season suspension.
On to May last year and a young side was selected by Dai Young for the final game of a tough campaign with Benetton running out comfortable 69-21 winners in a result that sent shockwaves through the Arms Park and Welsh rugby generally.
Then we arrive on Saturday in the capital at the end of a week where all of the news had come off-the-field with players threatening to strike ahead of Wales’ Six Nations game against England, and details of the contracts being negotiated for the pro clubs to offer their players leaked out including bizarre fixed-variable elements and enforced loans to other teams.
With all that going on in the background you’d have forgiven Cardiff’s players, many of whom are without a contract beyond June and have no idea if they’ll have a job next season, for being somewhat distracted and perhaps not 100% committed to a United Rugby Championship game against Benetton during the international window.
What transpired was a performance that I think many of the players in blue and black will look back on as a stand-out in their career.
That’s not necessarily because of how they played, although there were plenty of positives in that respect. Now isn’t really the time to deep dive into on-field elements of Cardiff’s game, but; defensive line speed, breakdown work, attacking variation, kick chase and scrum were all very good. Even the lineout functioned to a dizzyingly high level!
Instead it’s down to what can sometimes be described as pretentious nonsense, but on an evening like Saturday is the basis for a huge win; personal pride and passion.
There’s no accusation that any players lack this on any other week, but after the week that was the motivation to put in a 110% committed and high energy performance was clearly there in abundance and the players channelled it in just the right way. For a visual explanation see the Michael Jordan “and I took that personally” meme.
From the first minute to the last the players were over and above simply doing their best for the jersey and the badge, they were sending a message by playing for themselves and each other. Against an in-form and strong Benetton team they hardly gave the Italians room to breathe as they drove into every tackle, ruck and carry.
Possibly adding to that was the wearing of their mini & junior club socks, seen by some as perhaps a bit gimmicky, but a reminder to the players of how far they have come on the journey and why they continue to put their bodies on the line in spite of all the off-field incompetence from those wearing blazers.
On an evening where hundreds of children were packed in to watch and parade around the pitch at half-time, the players put on a show of skill and commitment that made a random game in February one to remember for many years.
It may not change anything over the next few weeks, but it at least sends a reminder to the WRU that the players deserve so much better than they’re currently getting from the governing body.