Newport Gwent Dragons 24-26 Cardiff Blues

Cardiff Blues ended the Pro12 season with a win over rivals Newport Gwent Dragons in Caerphilly, in what is likely to be the last ever game between a Cardiff side and a Newport side at the top level of rugby in Wales.

With a vote to take place on Tuesday to determine the future of NGD, Newport RFC and Rodney Parade it was a game tinged with sadness, as well as one devoid largely of atmosphere and where fans were subject to a dubious view of the game. As a one-off enforced move, fair enough, but regularly in the Pro12? No thank you.

Danny Wilson was forced into four changes from the team that beat Zebre the previous week, as Rhys Gill, Kris Dacey, Josh Navidi and Aled Summerhill missed out due to injury, with Corey Domachowski, Matthew Rees, Sion Bennett and Matthew Morgan starting. Lloyd Williams started ahead of Tomos at scrum-half in the only tactical change.

Things got off to the worst possible start for Cardiff as NGD cut through their defence right from kick-off. A pacey and direct attacking game seemed to shell shock the visitors as first a Tyler Morgan break and then an Ollie Griffiths carry took the ball within a metre of the try line.

Jarrad Hoeata appeared to disrupt the quick ball briefly but fly-half Angus O’Brien had the composure to pick out full-back Carl Meyer with an inch perfect cross field kick over the head of Rhun Williams and the hosts were ahead with just a minute on the clock, albeit with a missed conversion.

Soon the picture went from bad to worse for the away side, as from the restart Cory Hill was able to wander through a missing guard defence at the ruck. Making up to the 22 he was eventually caught, but a big Fa’ao Filise hit caused possession to be spilled and Matthew Morgan cleared well.

NGD continued to dominate possession and territory throughout the opening period of the game though. O’Brien kicked a distinctly cheap looking penalty for Nick Williams apparently taking out a lineout jumper in the air, but Ellis Jenkins prevented any further attacking opportunities with an excellent turnover.

Eventually Cardiff did start to get back into the game though, through two slightly fortunate incidents. Firstly, a Gareth Anscombe kick for territory bounced almost perfectly for Alex Cuthbert to run onto, the ball just slightly too high to gather.

Then, half way through the first period, a first lengthy piece of possession saw Morgan poke to ball through for Cuthbert to chase. O’Brien made a mess of covering the kick allowing the winger to hack on and Morgan was there again to touch the ball down in the corner.

Unfortunately the game then entered a scrappy ten minutes as we went from set piece to set piece. Knock-on’s and poor kicks dominated any open play and the spectacle died down after an exciting opening 20 minutes.

It took just a small moment of inspiration to get the game back up and running, which came in the form of a no look Willis Halaholo pass releasing Matthew Rees. Cardiff suddenly had pace injected into an attack and were comfortable on NGD’s 22 metre line for the first time in the game.

A few phases later and the momentum appeared to be slipping away, but stepping forward, or should I say stepping sideways, was Halaholo to glide through the home side’s defence and score one of the individual tries of the season to put Cardiff in the lead for the first time, a lead that was extended by Gareth Anscombe’s second conversion.

The second half was a turgid affair, as the game lurched from scrum to scrum with only poor kicking and soft penalties occasionally bridging the gaps. It had all the quality of a WRU Division Two game at points, befitting the surroundings perfectly.

It took until the 52nd minute for the scoreboard man to have to replace one of the numbered cards again, when Anscombe notched another penalty, and when T Rhys Thomas was sin binned for a nasty looking neck roll on Matthew Rees, it seemed like Cardiff might begin to edge away.

However, some sloppy attacking and clever NGD play to draw us into a forwards battle stopped any kind of momentum building, as quick ball was not forthcoming and set pieces were aplenty. Frustration at the stop-start nature of the play eventually began to boil over as a few scuffles began to appear between opposing players.

With Cardiff coming to the realisation that scoring tries was getting out of their each a change in tactics ensued. Instead of opting to work off a dominant scrum, Anscombe was handed the tee and kicked three more penalties, with only the home side’s Carl Meyer keeping them in touch with two impressive kicks of his own.

It eventually dawned on NGD that a loss would more than likely mean finishing below one of the Italian sides, but by the time they started playing again the clock was ticking towards 80 minutes.

