Cardiff 74-6 Calvisano

Cardiff narrowly missed out on a place in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals despite hammering Italian side Calvisano 74-6 on Friday evening at Cardiff Arms Park. Montpellier’s win over Harlequins in France meant that we finished third in the group with no hope of qualification, a case of so close yet so far in this season’s European campaign.

After two last minute disappointments in the previous games, with Montpellier’s late try depriving us of a win out there and Ben Botica’s penalty stealing an extra bonus point at Harlequins, it was a somewhat complicated mathematical formula that could see us qualify. However, what was certain was that we needed a bonus point win over Calvisano.

With that in mind Danny Wilson named a clever team, keeping it strong overall, but also picking a few players with a point to prove. Gavin Evans and Tavis Knoyle started at 12 and 9 respectively, having played bit-part roles in recent weeks, with American Cam Dolan starting at blindside flanker, and young Ethan Lewis in alongside namesake Dillon in the front row. It was also good to welcome back Gareth Anscombe and Sam Warburton from injury, just in time for the Six Nations conveniently, but still.


Effectively we blew the Italians off the park in the first half, playing with exactly the speed and intensity needed to stop the part-timers getting anywhere near us. Six minutes in and we had the first try with Tom James in the corner. By 25 minutes the bonus point was confirmed with Cory Allen crossing before turning provider for James again and then Navidi coming off the back of a rolling maul.

A Florin Vlaicu penalty was the only response from the Italian team to the wave after wave of Cardiff attack. It wasn’t long after the bonus point was confirmed that Tavis Knoyle performed an increasingly trademark tap-and-go, before a perfectly waited chip over the hesitant defensive line let Dan Fish collect the ball and turn on the afterburners. Anscombe missed his first conversion of the game to leave the score at 33-3 going into half-time.

Tom James takes the game to Calvisano

After 15 minutes of bemoaning Montpellier leading at half-time in France, Cardiff came back out to make the win even more comprehensive in the second half. It could have been extended after just a few minutes had Alex Cuthbert not been running through treacle on the right wing with nobody between him and the line, but he was chased down and bundled into touch.

It was a whole 10 minutes into the second period before Calvisano bungled up a lineout to allow the arch poacher, Ethan Lewis, to pounce for his first senior try. Hopefully many more will come for Cardiff! That opened the floodgates once more as just two minutes after, Tom James scored the try of the night using his pace around the outside and stepping back off his left foot beautifully to secure his hat-trick.

Soon after the scoreboard was added to once more as Allen doubled up on tries thanks to an interception and then Cuthbert made up for his earlier lack of pace by finishing off a flowing move that started from Scott Andrews, through Warburton and Anscombe to the Wales winger.

Gareth Anscombe made his first start of the season

Vlaicu did kick another penalty for the visiting side, but soon the Cardiff subs put them behind their posts again as Aled Summerhill crossed following good work from Lloyd Williams and Cameron Dolan, to be followed by Rhys Patchell and Macauley Cook scoring the 10th and 11th tries of the night. Final score Cardiff 74-6 Calvisano.

Obviously as we all know, Montpellier hammered an under-strength Harlequins, who I will now hate forever, consigning us to third in the pool. It was extra disappointing the next day as Newcastle beat Brive meaning we would have qualified, although we’d only have played Quins again, but that’s not the point.

Let’s hope at least that the players take great heart out of the fact that they ran two of the strongest teams in Europe, Harlequins and Montpellier, all the way to the last weekend of pool games. It will be a reminder next season that we can compete in Europe, and hopefully set the tone for the remainder of the Pro12 season which we can now concentrate on fully.

We welcome Edinburgh to CAP next weekend in the last game before the Six Nations, and we must be aiming for a big win to really create a platform to kick off from. The top six is nowhere near out of our reach yet, and if we play with the pace and passion of the last few weeks, coupled with the amount of home games still to come, this could yet be a great season. Come on Cardiff!!


Aled Summerhill got on the scoresheet

Harlequins 34-26 Cardiff

The Cardiff were cruelly denied an extra bonus point by a late Ben Botica penalty as Harlequins maintained their perfect record in Pool Three, despite a brave second half comeback that saw us score four tries in 30 minutes to gain a try bonus point that was so desperately needed.

