View from the South Terrace: Zebre

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If there’s one thing you can rarely accuse Cardiff of, it’s doing things the easy way. It’s almost as if the Blue and Blacks enjoy putting everyone associated with the club through turmoil.

A trip to Parma is never an easy one, in spite of Zebre’s absolutely atrocious run of results over the last 12 months. It’s played 19, lost 19 this season, but they have a good scoring record at home and have run the likes of Ospreys, Toulon, Leinster and Sharks close since the beginning of the campaign.

In many respects they are similar to the Italian national team, playing a brand of attacking rugby that is incredibly exciting but equally as incredibly high risk, conceding multiple turnovers and regularly doing so in their own half, while at the same time running a defence that is leakier than the negotiations of the Welsh Professional Rugby Board.

As a result Cardiff got a lot of the game plan right on Friday night. The selection of Lloyd Williams and Rhys Priestland to start gave us a kicking game that pinned the hosts back deep in their own territory, a mobile back five forwards and with Jason Harries on the wing the kick chase was intense despite the warm early spring evening in Parma, and the heavy front row turned the screw at the scrum.

This all led to multiple penalties being won in and around the Zebre half and allowing Priestland to nudge it right into the corner where Teddy Williams magnificently marshalled a lineout and driving maul that took advantage of another weakness the Italian side have had this year.

Despite a slow start to proceedings that approach had paid dividends by the 65-minute mark as the Blue and Blacks pulled out an 18-34 lead, but there are reasons for concern as the Italians pulled things back to 30-34 by the time the clocked turned 80.

There was justifiable criticism of some of the defending, with Cardiff looking a bit leggy around the breakdown and ending up too narrow against an expansive attacking opponent, but particularly worrying was how once again discipline and leadership deserted the team once Josh Turnbull departed the field with about 20 minutes to go.

Cheap penalties and yellow cards were the story of proceedings in the final quarter and made it a very nervy finish, although some independent moments of effort from some of the younger players, such as Ellis Bevan and Mason Grady, managed to get us over the line.

In the end it was a case of job done for the Blue and Blacks who returned from Parma with five crucial points in the back pocket in the battle for the top of the Welsh Shield and still an outside chance of pushing for the United Rugby Championship’s top eight.

However, the warning is that a slow start and an ill-disciplined finish will be punished severely when Sale Sharks arrive at the Arms Park for the European Challenge Cup round of 16 next weekend.

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