Sam Beard took advantage of some very end-of-game style Cardiff defending to dot down in the corner, but as O’Brien drop kicked the conversion time turned red and there was no real chance for a late attack to be mounted, as Treviso stole 10th place at the last minute.

A 24-26 victory in the end for Cardiff and, as Danny Wilson said after the game, job done. They went to Caerphilly looking for a win, and they came away with it. You can’t ask for much more than that in a Welsh derby end of season dead rubber against a NGD team looking to make things scrappy on a local league pitch.

At no point after going ahead did it feel like Cardiff would relinquish the lead, despite the scoreline getting quite close at times. Possession and territory were dominated, and it was pleasing to see the game plan evolving in-game to move away from going for tries and towards keeping the scoreboard ticking over off the tee.

The massive positive though was the vast improvement at the scrum. Without being a scrum expert I don’t know for sure what it comes down to, but I’d suggest it’s no coincidence that Matthew Rees returns to the starting lineup and the pack function much better.

With the missed tackles stats down, and the maul defence also performing at a higher level, it’s certainly a few steps in the right direction. Just need to re-exert the attacking breakdown dominance, which shouldn’t be too difficult when carrying is made easier on higher quality pitches, and things start to click.

A third win on the bounce stretches our unbeaten run to four games, the best form since the start of the season, and it’s timely ahead of a European Champions Cup play-off likely to be against Stade Francais. With the pressure off that game to an extent, hopefully the players enjoy a few days off and come back refreshed for a tough battle out in France. Come on Cardiff!!

 

 

Cardiff 30-24 Zebre

Cardiff Blues fell back down to earth with a bang from the bonus point win over Ospreys at Judgement Day to only just scraping past bottom-placed Zebre at home.

Head Coach Danny Wilson stuck with the majority of the team that won last time out, the only changes coming in the form of Rhys Gill replacing Gethin Jenkins at loosehead, Tomos Williams coming in for namesake Lloyd at 9, while Aled Summerhill took Matthew Morgan’s back three place as Rhun Williams switched to full-back.

It was the home side who made all the early running, with Alex Cuthbert releasing Tomos Williams, who was stopped only be an early tackle, before Gareth Anscombe’s lovely chip over the defence failed to sit up for Rey Lee-Lo as the try line beckoned, all within the opening three minutes.

Zebre Rhys Gill
Rhys Gill made a first start since February

Cardiff’s desire to play a quick game was evident as Anscombe shaped to kick a penalty into the corner, only to tap and go across the field, but Cuthbert was turned over on the five metre line. In the end the clocked showed 10 minutes as the Welsh fly-half opened the scoring with a penalty for a deliberate Zebre knock on.

All the territory and possession was Cardiff’s, but they were slipping back into being their own worst enemy as simple errors was stunting any chance at gaining momentum. Only some excellent work from Ellis Jenkins at the breakdown kept us in it, and allowed Anscombe to make it 6-0 from the tee.

It wasn’t until after the halfway point of the first half that the hosts finally crossed the whitewash, but once they did it opened some mini floodgates. It started with a higher risk play from Anscombe, throwing a long flat pass to tease the Zebre defence into attempting the intercept.

Number eight Derek Minnie duly obliged but could not reach the ball and Nick Williams exploited the gap left in the defensive line. The New Zealander was tackled well, but his offload game came to the fore as he found Jenkins, who showed off some ball skills of his own to allow Anscombe on the wrap around to score the opening try of the evening.

Zebre Gareth Anscombe 2
Gareth Anscombe crosses for the first try

With the conversion kicked Cardiff were soon celebrating again as Cuthbert challenged for Tomos Williams’ box kick. His knock back found the scrum half again who flicked the ball out wide and eventually Aled Summerhill was released to speed over the line after beautifully standing up full-back Edoardo Padovani.

With the score now at 20-0 things should have been more comfortable for the home side, but in typical Cardiff fashion they made it difficult. Winger Kayle Van Zyl made Zebre yards before kicking it inside. A clear Carlo Canna knock-on was then missed, before Nick Williams was adjudged to have performed a tip tackle and sent to the sin bin.