There was two late blows before kick-of even for Cardiff as we were forced into two late changes to the starting XV, and a further change on the bench. Josh Navidi and Tom James were withdrawn due to suffering from a stomach bug, Navidi replaced by Ellis Jenkins to make his 50th appearance, while Blaine Scully came onto the wing for James. Also, Jarrad Hoeata could not take his place amongst the replacements due to an ankle injury, so Lou Reed was named having recovered from the same illness as Navidi and James. Reed was joined as a substitute by Cam Dolan after Jenkins was bumped up to the starters.

Things did not go well at all in the first half. The defence could not cope at all, as Harlequins made break after break and our scramble defence was all over the place. It’s hard to remember a time when Quins didn’t make it over the gain line in all honesty. Their scrum was dominant as we saw early on leading to Rob Buchanan scoring the first try, as was their set piece in the second try, although Lloyd Williams and the forwards watching Jack Clifford run past them from the back of a maul was extremely poor.


Jack Clifford celebrates his gift of a try


The aforementioned poor defence in midfield meant Quins were up in the red zone almost every time they attacked, and the discipline they showed in going through the phases was impressive. In fairness to Cardiff the last gasp defending on the line was good, but there was no way they could keep the home side out and soon Marland Yarde was over. Mike Brown could have wrapped the bonus point up earlier, but a mixture of Alex Cuthbert and Tau Filise forced him to drop the ball as he reached for the line.

In the end it was down to a bit of disappointing refereeing from Andy Brace who gave a penalty against Ellis Jenkins despite the flanker being clearly on his feet over the ball. Nick Evans went to the corner, took the ball from the top of the resulting lineout and put in a delightful grubber kick for Ross Chisholm to gather. Four tries, four conversions, 28-0 lead and a bonus point at half-time.


Mike Brown loses the ball forward


Cardiff hadn’t been so bad with ball in hand, and really should’ve been on the scoreboard. Lloyd Williams turned down a kick-able penalty for a tap-and-go, and there were countless visits to Harlequins 22, only for unforced errors to cost us, with dropped passes or stupid penalties conceded. A big kick up the backside was required, and whether it was Danny Wilson, his coaching staff or the senior players who delivered it, it worked.

We flew out of the traps second half, as first Dan Fish tore up the right wing close to the try line but lacked support. This was only a temporary blip as a knock on gave us the scrum, we went through the phases and got right up to the try line, before banishing the red zone demons of the first half when Cory Allen cut a perfect line to get the ball from Lloyd Williams and get under the posts. Patchell converted and five minutes later we were back in the Quins 22 after Dillon Lewis and Kris Dacey got over the gain line. Lloyd Williams picked the ball up to snipe from the fringes, and picked out a beautiful flat miss pass to Dan Fish in the corner. 28-12 and two tries for Cardiff, the bonus points were in sight.


Cory Allen crosses for his try


Harlequins did extend the lead by three points through a Nick Evans penalty but all the play was with Cardiff. Returning replacement Gareth Anscombe picked out the hard running Rey Lee Lo, but the Samoan centre hesitated before hitting the gap made by the miss pass, resulting in him having to reach too far for the try line and losing the ball forward. Next up was Rhys Patchell going close from full-back, moved due to Anscombe’s introduction, but despite the departing back’s pace he was run into touch by Yarde.

It was left until the 68th minute for the next breakthrough and down to a moment of inidvidual brilliance. Anscombe put us into the corner from a penalty, but scruffy ball off the top of the lineout scuppered the attack. Or so we thought. Next thing Lloyd Williams popped up, claimed the loose ball, turned on a sixpence and weaved through the perplexed looking Harlequins forwards for our third try. Patchell’s excellent conversion made the scores 31-19 and we were five points from a losing bonus point.

With the Twickenham Stoop getting agitated Cardiff were only on the up, and the fourth try to put us in position to get two bonus points came five minutes later. Anscombe found the on rushing Patchell cutting a perfect line from full-back and his flat pass again put Fish, celebrating signing a new contract in the week, over in the corner for his second of the afternoon. A fantastic turnaround in the second half from Cardiff.


