Edinburgh 17-21 Cardiff

Cardiff Blues ended the season on a high with victory over Edinburgh at Murrayfield. Despite not being filled with quality it capped off a fine second half of the campaign that saw us almost push for Champions Cup qualification had it not been for a loss to Ospreys at Judgement Day last week. However, our win in Scotland and an Ulster victory in Swansea meant we finished as the second best Welsh side in the Pro12 for the first time since 2009/10.

Danny Wilson stayed largely with the team that has performed so well over the last few weeks for the last trip of the year, with only Cameron Dolan coming into the side at lock for the injured Sam Warburton, Josh Turnbull switching to flanker to accomodate that, and Lloyd Williams and Tom James returning in the backs in place of Lewis Jones and Tom Isaacs. On the bench Lou Reed and Scott Andrews got chances to impress before the summer break.

Lloyd Williams Edinburgh
Lloyd Williams returned for the trip

 

The game started pretty poorly for Cardiff with Edinburgh having all the play, only a fantastic Gethin Jenkins tap tackle and strong Tom James defence stopped the home side from going ahead inside five minutes. We struggled to really put our attacking stamp on the game, for the second successive week, in the first half with only a Gareth Anscombe chip being too long for Dan Fish to chase a real scoring chance before the half hour mark.

There were uncharacteristic errors elsewhere from normally dependable figures as well with Josh Navidi spilling a high kick which he’d take 99 times out of 100. From the scrum our front row buckled and Jason Tovey took Edinburgh to the corner. The rolling maul didn’t function but the Cardiff defence ignored the blindside and flanker Hamish Watson got over in the corner for the first score.

Josh Navidi Edinburgh.jpg
An uncharacteristic mistake from Josh Navidi led to Edinburgh’s try

 

Almost straight from the kick-off we were back under pressure from two odd John Lacey decisions. Firstly Lloyd Williams was adjudged to me offside from a ruck and Edinburgh went back to the corner, then from the maul Josh Turnbull apparently infringed despite Lacey initially signalling his attempts to halt the attack were fine. The home side tapped and went in line with their early match attacking speed which Cardiff’s defence just couldn’t cope with and eventually centre Matt Scott just walked through an unguarded ruck fringe.

That poor fringe defence was a key factor in the first half for Cardiff as Edinburgh time and time again put us on the back foot thanks to easy yards made from the base. If it wasn’t for an inspired perfromance from Ellis Jenkins who secured at least four turnovers I dread to think what the score may have been, also a mention to Gethin Jenkins and Cam Dolan for assisting ably in that department.

Fortunately we did manage to start playing around the half hour mark as a prolonged period of attack, going through around 15 phases, put us into the redzone. We looked unable to break through for a while as Edinburgh stood strong but eventually a little flick from Ellis Jenkins out to Rey Lee-Lo on the wing gave the Samoan enough space to provide an excellent finish. Gareth Anscombe provided the conversion to make it 12-7.

Rey Lee Lo Edinburgh
Rey Lee-Lo touches down in the corner

 

With two minutes of the first half to go I think all concerned with Cardiff would’ve taken a five point deficit but a scrum on halfway was put under pressure and soon Edinburgh had counter rucked and taken possession. The ball was shifted out to Scott who put in a little grubber kick and hacked it on over the try line for Tom Brown to steal the try. Jason Tovey hit the post from the conversion and we went in 17-7 down at the break after a more than lacklustre performance.

The start of the second half was certainly a step up on the first period as the defence was vastly improved, thanks in part to Aled Summerhill making way for Gavin Evans to make his first proper appearance since January. He may not be the most dynamic attacker but he loves a tackle! This defence provided a solid base to attack off, and that we did for a good 20 minutes to no avail.

A good sign of the change in attitude under Danny Wilson though is that we didn’t panic during this time. Despite dominating possession and territory we weren’t making any headway but by remaining calm and patient we made headway when Garyn Smith put a kick in behind and Sean Kennedy was forced to concede a lineout deep inside the Edinburgh 22. From that one the home side dragged the maul down so Anscombe went back to the corner.

Gareth Anscombe Edinburgh
Gareth Anscombe was pulling all the Cardiff strings

 

This time the ball bobbled around off the lineout but a fantastic piece of sweeping up by Anscombe saw him offload to Rey Lee-Lo, onto Garyn Smith making yards, Ellis Jenkins carrying it up to the line and finally Cam Dolan on the angle crashing over for his first Pro12 try. Some fantastic handling that hasn’t been seen from Cardiff players in many years. Anscombe’s conversion took us to just three points behind with all the momentum.

Just five minutes later we got ahead for the first time after replacement Edinburgh scrum half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne scuffed a clearance box kick straight to Anscombe who fed the Fish. He went round prop Allan Dell before throwing a dummy to the outside and turning back to the inside to find Garyn Smith for a try.

Garyn Smith Edinburgh
Garyn Smith scores as Dan Fish looks on

 

21-17 up and with Ospreys getting battered by Ulster it was all about game management, not exactly our forte at times but different here. We stayed patient with ball in hand and still looked to play, there was no nerves to be seen although perhaps that was helped by having the pressure of Champions Cup qualification lifted. An assured performance was how you would describe the second half, a compliment to Danny Wilson’s squad turnaround.

A slightly dodgy last 30 seconds where Edinburgh secured a turnover and went for the corner were sorted when Macauley Cook stole the ball at the ruck and Dan Fish kicked the ball clear to end the season with a win. Seventh place secured in the Pro12 and with it ending as the second best Welsh side. If someone had offered me that on the back of seven straight league defeats in November I’d have snapped their arm off.