Fortunately the only scores while the hosts were down to 14-men were a penalty for each side, but the while the scoreboard was not impacted, the momentum of Cardiff’s play was. Zebre played all the rugby up till half-time, with only a magnificent last-ditch tackle from Alex Cuthbert keeping the scoreline at 23-3.

Zebre Aled Summerhill 2
Aled Summerhill touches down after a scintillating run

The break should have allowed Cardiff to re-build, but unfortunately any chance of an early score was taken away when the referee allowed a clearly offside Federico Ruzza to intercept Tomos’ pass from the base of the ruck and streak away, with only a very good Rhun Williams cover tackle preventing a Zebre try.

What happened next however can only be described as farcical. A Zebre knock on setup a Cardiff scrum on our own five metre line. A tiring Fa’ao Filise conceded a penalty for going straight to ground and was warned by referee Frank Murphy that the next time he did that he would receive a yellow card.

Ellis Jenkins, captain on the night, informed Mr Murphy that Scott Andrews was now set to replace Filise, which the referee acknowledged, but the substitution was blocked by the Fourth Official on the grounds that a substitution could not take place during on the back of a penalty.

Zebre Gareth Anscombe
Gareth Anscombe in kicking action

It’s something I’ve never come across, and is made all the more bizarre by the fact the referee himself showed no objection and I cannot find anywhere in the law book where it explicitly states a substitution can’t take place during a penalty stoppage, only that “substitutions may only be made when the ball is dead”, which I’d suggest it was.

With the substitution declined Filise was promptly penalised at the next scrum and sin binned. Andrews did now get on as a replacement, but the farce continues at the fault of Cardiff as the scrum continued to disintegrate and Mr Murphy went under the posts for a penalty try.

Back down to 14 and just 13 points in the game, Cardiff needed something special, and it came from a great hope for the future in Tomos Williams. We all know about his special skillset, but this time it was his workrate and aggression on show as he chased Carlo Canna from the kick-off, charged down the clearance and flopped on the loose ball.

20 point gap restored and Tomos was quickly bonus point hunting as a world class individual score was pulled back for an earlier Nick Williams knock on. Unfortunately from the scrum Cardiff were penalised again, Zebre went to the corner and flanker Maxime Mbanda was able to force his way over from close range.

Zebre Tomos Williams
Tomos Williams was in the thick of the action

With the score at 30-17, 63 minutes on the clock and back up to the full compliment of players, the home side were finally able to benefit from some possession in the opposition half, but the amount of defending over the previous 20 minutes was telling as, despite a good Jenkins break, nothing was made of the attack.

This led into the second major moment of the game, as Cardiff opted to defend a Zebre driving maul by standing off and sending a single defender in to tackle the ball carrier. Unfortunately Sion Bennett decided to do this with an old fashioned no arms chop tackle.

In retaliation to the dangerous play, away substitute prop  Dario Chistolini opted to take matters into his own hands and strike Bennett to the face with his fist and knee. Yellow for the Cardiff man, red for the Italian.

Zebre Macauley Cook
There was a big battle up front for Macauley Cook and Nick Williams

Despite both teams being down a man it didn’t stop Zebre dominance though, as they continued to dominate possession and territory. Set piece dominance and a great patience in recycling the ball so the away side camped in our redzone, but some solid last ditch defending from Cardiff saw the ball held up over the line twice.

With two minutes to go Dries van Schalkwyk did burrow over for a third try and with Guglielmo Palazzani’s conversion making it a six point game there was more than a bit of worry as Mattia Bellini streaked away down the left wing with the clock on red. Fortunately Matthew Morgan made the covering tackle and Zebre conceded a penalty in midfield to leave with just a losing bonus point.

The game and statistics will not make pretty viewing for Danny Wilson and the players when they re-convene on Monday morning, with Cardiff coming off worse in possession and territory at home against an Italian side, as well as being well and truly beaten at the set piece and breakdown area.

Zebre Alex Cuthbert
Alex Cuthbert was one of the few to emerge with any credit from the game

Without wishing to be disrespectful to Zebre, who certainly came and did a job on us on Friday, you have to expect Cardiff to beat an Italian side at home in a comfortable fashion. If we harbour ambitions to break the top six, bonus point wins at the Arms Park should really be a given.

However, there are baby steps towards positivity ahead of next week against Newport, and next season. Firstly, there were some individual aspects of our play and performances that were very encouraging. Our defensive play on our own try line was commendable, and our attacking before half-times was always dangerous.