Dan Fish’s two tries capped off a MotM performance


Unfortunately, the day was to end on a slightly sour note as Ben Botica, son of former Llanelli fly-half Frano, kicked a penalty with the last play of the game to take away one of our bonus points. However, it is important not to let that knock the positivity out of the team. We got the one bonus point we so desperately wanted, we kept the points difference down to a minimum, and we beat a very high quality Aviva Premiership side 26-6 in the second half.

If we had played like that for even 20 minutes of the first half then who knows what might have happened, but we can’t dwell on that now. The lessons must be learned from the first half, the positives taken from the second half, and we can go and smash Calvisano on Friday. Keep an eye out for all the permutations next weekend can bring as it requires it’s own post! Come on Cardiff!!

How we can qualify:


Ben Botica steals a bonus point from us


Montpellier 23-22 Cardiff

Cardiff Blues had victory snatched from their grasp as a last minute Paul Willemse try was converted by Demetri Catrakilis to give Montpellier the win with the last kick of the game. A cruel, cruel way to lose a game we fought so hard in. However, it’s not all bad news when it comes to Pool positions as it’s all in our hands.

Danny Wilson decided to make a number of changes after last week’s excellent home win, with Garyn Smith replacing Gavin Evans an enforced replacement. Lou Reed returned from concussion for James Down and Manoa Vosawai did similar from a leg injury in place of Josh Turnbull. Finally, Gethin Jenkins and Sam Hobbs swapped along with Tavis Knoyle and Lloyd Williams at scrum-half. Some changes in key positions after a win which you would expect to see a bit of squad continuity from, but in Danny we trust!

Last week’s win:

The game got off to a rapid back and forth start as first Rhys Patchell struck a penalty, then Montpellier had a try disallowed for a forward pass, before Catrakilis pulled the home side level. Two further Patchell penalties returned the lead to Cardiff, and actually we were having more of the possession and territory. The danger was always Montpellier with the turnover ball as they attacked quickly and made good yards, but continuing inidvidual errors let them down at crucial moments, although on 24 minutes Catrakilis made it 6-9.

With the game in the balance a moment of magic was needed, and just three minutes later we got it. Cardiff put the kick-off deep, and Nic White prepared to box kick the danger away for Montpellier. However, the scrum half’s kick missed touch and lacked any height to be chase-able as it went straight down Jarrod Evans’ throat. The young fly-half returned the ball with interest to nearly the home side’s 22 as the forwards got the work securing quick ball. Just a phase later Knoyle picked out Patchell, but with only Alex Cuthbert outside him, and four French defenders facing them down, he decided to put in a perfectly weighted chip over the top. Cuthy read it like a book and the bounce was kind enough to send the winger over for his second try in a week.  

Alex Cuthbert celebrates his try

With the conversion Patchell put us ahead by 10, and Montpellier were still struggling to get into the game. The attacks were still arriving, but the number of dropped passes or fumbles from a team with 13 internationals was quite bizarre, compounded when Catrakilis missed a fairly standard penalty.

It took until the 39th minute for the home side to click as Montpellier piled on the pressure up to half-time. Consecutive lineout drives eventually lead to referee Ian Tempest holding the arm out against one of Jarrad Hoeata or Manoa Vosawai for entering the maul at the side. With nothing to lose, Catrakilis put a perfectly weighted crossfield kick to Julien Malzieu as the onrushing Patchell was beaten by the flight, leaving the winger an easy trot to the posts.

The conversion made it 13-16 at the break, with Cardiff deserving of their lead on balance. However, that try on half-time gave Montpellier a whole new level of momentum, leaving Cardiff pinned inside our 22 almost from the get-go. I could list every player who made a big hit or forced a knock on or held the ball up in the second period, but I’d just be naming every player in white on the pitch. The effort was monumental, especially when Vosawai was binned for again entering a maul at the side. 10 minutes of just Montpellier waves of attack were quelled and the home side only had a penalty to show for their man advantage.  

Tavis Knoyle on the charge

Whilst praising the Cardiff defence, I must also, again, criticise the Montpellier attack as they were just dreadful. It really is no suprise that they are struggling in the Top14 and were whalloped by Harlequins in round one of the Challenge Cup. Some cracking individual players and pieces of skill, but they are all on entirely different wavelengths. It seems that lots of great players don’t automatically make a great team.