A season review is planned for the blog but a little summary on the end of this, the last match report of the season, would be ‘things are looking up’. Danny Wilson has brought in a winning culture with him and really got the players into a tight knit group filled with quality. It’s a real exciting time to be a Cardiff rugby fan, and I cannot wait for next season. Come on Cardiff!!

Cam Dolan Edinburgh.jpg
Cam Dolan grabs his try on the way to the win

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cardiff 27-40 Ospreys

Cardiff fell to a disappointing loss to the Ospreys at Judgement Day IV as hopes of sixth place and a Champions Cup appearance next season went out the window. It effectively ends the season with a game to go but should not be seen as a failure by any means. To only lose interest in a season with a week left is something we have only dreamt of in the past few years, and is almost unbelievable when you consider our position in November.

Danny Wilson can take great credit, along with his backroom staff, for turning those fortunes around but our head coach was dealt a tough hand this week when key players from the spine of the side, Lloyd Williams and Rhys Patchell were ruled out through injury. The squad looked weaker as a result and then to add insult to injuries, Tom James was declared unavailable on the morning of Judgement Day as his wife went into labour. What a time for it to happen! (Congratulations Tom and partner on the birth of future Cardiff legend Teddy by the way.)

TJ Treviso
TJ was too busy becoming a Dad to play at Judgement Day, shocking!

 

Anyway, squad problems aside a job was still there to be done and we looked pretty nervy about it from the start as we kicked away good ball from our own 10 metre line off the kick-off. The Ospreys had the first meaningful attack from a lost Matthew Rees lineout but the defence held strong and eventually forced a knock on, with Gethin Jenkins doing a job on Dimitri Arhip at scrum time.

Off the resulting penalty lineout we had our first proper attack but Gareth Anscombe chose the wrong option to chip through straight to Dan Evans who cleared. Off the next lineout the ball went flat to Anscombe who took Rhys Webb with him and trapped him on the wrong side of the ruck. The Kiwi-born fly-half duly scored the first points of the afternoon.

Gareth Anscombe Ospreys
Gareth Anscombe chooses the wrong option to kick, but soon got us on the board

 

The huge positive of the first half was the effectiveness of the three natural number 7s, who really worked as a team for the first time. We’ve seen flashes of individual brilliance over the last few weeks but there were moments on Saturday when the trio were unplayable, such as when Sam Underhill was tackled and challenged by Sam Warburton, before Ellis Jenkins arrived to secure the turnover, or when all three were ready to meet Dan Biggar after he took a high kick. A fantastic sight and one I hope to see a lot next season.

Aside from the breakdown work the first half was a real battle and it took 25 minutes for the first real attack to be seen. The Ospreys went to the corner from a penalty but we secured a scrum turnover and it was from that defensive set piece that it started to unravel. Josh Navidi went to run off the back but Nigel Owens penalised Lewis Jones for ‘blocking’ Rhys Webb. The away side went for the scrum again and James King appeared off the back to wander over for the opening try.

A few interesting points from that period of play as, firstly, from the try scoring scrum Rhys Webb was blocking Lewis Jones in exactly the same way as Jones was penalised for. Then two wrong tactical decisions from Cardiff players as Ellis and Navidi both stayed down in the scrum rather than peeling off to defend the openside, and Aled Summerhill was dragged to the blindside by a marauding Ben John, both of which left a huge hole for King to attack.

James King Ospreys
James King crosses for the game’s first try

 

Dan ‘the assistant referee’ Biggar kicked the conversion but Cardiff were immediately attempting to match the West Walians. Tommy Isaacs, drafted in last minute for TJ, found a little bit of space cutting in from the left but chose to keep hold of the ball rather than look for support coming from Jones. Possession was recycled quickly out to Rey Lee-Lo with half a yard on the right wing but a last gasp ankle tap halted the centre’s dangerous progress and meant a shovelled offload to Garyn Smith was easy to push into touch.

It came down to two Anscombe penalties in the last 10 minutes sent Cardiff in 9-7 to the good at half-time after a fast and bruising first half that saw Ellis Jenkins in the blood bin and Sam Warburton subbed off with a shoulder injury. Very bad news on the day for us and for Team Wales heading into the summer.

Back to the action and flying out the traps were the Cardiff Blues. Within a minute we were camped on the Ospreys try line and a bit of patience was required. Phases were used up trying to batter through the defensive wall but eventually it created half a yard for the increasingly vital Anscombe who threw a pearler of a double miss-pass over two onrushing defenders for Aled Summerhill to score from the right.

Aled Summerhill Ospreys
Aled Summerhill crosses in the corner

 

Anscombe missed the conversion with a really poor kick but made up for it a few minutes later with a penalty after a really strong scrum. Danny Wilson’s choice of Matthew Rees over Kristian Dacey vindicated as he pushed the Ospreys back with the other old boys Gethin Jenkins and Fa’ao Filise.

At 17-7 we seemed to be sitting pretty but we game management was sadly lacking. From a defensive scrum on our own five metre line we really should have been coming off the back with Navidi before clearing. Instead our number 8 tried to flick the ball out to Lewis Jones which was never going to go well and down the ball went. A nice attacking base from the Ospreys and soon the ball was shifted wide to Hanno Dirksen one-on-one with Tom Isaacs who got his head on completely the wrong side and Ospreys were right back in it.