Coming up on 70 minutes gone and Cardiff finally got out of their half for more than 30 seconds. Vosawai, back on the pitch, went for the carry and was chopped down by the shoulders of Mikheil Nariashvili. Penalty to Cardiff and with Blaine Scully having replaced Patchell, young Jarrod Evans stepped up and planted his kick between the posts no problems. With confidence flowing through him, Evans was off the tee again a few minutes later, with a tricky kick from distance and on the angle. Any nerves? None at all, and the young fly-half proved again why he is rated so highly by many in the Welsh game. I’m very excited about watching him develop over the years.  

Garyn Smith puts Cardiff on the front foot

Six points ahead with seven minutes left and the bums were squeaking. Montpellier were throwing the kitchen sink at our defence, but the way we were holding them out was a World away from how we crumbled in games during the early part of the season. One Montpellier attempt was ruled held up by the TMO, but he was to be called into action again in extra time. The home side forwards were right on the line and a big shove got them over it, with the ball buried under a massive pile of bodies. There was a bit of reaction from the French side but not a massive celebration, and it wasn’t even clear if the ball was down when all the players started getting up. However, quite unbelievably, referee Tempest asked ‘Is there any reason I can’t award the try?’ With the replays proving entirely inconclusive the TMO had no option but to go with the homer referee.

Catrakilis got the easy conversion and we went down by a point in such a cruel loss that I’ll be bitter about it forever. I can’t fault any member of the team for giving absolutely 110% for the entire 80 minutes. There were one or two things to work on, discipline at key points for example, and turning down kick-able penalties for quick tap-and-go’s that don’t get anywhere, but they’re minor points.

Overall the positives massively outweigh any negatives. Firstly, the defensive effort that was completely missing while out in Ireland a few months ago, and that I pleaded for over the subsequent weeks, was shown in abundance. I can’t ask for anything more from the team than show a willingless to play and a passion for the jersey. Also, the midfield play was impressive and I was pleased that the centre pairing of Garyn Smith and Rey Lee Lo worked well, with Lee Lo performing well from inside centre. Finally, the amount of academy players on show, with Smith and Jarrod Evans playing 80 minutes, Dillon Lewis an hour and Ethan Lewis on for the last 20. All didn’t look out of place at all and the experience will do them no harm. The short-term and long-term future are bright.

An apology to Lou Reed:

10 days off to recover from two bruising but brilliant performances against a very strong Montpellier side. The big positive is that even with the loss, we still sit a point ahead of the French side, so a result at Harlequins, or a result from Harlequins in Montpellier, as well as a bonus point win at home to Calvisano, should see us into the runner-up position. Newport on the 27th is up next, look out Dave Parade, Danny Wilson’s revolution is on the way, come on Cardiff!!

Cardiff 37-27 Montpellier

Well I thought last week was good, but this is something else. Before the Ospreys game a few weeks ago, it’s safe to say that very few fans were expecting any other than to get thrashed by Montpellier. However, it’s proof that a few good performances before a confidence boosting win can work wonders for a team.

Even coming off the back of an impressive victory over Connacht the week before, I still wasn’t entirely confident of a win, I think I’d have taken a losing bonus point if offered. In fact, I had come round to the idea of going out of the Challenge Cup at the pool stage to help us concentrate on the league. That thought seemed even more inevitable when Dan Fish was spotted struggling in the warm up, and sure enough Jarrod Evans came out wearing number 10, with Rhys Patchell reverting to full-back.

A win at last! Cardiff 20-16 Connacht:

The move though was taken in his stride by the soon to be out of contract back, as after just 43 seconds he collected his own chip over the top and touched down, following a brilliant break on the kick-off return from Tom James. Patchell notched the conversion, and the early lead could’ve been added to soon after if Cuthbert had been able to collect a difficult pass for an easy run-in.

Unfortunately the fast start kind of shocked Montpellier into life, and soon they were right back in the game. Three quick-fire tries from first Jamie Mackintosh, Timoci Nagusa and then Julien Malzieu. There was a hint of obstruction on Rhys Patchell in the second try, but a largely poor referee and no TMO were no help. A Benoit Paillaugue penalty made up for missing two of the three conversions, and in 18 minutes, it was 7-20.

The game died for the final 20 minutes of the first half, until in extra time when the returning (at last!) Josh Navidi was rumbled over the line at the back of a maul. A crucial try, and conversion from Patchell, made it 14-20 and Cardiff went in at half-time within touching distance.

Rhys Patchell Montpellier
Rhys Patchell gets us off to a flyer


After tweeting my displeasure at the refereeing during half-time, I was pleasantly surprised to see Mr Fitzgibbon finally take control at the start of the second half. Bismarck Du Plessis was sin-binned and a big moment in the game was brewing. It came from the resulting kick into the corner as the pack caused havoc again, and captain for the night Lloyd Williams benefitted. A missed conversion left us a point down as Cardiff continued to press, especially with Tom James, and soon Robins Tchale-Watchou followed Du Plessis into the bin, but with a little nod to the early season poor form, couldn’t make the two-man advantage count.

Did it matter though? Not a bit! With an hour on the clock, the game swung in Cardiff’s favour again. Montpellier had good field position on the attack and were swinging the ball out wide. In his own style, Alex Cuthbert comes flying out of the defence, mistime it and the French side are away down the line, but pull off the interception and he’s in. Let’s just say, a 65-metre run later there was a massive confidence booster for Cuthy.

Alex Cuthbert Montpellier
The force was with Alex Cuthbert

Bonus point claimed and it was party time at CAP. Patchell recovered his kicking boots for a penalty, before Lloyd started showing off by just wandering through the away defence. He was stopped a few metres out, but a quick recycle through the hands of that man James found Navidi for the simplest of run-ins to cap his return.

Charles Geli tried to lower the level of the party with a late try from a forwards shove for Montpellier’s fourth try, and Demetri Catrakills’ conversion  would’ve given them a second losing point. However, Rhys Patchell has the last say, with his 17th point of the night making it 37-27 at full-time.

Lloyd Williams Monptellier
Lloyd Williams cuts through Montpellier’s defence


A four point advantage in the table and crucial points scored difference made for excellent reading, but it was nothing compared to the pleasure of a fantastic team performance. Could name the whole side, but I’d like to pick out Jarrad Hoeata, Lloyd Williams and Rhys Patchell in particular. It’s also impossible to under-estimate the influence that a natural openside in Josh Navidi can bring. Finally, it was pleasing to see Alex Cuthbert’s effort pay off with a well-taken try.

Danny Wilson and Graham Steadman’s efforts are really beginning to pay-off as we approach Christmas, and both’s comments to the media continue to build the confidence we as supporters have in them. Something special really seems to be building, and with a squad like this to beat Montpellier, it is so exciting to see what they may be able to do after bringing in a few players and properly moulding the squad. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves though, the return game in France on Thursday will be the biggest test so far, let’s just see the effort staying at 100% and the confidence growing. Come on Cardiff!!


Cardiff 20-32 Harlequins

So, normally I follow a pretty standard formula when doing match reports. It goes, brief match description, pre-match news, first half summary, second half summary, my opinion on the match. This will be the same, but much shorter as the Cardiff players clearly can’t be bothered to play rugby, so there’s not much to write about really.

The team news was basically Harlequins brought a second team to CAP, and Warburton was too ill to play for us. The first half was low-scoring, and the referee missed a try. The second half was just dreadful until the last 10 minutes when it was too little, too late, and we conceded a rubbish late try to miss a losing bonus point and compound everything. Oh, and Matthew Rees stood on Nick Easter’s face.


Rees cleans his boots in Easter’s eye


Essentially, we had all the play in the first half, but did nothing with it, not helped by the poor refereeing. It is critical to have that cutting edge in these situations, but we don’t and that doesn’t say a lot for two players from what I’ve seen on Thursday night. Rhys Patchell should be standing at first receiver orchestrating moves and creating chances. However, far too often he is found out wide, and when he is at outside half, he either goes himself and gets nowhere, or throws the most basic, obvious pass to the next man and the attack stalls. The other player is Rey Lee Lo, who frankly went missing for large periods of the game. There was the old tackle and one half break, but he touched the ball about 20/25 minutes in the second half and I honestly forgot he was playing.