Hanno Dirksen Ospreys
Hanno Dirksen evades the clutches of Tommy Isaacs

 

So back in it were they that five minutes they were ahead. Garyn Smith spilled the ball deep into the Ospreys half and young centre Owen Watkin was on hand to make good yards. Gareth Anscombe made a good tackle and when Rhys Webb chipped over the top a phase later all seemed under control as Fish let Isaacs sweep up the loose ball. However the winger never even got close to it and up popped Watkin again to claim it and feed Dirksen for try number two.

Momentum seemed well and truly with the away side as Dan Fish managed to flick the ball into touch from a Dan Evans kick. Good field position and a seemingly very dangerous attack when Josh Matavesi wandered past a tired Filise in midfield. However the offload went straight to substitute Manoa Vosawai and within 30 seconds Josh Navidi had the ball in the Ospreys 22. The dreadlocked back rower powered out of one tackle and then turned the after burners on to get past three other defenders and over the line.

Josh Navidi Ospreys
Josh Navidi celebrates his second straight Judgement Day try

 

The game was swinging back and for like a seriously fast pendulum and it wasn’t stopping yet, much to the delight of the large crowd who were being entertained by the best the Welsh pro clubs had to offer. As the game crept into the final 10 minutes there was a further twist to take place when Nigel Owens, rather unfairly I would say, penalised Kristian Dacey for rucking from the side. The Ospreys were after the bonus point so went for the corner and it was off the back of a failed maul that Sam Underhill broke Tomos Williams’ tackle and dived over. Biggar’s conversion making it 24-26 at this stage.

Now, if anyone ever tells you rugby is a thug’s game played by intellectuals you can point them towards Ospreys replacement hooker Sam Parry for proof that is a lie. With his team just taken the lead he decided to so blatantly block Dan Fish from chasing the kick-off right under Nige’s nose that he had to be penalised. Gareth Anscombe got his 17th points of the day and the lead changed hands for the sixth time.

Unfortunately that would be Cardiff’s last points of the afternoon and the lead would change hands once more, not due to some enthralling open play, but a poor refereeing decision. The away side went through a number of phases grinding down the yards to the line. Dirksen was stopped just inches from getting a hat-trick and the ball came back to Rhys Webb with the Wales scrum-half improvising his trademark sniping to dive over on the narrowest of blindsides. The only problem was his foot clearly on the touchline when he picked the ball up, overlooked by Nige and the TMO though.

Cardiff came back out bravely trying to attack from our own line with two minutes to go but it was far too ambitious and Manoa Vosawai ended up spilling the ball to give the Ospreys an attacking five-metre scrum. Rhys Webb took the ball squirting out the back and was too quick to stop. Dan Biggar’s conversion meant it finished 27-40 in the end, an unfairly large winning margin but probably not an undeserved victory.

Rhys Webb Ospreys
Ellis Jenkins can’t stop Rhys Webb’s second try

 

That’s not to say we played badly at all though. The players put their bodies right on the line and I literally could not have asked for anymore effort or determination. Little pieces of skill went awry at times and we never quite developed our running game but those things will come in time. I was proud to be a Cardiff fan on Saturday and despite missing out on Champions Cup qualification I am still extremely excited for the future with this squad under this management.

Away from the result it was a really cracking match that was fast-paced, brutal in it’s physicality and had plenty of pieces of individual skill. Perfect conditions at the Millennium helped and I’m sure the large crowd would have been entertained. Whether that will mean increased attendances week in, week out I don’t know but I highly doubt. I’m not one to delve in rugby politics, but I don’t think Judgement Day really works.

The last word goes to an immense Cardiff effort though and I hope the players are proud of themselves and realise how we as fans appreciate the effort. One last game to wrap up the season next week in Edinburgh and after such a bruising encounter for some players and plenty with big international summers ahead I really don’t see the harm in leaving a few senior names at home and taking some fringe and youth players. We shall see though, as always, in Danny we trust. Come on Cardiff!!

Gareth Anscombe Ospreys 2
Gareth Anscombe had another good game and will be crucial to Cardiff’s future

 

Cardiff 28-8 Newport

Cardiff managed to record a comfortable victory over Newport despite a somewhat lacklustre performance at times on a sunny afternoon at the Arms Park. While the win was the minimum required there was a tinge of disappointment to the result as the try bonus point was missed out to really put the pressure on Edinburgh and Munster in the battle for 6th place in the Pro12 and European Champions Cup qualification.

Coming into the game both sides should have been riding on waves of confidence as Newport arrived on the back of an away European Challenge Cup quarter-final win at Gloucester, while we had won our last three games in the Pro12, culminating in an excellent win away at Llanelli two weeks previously. It was shaped up for a cracking game as the away side named a strong side despite a trip to Montpellier next week, while the Cardiff side was kept very similar to that which has been so successful recently.

Team v Llanelli
We came into the game on the back of a huge win in Llanelli

 

The game got out of the traps quite quickly and it was in just the seventh minute that the first incident of note took place when Newport scrum-half Sarel Pretorius went to box kick the ball from behind a driving maul, only for Ellis Jenkins to appear and charge it down. A Hallam Amos juggle later and it was a Cardiff attacking scrum. The away side held strong through a number of phases before eventually Josh Turnbull evaded the clutches of Taulupe Faletau and got over the line.

Gareth Anscombe missed the conversion but was on target a few moments later to make it 8-0, however Newport were on the ascension. Hallam Amos got the Drags going with a successful up and under with the offload to Pretorius who was hauled down by Dan Fish. Amos was back involved a few phases later with a two-to-one overlap but completely botched it by ignoring Tyler Morgan outside him and being tackled by Rhys Patchell. Fortunately the possession resulted in a Dorian Jones penalty to save the young winger’s blushes.