Patchell is left behind by Tim Visser

Those two may be able to be singled out in attack, but in defence it is a complete team failing. Line speed was basically non-existent, the amount of missed tackles was just embarrassing, particularly second half, and even when they were made at least a few yards were given up each time. Even when a tackle was made, very few people were prepared to compete at the ruck. On one occasion, in the first half, a Harlequins player, predictably, made a half break. They were eventually brought down by Alex Cuthbert of all people, and they rolled and placed the ball. All fine, except there were no Quins players supporting, all the Cardiff defenders had to do was step over and pick the ball up, but they just stood watching and waiting. I’ve criticised defence coach Graham Steadman before, but only lightly as he is still new to the job, but basically the defence has got worse over the last few weeks.

A little less smiling and more work from Steadman

The most frustrating part of the whole Cardiff Blues continuous downward slide, is that we have a team that can perform at a higher level easily. I still like Danny Wilson, but I’m sure he is wondering if he made the right decision on his back room staff, when Steadman couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery, let alone a defensive line, and Paul John just can’t inspire any attacking creativity. However, it is easy to just blame the coaches, and the players need to take a long hard look at themselves after that embarrassment of a performance. A backlash must be coming at some point, I hope it’s sooner rather than later.




Calvisano 9-50 Cardiff

Cardiff Blues began their European Challenge Cup campaign with a comfortable bonus point win over Italian part-timers Calvisano at the Peroni Stadium, although we didn’t have it all our own way until the second half after a slow start to the game.

On the back of a terrible run in the league, Danny Wilson named a strong squad for the trip that included Lions Alex Cuthbert, Sam Warburton and Gethin Jenkins. Only two changes were made from the team that narrowly lost out to Glasgow, with fully fit Jarrad Hoeata coming in at lock, and young prop Dillon Lewis making his first Cardiff senior start. 

Dillon Lewis started for the first time in Italy

After 1500 people stood still to remember those who passed on Friday in Paris, the away side started the stronger but it was to be discipline that let us down, again, as a Filippo Buscema penalty put Calvisano ahead. Cardiff hit back though as they stayed on the front foot. Wales U20 international Lewis won the penalty at the breakdown, Rhys Patchell penned the hosts in the corner, and a few phases later, Lloyd Williams had sniped over from a yard. Somehow, Patchell missed the easiest of conversions, to continue his erratic start to the season kicking-wise, but he made up for it not long after as he took quick ball from a Gavin Evans line break to send a flat pass out into the grateful arms of Tom James, and the winger did the rest, Patchell this time adding the extras. 12-3 up and in control but we still managed to shoot ourselves in the foot, another Buscema score cutting the deficit, so that not even a Patchell kick in reply made the 15-6 half-time score particularly encouraging.

Sam Warburton leads the charge

The break came and went as the Italian weather got colder. Cardiff came out knowing they needed to turn the screw, so turn the screw they did. The forwards led the way as successive line out drives eventually resulted in Ellis Jenkins crashing over, and four minutes later the backs took over with slick hands feeding the Dan Fish to throw a neat dummy and touch down. Two tries from two very in form players to secure the bonus point, now to turn on the style. Despite a third Buscema penalty, the Cardiff Blues try generator kept working and it was two new signings linking up next as a Rey Lee Lo offload sent Blaine Scully over for his first Cardiff try. Patchell notched his third conversion out of three in the second half as he found his kicking boots, but was taken off just after to save his legs for the visit of Harlequins to CAP on Thursday. His replacement Jarrod Evans, possibly not the first time I’ll write that, kept the scoreboard ticking over as he fed namesake Gavin who ran a beautiful line to score the sixth try, before the forwards punished a tiring Calvisano pack to pick up a scrum penalty try to round off the scoring. 

Gavin Evans grabs a deserved try

So the Italian Job was completed this time with 50 points on the board and five points in the competition, exactly what was required. An all-round impressive performance as well, from the dominant pack led by standout man Ellis Jenkins, into the backs and particularly the back three. An individual mention to Alex Cuthbert who, as Wilson said, ‘did all but score’. 

Some selection dilemmas for the coach ahead of a real tough test on Thursday under the lights, against a Harlequins team who arrive on the back of a 41-18 thrashing of Montpellier. That will be the gauge of whether we can compete in Europe this year, let’s hope we can push on after this confidence booster. Come on Cardiff!

Alex Cuthbert will have to be really on form for Harlequins