Turnbull v Newport
Josh Turnbull battles over for the opening try

 

Anscombe restored the eight point lead with half an hour played as the game struggled to break out of a midfield battle. Cardiff probably edged the territory and possession, but Newport still looked dangerous when on the attack, both sides defending their 22-metre line well and largely cancelling each other out. Amos was the constant thorn in our side as he wandered past Ellis Jenkins and Rey Lee-Lo on a kick return only for his final pass to let him down as Sam Warburton hacked the ball out of play.

As the talismanic Faletau left the field of play with a bad looking eye injury I imagine the Cardiff defence thought defending the five-metre lineout might be a bit easier, but lo and behold a few seconds later Pretorius had burrowed over from the back of the maul and despite another missed conversion the game was on a knife edge.

Faletau v Newport
Taulupe Faletau looked like he’d gone the distance with Anthony Joshua

 

As the clock ticked towards half-time the action really came to life. Cardiff went through a number of quick phases and made good ground, eventually releasing Patchell down the right. His attempted offload back inside was patted away by Pretorius and referee Peter Fitzgibbon had no hesitation in awarding us a penalty and sending the scrum half for 10 minutes. A slightly controversial decision and one I wouldn’t be happy with if it were the other way round, but you can’t expect many good decisions from Pro12 referees!

With the man advantage we went to the corner and from the first phase the backs were involved Anscombe put an inch perfect chip over the top for the onrushing Lee-Lo to collect and score. Newport coach Kinglsey Jones bemoaned the fact that his sweeper was in the sin bin but I’m 99.9% sure that the Samoan would have outleaped Pretorius there anyway. The New Zealand born fly-half added the conversion and we went in 18-8 to the good at the break.

Cardiff started the strongest in the second half, straight from the off Rhys Patchell was on the attack but couldn’t quite provide the killer pass to first Tom James and then Jarrad Hoeata. It was the same story five minutes later as well from a scrum on halfway the ball went through the hands back to TJ. It was recycled to Anscombe who produced a lovely step back inside before finding Garyn Smith via Tomos Williams but yet again our top scorer on the wing could not keep hold of the ball.

Fish, TJ v Newport
Cardiff attacked through Dan Fish and Tom James but struggled

 

We had to wait until 10 minutes into the second period for the first points as from a scrum awarded for Fitzgibbon getting in Tomos’ way, Tau Filise put the pressure on at tighthead and Anscombe slotted over the penalty. With a 13 point lead, a strong looking attack and a more and more depleted looking opposition the bonus point was in sight, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

First of all we had Sam Warburton trying to kick over the top, for the third game in a row, but the ball went over the dead ball line with one bounce after good work from replacement scrum half Tomos Williams. There was more pressure on the Newport line but just a lack of penetration meant we could not get close to the red zone and it was bloody frustrating to watch. Almost equal to watching Rhys Patchell limp off on his last ever Arms Park appearance with a hamstring injury. Hopefully it’s not his last time in a Cardiff shirt but I do fear the worst.

Warburton v Newport
Sam Warburton should stick to the breakdown, he’s not a footballer!

 

Anyway, while we should have been bonus point chasing and doing it comfortably, we managed to end up on the back foot for parts of the second half. If Newport had any grasp over basic handling skilss they’d actually be quite a good outfit but fortunately their simple mistakes and our good defence meant the match result was never in doubt. It also meant that the bonus point was never really on offer either though.

It took until five minutes from time when a Newport penalty allowed Anscombe to put us into the corner. From the lineout the ball went through the phases and Josh Navidi was so close to reaching the line. The ball came back and Sam Warburton whipped it wide to Ellis Jenkins but the flanker spilled the ball as he reached over Rhys Buckley.

The final play of the game eventually coughed up the third Cardiff try of the afternoon as we turned the ball over on our own line before putting the ball through the hands of Rey Lee-Lo to stretch his legs out wide. The offload to young Harri Millard put his on the way and his chip over the top bounced kindly for Josh Turnbull who returned the ball to the Wales U20 centre to be brought down. The quick recycle found Anscombe via Garyn Smith and the Wales international capped a fine solo performance, with the conversion bringing up 18 points for the day.

Anscombe v Newport
Gareth Anscombe crossed to round off a fine day for him

 

Impressive performances from Sam Warburton, looking back to his best for Cardiff, Tomos Williams off the bench, Garyn Smith who’s maturing a lot recently and of course Gareth Anscombe who takes home the man of the match award. Couldn’t help we were trying to force the attacking too much and chasing the bonus point has actually backfired on us. A solid performance overall though and we never looked like letting the lead slip at any point.

So not the bonus point win we needed to really keep the pressure on Munster and Edinburgh above us, but the four points certainly keeps us in the hunt. Munster are probably the favourites now as they finish with two home games against Edinburgh and Llanelli, not easy games by any stretch but home advantage adds a lot. Edinburgh obviously have us at home to finish after that, while we head to the Milennium Stadium for Judgement Day and the Ospreys next. Still plenty to be played out I’m sure, all we can do is keep winning.

I’m sure we’ll have to step back up to the level we saw in the games previously to beat Llanelli and Munster if we want to challenge for that sixth place, as Ospreys will be right up for JD. Two weeks off now to recharge the batteries and refocus will do the squad a world of good and get them ready for that. The backbone we’ve developed under Danny Wilson is admirable and hopefully it’ll show against the O’s again. Whisper it quietly, but we’re only five points behind Llanelli! Come on Cardiff!!

Anscombe v Newport 2
Gareth Anscombe scored 18 points and was man of the match

Llanelli 22-28 Cardiff

Cardiff Blues secured a brilliant win away at Llanelli Scarlets on a sunny West Wales Saturday to keep hopes of a top six finish alive. With a poor record at Parc y Scarlets in recent years and a worse away record this season it was completely unexpected to rock up in Carmarthenshire and outplay the home side, but in reality the scoreline made it seem closer than the game actually was.

Danny Wilson went for an experienced front row in Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees and Tau Filise to try and counteract the Wales front row of Llanelli. They were backed up by the same players who’d walked past Treviso the week before behind them as the three blindsides of Sam Warburton, Ellis Jenkins and Josh Navidi remained in the back row, while Gareth Anscombe’s presence at 10 kept Llanelli-bound Rhys Patchell at full-back.

Cardiff 56-8 Treviso: https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/28/cardiff-56-8-treviso/

Now the Cardiff of this calendar year have been criticised, especially by me, of not playing until about the 60th minute. However, flying out of the blocks doesn’t even cover what happened here. Within two minutes Ellis Jenkins had won a penalty at the breakdown and Gareth Anscombe and tapped and run from inside our 22 after shaping from the kick to touch. We made ground to the halfway line thanks to a Tau Filise offload and won another penalty to put us deep into Llanelli territory. Although nothing came of it, it was still a signal of intent.

We were looking for the first score and it came from a piece of skill that’s becoming an Anscombe trademark as he chipped over the top of the Llanelli defensive line. DTH Van Der Merwe collected then spilled for Rhys Patchell to hack on and eventually force Gareth Davies to carry the ball over his own line. The resulting scrums and forward drives didn’t produce the try wanted but gave Anscombe an easy kick for three points.

It wasn’t long before the try deadlock was broken though and it was a fantastic Cardiff attack that did it. The ball was turned over after a big hit by Garyn Smith on Ken Owens in midfield, an encouraging sight as the young centre has looked somewhat lacking in defence on occasion. From the loose ball it was collected by us and put through the hands for Rey Lee Lo to make good yards before a quick recycle and a nice spin from Smith released Filise to do the same. From the ruck  Lloyd Williams went sniping and he simply wandered through the biggest of gaps in the Llanelli defence.

Anscombe’s conversion made it 10-0, but Llanelli clung onto our coat tails courtesy of two Dan Jones penalties. The first was a poor decision by Italian referee Marius Mitrea penalising Ellis for no reason at the breakdown, before Anscombe was penalised for not being 10 metres when Gareth Davies tapped and went. It was down to Cardiff to provide the real attacking threat though and we were back at it about 25 minutes in when Tom James fielded a poor kick and set Patchell free on the left wing. More quick recycling saw Rey Lee Lo with a yard of space on the right to kick through for Dan Fish but the winger was brought down a yard from the line. After Josh Navidi and Tau Filise failed to get over the line it was eventually back to Tom James to finish the attack by beating Steff Evans to the corner.

TJ v Llanelli
Tom James reaches for the corner

 

Anscombe missed the tricky kick but TJ had another chance to stretch the lead almost immediately as a confident Cardiff put the ball wide from the kick-off, but the top try scorer managed to take his eye off Smith’s pass which would have released him. Soon after the touch judge, who we’ll see more of later, penalised Filise at scrum time for Jones to kick another penalty, but that was cancelled out by our New Zealand born fly-half just before half-time after James Davies went off his feet with the Blues five yards out. 9-18 at the break and we looked by far the better team.

The home side came out the stronger after half-time, aided by Mitrea constantly penalising Cardiff eventually resulting in Jones cutting the lead again. Ellis Jenkins was again the ‘culprit’ leading the Italian to have a word with a distinctly unimpressed looking captain Gethin. The grumpiness seemed to work as some excellent Cardiff defence finally allowed Sam Warburton to actually compete at the breakdown and turnover possession, only for his kick to head straight to the touchline. He made up for it though by winning the penalty after Lloyd Williams had charged down Gareth Davies’ box kick from the resulting lineout.

Three easy points for Gareth Anscombe ensued but he immediately undid that good work by going on his own into contact from the kick-off and allowing replacement Llanelli fly-half Aled Thomas a similarly simple penalty. Rhys Patchell missed a long distance kick to extend the lead again before the game was won by Cardiff 15 minutes from the end. Home centre Hadleigh Parkes inexplicably tried to kick with Sam Warburton right on top of him and the ball squirted off the Wales captain’s foot to Filise. The ball was recycled quickly out for James to break a tackle and feed Anscombe on his inside shoulder who threw a fantastic dummy I even fell for on the replay to cross the whitewash.

Anscombe v Llanelli
Gareth Anscombe deservedly crosses

 

The fly-half’s conversion got him his 18th point of the day to complete a fantastic performance. There was still time for some entertainment though, as replacement home scrum half Aled Davies made a break and secured a lineout in the corner, but Kristian Dacey broke up the rolling maul. However, a botched scrum saw John Barclay driven over for a try despite no clear grounding to make for an interesting last 10 minutes.

It was made especially interesting by that touch judge from earlier. With five minutes to go Llanelli attacked down the left with Barclay. He was tackled by Josh Turnbull who was subsequently held on the floor by the Scotsman after the ball had gone, while Turnbull also held back Aled Thomas. For this the replacement fly-half decided to unload two punches onto the Cardiff flanker, no more than two yards in front of the hopless touch judge. This bloke then decided to tell Mitrea, who by now had penalised Cardiff elsewhere for no reason, that Turnbull should be sin binned for holding back ‘red 10’, when Llanelli’s starting fly-half Dan Jones has gone off 10 minutes earlier! Words escaped me.

Anyway, this only inspired the most pleasing aspect of our performance on the afternoon. Facing some incompetent refereeing and being a man down against a home side smelling blood the defence put in a massive final few minutes. Huge hits from Sam Warburton, Ellis Jenkins, Dillon Lewis and Lloyd Williams eventually coughed up a Cardiff penalty and soon we had Llanelli deep in their own territory. The West Walians couldn’t make it down the Parc y Scarlets turf as Steff Evans was put in touch by Dan Fish and Rey Lee Lo, leading to a few phases of keep ball and Lloyd blasting the ball out.

A quite incredible win that was summed up by that effort at the end. Really could name each of the playing squad as a player that played well, but I will pick out Sam Warburton, Ellis Jenkins, Gareth Anscombe and the King of Tonga, Tau Filise, for special mentions. Also a nod to Graham Steadman for the fantastic defence shown throughout the 80 minutes. An all-round excellent performance that really puts us in the 6th place race coming into the final weeks with the better of the run-ins of our Pro12 rivals. Next up Newport at home in a huge game, come on Cardiff!!

Team v Llanelli
The team celebrate at the final whistle

Cardiff 56-8 Treviso

Cardiff secured a second bonus point win in a week as they ran eight tries past a lacklustre Treviso side. It really was a Good Friday for Danny Wilson’s men as, despite struggling slightly in the first half, the right to play was earned and there was some excellent rugby on display in the second half. With 10 points from a possible 10 we have now jumped above the Ospreys and are in with a real shout of the top six.

The team was picked to play fast and expansive rugby as a back three of Rhys Patchell, Dan Fish and Tom James started behind the returning Welsh internationals Gareth Anscombe and Lloyd Williams. Gethin Jenkins and Sam Warburton also returned in the forwards alongside U20 Grand Slam winner Dillon Lewis. Despite this attacking team though it was down to Ellis Jenkins coming off the back of a rolling maul to open the scoring after eight minutes.

Ellis Jenkins Treviso
Ellis Jenkins opens the scoring

 

From then on the first half was a bit of a scrappy affair. Gareth Anscombe and Jayden Hayward traded penalties but that was it in the way of scoring opportunities as a solid Cardiff defence was matched by an error strewn Cardiff attack. Once or twice we looked like getting around the outside through Dan Fish and Garyn Smith but the touchline intervened. We were being drawn into a forwards battle which isn’t what you want against Treviso, and not for the first time they would disrupt a driving maul.

It took until close to the break for the team to realise that we were better out wide and on the back of a Rey Lee-Lo half break the ball was spun wide to Josh Navidi who finished expertly in the corner with a spin out of one tackle and a drive over the line. Anscombe converted for a comfortable 17-3 lead at half-time but the game wasn’t quite out of reach, I’m sure Wilson had some choice words in the dressing room.

Josh Navidi Treviso
Josh Navidi crashes over

 

Whatever was said worked though as within two minutes of the restart Lee-Lo was over the line. Josh Turnbull, making his 50th Cardiff appearance, broke a tackle and made yards into Treviso’s 22. The ball was recycled quickly out to the Samoan who stepped inside beautifully to grab his first Cardiff try. The hunt for the bonus point commenced and although it was only a matter of time it still took over 10 minutes. An over reliance on a struggling driving maul meant we were in the right areas of the field but attacking in the wrong way.

Eventually it was an opportunistic moment that got the fourth try when our stronger scrum pushed Treviso off their own ball. Josh Navidi took the tap penalty and looked as if he may have got over the line himself, but the ball came back for Kristian Dacey to sneak over on the blindside with the help of Gethin Jenkins. 27-3 up and bonus point secured meant the game was basically over. The Cardiff defence also seemed to think so as Marco Lazzaroni was allowed to score out wide for the visitors.

Sam Warburton Treviso
Sam Warburton returned to Cardiff action

 

Fortunately that was it in terms of scoring for the away side, paving the way for a Cardiff rout. Four tries in the last 10 minutes will be a big confidence boost and a nice addition to the points difference. First up was Manoa Vosawai as the maul persistence finally paid off again. Then a lovely move through the hands ended up with Dan Fish feeding Tom James to go over for his 10th try in all competitions.

With the Treviso defence looking out on it’s legs Lewis Jones went for a tap and go before letting Fish have his own moment in the spotlight as he turned on the after burners from 40 metres. Jarrod Evans missed the conversion to bring up the 50 points, but made up for it by creating the best, and last, try of the night. Taking the ball in midfield he threw a delightful dummy and raced through the gap created before releasing Aled Summerhill on the outside who’s looped inside pass found Rhys Patchell to cross the whitewash.

TJ Treviso
Tom James scored his 10th try of the season

 

Eight tries and an overall successful night, although still areas to improve on. The never ending driving mauls were a problem, although that came more from the fact that neither the coaches or players could see they weren’t working. Wilson said after the game that “we scored two driving lineouts but I would have liked to have seen us going over early. It took us a good few to get over, but it’s a wearing down process against a big and powerful team like Treviso.” Really though we should have been wearing them down by stretching them through our running game, not taking them on at the physicality they do best.

Llanelli away next week will provide an entirely different challenge though as they are a team in serious form. After their win away at Ospreys they are high in confidence and playing some excellent rugby. It won’t be a case of wearing them down or playing a specific style of rugby to beat them, we will have to be at the top of all parts of our game. Then add to that a serious amount of bottle and we may have a chance of winning. It will be the toughest game of Danny Wilson’s reign so far I’d say, but we do have the quality to do it, as long as the right version of Cardiff turn up.

 

 

Cardiff 37-28 Munster

Cardiff claimed the victory in a brilliant game under the lights at the Arms Park on Friday night, despite going behind early on and having to fight back. A number of excellent individual performances contributed to the win alongside an extremely dominant pack as we never really looked like losing the lead once we went ahead despite the scoreline.

Danny Wilson had named a fairly experimental side, with no specialist second rows as Josh Turnbull and Cam Dolan packed down at lock, while Josh Navidi was picked ahead of Manoa Vosawai at number eight. In the backs, Garyn Smith made his first start since Christmas at outside centre with Aled Summerhill moving onto the wing to make space. Against a strong Munster team it was a risk, but a necessary one as players need to be given a chance to prove they are good enough for next season’s squad.

Cam Dolan Ulster
Cam Dolan returned to the starting XV

 

It seemed like the team selection had backfired early on as Munster started the stronger of the sides. They made hard yards and sent our defence into scramble mode which eventually coughed up a penalty, before similar attacks saw winger Darren Sweetman touch down in the corner. Ian Keatley missed that kick but we were still 8-0 down in 10 minutes with shades of Glasgow and Ulster returning. A Rhys Patchell penalty put us on the board as the scrum showed early signs of dominance, but the opening 20/25 minutes was slow once again.

Things did begin to change though, Dan Fish spilling a golden chance before we failed to make lineouts five metres out successful. Eventually though we made the breakthrough when Lloyd Williams went sniping, put a flat pass into Josh Navidi who broke a tackle and pulled in the full back to feed Macauley Cook to score. Patchell’s conversion put us ahead, and it stayed that way thanks to a Blaine Scully interception when Munster tried to hit straight back.

Cook v Munster
Macauley Cook races away from Robin Copeland to score

 

The score stayed 10-8 through half-time before Patchell and Keatley traded penalties at the start of the second half. It took a moment of magic 10 minutes into the second period to get back over the try line as we pulled a move straight off the training ground. From a lineout on Munster’s five-metre line the ball went to Cam Dolan at the front who dropped it down to Ellis Jenkins wrapping around the blindside of the set piece to feed Matthew Rees who went over in the corner. Patchell’s conversion put us nine points ahead, but the lead was cut when Mike Sherry benefitted in a rolling maul from the away side.

Keatley converted to bring the Cork side back to two points behind, but almost straight from the restart we were back out in front. Munster brought the kick off down and tried to move it wide, but Garyn Smith had either ideas as he ripped the ball cleanly from replacement prop Dave Kilcoyne and strolled over the line. Replacement Johnny Holland kept the away side in touch with a penalty but with five minutes to go the game was made safe as Jarrod Evans, on at fly-half, took the ball flat at first receiver and fed Patchell to hit the line from deep and score the bonus point try. Patchell looking dangerous from full-back again? What a surprise.

Garyn Smith Munster
Garyn Smith scores after some individual skill

 

Munster put themselves right in with a chance of a losing bonus point in the last minute as they rumbled towards the line, Cardiff conceded the penalty and Jack O’Donoghue tap and burrowed over for the the try. Holland’s coversion put them to within seven points and they tried to run from deep to put late pressure on our defensive line, but a penalty for going off the feet gave young Jarrod Evans the chance to deny them any points, and deny them he did. 37-28 at full-time and a fully deserved bonus point victory for Cardiff.

After leaving it so late to start playing in the previous few weeks it was proof that if we play well for the majority of the game then we are capable of beating anyone. That doesn’t mean we have to play for 80 minutes at the top of our game, just like Friday proves it only needs an hour, even just over a half of rugby, to come out on top. Player positives included Garyn Smith coming back into the team and playing well at outside centre, and the second row partnership of Cam Dolan and Josh Turnbull worked well if lacking a bit of bulk.

Plenty of positives going forward from a win that puts us level on points with the Ospreys and on a good footing heading right into the business end of the season. Treviso at home are next up next Friday and a win there gives a real chance of finishing above our West Wales rivals, and even with a distinctly outside possibility of making the top six. All we can do is keeping on winning, come on Cardiff!!

Rhys Patchell Munster
Rhys Patchell breaks through the Munster line to score

 

Glasgow 27-20 Cardiff

Cardiff snatched the most unlikely bonus point as for the second week in a row a lacklustre first half performance was saved by a late comeback. It is now becoming a recurring theme that is easy to laugh and joke about, ‘oh just wait until the last minute comeback!’, but if we are to seriously challenge in the Pro12 next season then we really need to be playing for the full 80 minutes.

I was cautiously optimistic going into the game with the hope that a confidence boosting win against Ulster last weekend would catapult us towards really giving Glasgow a contest in Scotland, and the team selection reflected how we played at the end of last week’s match with the attacking runners of Rhys Patchell, Dan Fish and Aled Summerhill all ready to run the outside channels. However, the game got off to a dreadful start.

Cardiff 23-13 Ulster: https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/cardiff-23-13-ulster/

From the very beginning of the first half we were second best to everything. Danny Wilson said post-game that it was ‘the poorest half of rugby we have produced for some time’, and that is an understatement. We were weak in the tackle, slow to the breakdown, lacked any speed in attack and just looked clueless. The team looked like they’d never played together before.

Penalties were conceded for not rolling away and quite rightly as we seemed lazy in all aspects of defence, culminating in Glasgow going 3-0 up and then being camped in our red zone. The ball went came out to Fraser Brown who brushed off the onrushing Rey Lee-Lo with ease before being brought down by Patchell a yard out. Lee-Lo came around the back of the ruck, completely turned his back on it and ignored the fringes to allow Gordon Reid to just reach over the line. I don’t entirely blame Lee-Lo as it shouldn’t be his job to defend the fringes, but a little awareness wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Minutes later Glasgow were back in our half with Scottish international Mark Bennett was on the end of some neat hands and over in the corner, only to inexplicably spill the ball when trying to place it down with one hand. Had he scored that I think we would’ve been put to bed, but we managed to get a foothold in the game and hands on the ball. We didn’t go anywhere with it, but we weren’t conceding anymore and that’s what was key at the end of the game.

Mark Bennett with ‘Blooper of the Year’

We weren’t going anywhere for two reasons; 1) We literally couldn’t attack for toffee. The play was narrow and slow against a quick Glasgow defensive line and mistakes were rife, and 2) Dudley Phillips, the Irish referee, was absolutely shocking. Now I’m not saying this because we lost, I am of the opinion we would have lost whoever was refereeing, but just while we are in the middle of such a debate over Pro12 refereeing I thought I would point out how poor he was. The main issue was his one-sided refereeing of the breakdown as he constantly penalised us for going off our feet when in possession while completely ignoring the home side’s hands in the ruck. There was also a missed tip tackle on Lee-Lo, high tackle on Jarrod Evans and two clear Glasgow knock-ons. There will be a final shocker in a bit.

Anyway, by now the clock had turned to red in the first half and at only 13-0 down after a second Duncan ‘no neck’ Weir penalty it wasn’t looking too bad. So naturally we allowed lock Tim Swinson to burrow over and the neck-less man’s conversion put us 20-0 down with no hope of getting anything out of the game the way things were going. To add insult to injury one of our most consistent performers in James Down was removed after being knocked out cold, although a team overhaul was needed.

Tim Swinson runs at Jarrod Evans

Eventually that did happen 10 minutes into the second half as Josh Navidi, Tau Filise and Garyn Smith were introduced for Manoa Vosawai, Salesi Ma’afu and Jarrod Evans. Lewis Jones also came on for Tomos Williams 10 minutes after that again, and 20 minutes after it should’ve happened, and soon we were rolling. Rhys Patchell got our first points to make it 20-3 and after an hour we were on the board.

Corey Domachowski and Harri Millard both made their debuts soon after off the bench, and as we entered the final 10 minutes of the match I’m sure there were few prepared for what was about to come. Off a scrum in strong field position Blaine Scully made yards, before the ball was quickly recycled wide to Dan Fish to kick through and chase for a try via the TMO.

Dan Fish touches down

Just when you thought things were looking up, referee Dudley struck. Up went the high ball and Aled Summerhill charged after it, he was beaten in the air and collided with the Glasgow player, who went down and carried on playing. Phillips wandered in, blew his whistle, and promptly sin binned Summerhill in the most ridiculous piece of refereeing I’ve seen since his Irish colleague Clancy ruled out Sam Davies’ try for the Ospreys at Connacht the other week. Back in Scotland, the home side went to the corner with the penalty and drove over to make it 27-8 with five minutes left.

Would Phillips’ obvious attempts to hinder us work though? No chance. When this team wants to, they will fight, and when they are fighting they will actually play good rugby.  We started playing high tempo, expansive rugby, looking for line breaks and field position. Glasgow became rattled and started conceding penalties which put us in the corner and Ellis Jenkins was gladly on the back of a rolling maul over the line.

It was the same from the restart as Scully recovered possession and further Glasgow infringements were punished 82 minutes too late by Dudders. With it now 14v14 Cardiff were right on the front foot and bonus point hunting. The forwards battled through into the home side’s half, Ethan Lewis expecially impressing with his running, before Garyn Smith moved us up to the five-metre line. Quick ball, which oddly is a recurring theme of a few tries the last few weeks, saw the ball zipped through the hands to Domachowski who fed Macauley Cook for the clincher.

Bonus point try scorer Macauley Cook watches Josh Turnbull run

An odd feeling at the end of the game as it almost felt like a real success to gain a bonus point, and if I’d been offered it pre-match I may well have accepted. The problem is letting the late comeback and bonus point detract from the fact that the first half performance was quite frankly diabolical. It’s not good enough to wait until we’re well behind to start playing. The squad is good enough to compete at the top half of the Pro12, but we need to have the confidence to do that, the confidence to go and really dominate a team for the majority of the game. I don’t remember the last time we did that when we weren’t playing an Italian side at home.

I think there needs to be changes to the starting XV now, rather than just tinkering, and the players that come in need to take their impressive form off the bench and into the first team. Ethan Lewis, Tau Filise, Macauley Cook, Josh Navidi, Lewis Jones and Garyn Smith have all impressed off the bench in recent weeks. We seem to be stuck in picking the same second row combination, the same back row combination and the same players in the backs, just in slightly different positions. It’s time to put a bit of a rocket up the backside of the players who seem like their position is assured and give the younger/fringe players a chance before the end of the season. Anyway, two weeks off to think about that now.

Rey Lee-Lo could do with a seat on the bench