The younger players involved, the likes of Tomos Williams, Aled Summerhill and Rhun Williams, all put in good shifts, while there were flashes from Nick Williams and Jarrad Hoeata to prove the old guard were still firing.

Zebre Rey Lee-Lo
Rey Lee-Lo also made plenty of metres

Looking ahead to next season we can take confidence that, for the first time since 2011/12, we have gone a season unbeaten against the Italian sides. As bizarre as that sounds that should be seen as a positive, both psychologically and in terms of the Italian sides becoming harder to play against year-on-year.

These shouldn’t cloud the fact that overall Friday’s performance was not acceptable, and ahead of next weekend’s regular season closer, a backlash is needed.

Motivation shouldn’t be higher with a response required from last week, competition for places in the play-offs, a local derby, and the fact we owe Newport a try bonus point from Boxing Day’s game. A big week awaits, come on Cardiff!!

Zebre Aled Summerhill
It was a shame we couldn’t have seen more celebrations to finish off this season at CAP

Gloucester 46-26 Cardiff

European knockout rugby is brutal. It can make or break a player, a coach, or in some cases, a season. Nothing creates excitement quite like it, and nothing can leave a feeling of such emptiness. What a cruel mistress it can be, as Cardiff Blues found out on Saturday evening.

Ever since January there has been the anticipation of a quarter-final trip to Gloucester on the horizon. Nobody would have admitted it from within the Cardiff camp, but everyone linked to the club has had one eye on this opening weekend in April for some time and that reached fever pitch in the build up.

With the Pro12 a lost cause in terms of achieving a top six, any chance of silverware now hinged on the Challenge Cup, and there was cause for cautious optimism. A positive competitive history against Gloucester, as well as an encouraging performance against Leinster last week, meant there was a confidence around The Vale in the build up.

Danny Wilson was able to recall experienced trio Gethin Jenkins, Sam Warburton and Lloyd Williams back into the starting XV, while club stalwart Fa’ao Filise was a sturdy replacement for the injured Anton Peikrishvili. A quick look at the opposition lineup suggested there was no quite disparity in quality. Game on indeed.

Nicky Robinson Gloucester
Nicky Robinson celebrates victory in 2009

The intensity was there from the outset. Kingsholm under the lights with a 10,000+ crowd, never mind the fact it’s a European quarter-final, it’s not a surprise the players were pumped. Big tackles went in, hard yards were made and speed was in abundance as first Gloucester and then Cardiff went on the attack.

It would be the visitors who would make the first impression on the game though, as we retained our temperament in the red zone. Matthew Morgan’s kick and chase forced Tom Marshall into touch on his own 22, and from the lineout Fa’ao Filise, Kris Dacey and Nick Williams set about taking us up to the five metre line.

Lloyd Williams orchestrated the troops superbly against a backdrop of calls for Tomos to have started, allowing Rey Lee-Lo to fall inches short, before Alex Cuthbert did what he does best. Taking the ball in a yard of space with the line in sight he burst through two defenders and touched down under pressure from a third.

Five minutes in and with Steve Shingler’s conversion it was already 0-7. However, just a further five minutes on and the scores were level in fortuitous circumstances. Gloucester tried to get straight back into the game with a lengthy attacking set, but the Cardiff defence held strong on the edge of the 22.

Gloucester Alex Cuthbert 2
Alex Cuthbert takes the ball and a few defenders over the line

It would be a stray blue foot that broke the resistance, as Richard Hibbard carried and attempted an offload, but as the ball left his hand it struck the boot of Kris Dacey, subsequently bouncing loose to Ross Moriarty. To many of us in the ground it looked like a knock-on, but it was just an unlucky moment.

What wasn’t unlucky was the attempt, if you call it that of Morgan to tackle his Welsh opposition, as he didn’t even allow himself to be brushed aside, instead allowing the flanker to simply carry on through to the try line.

As the half went through the midway point Shingler and Billy Burns traded penalties, before Morgan went from the ridiculous of that attempted tackle, to the sublime of cutting Gloucester’s defence open like a hot knife through butter. Unfortunately Lloyd didn’t have the legs to finish off the move, but the attacking intent was there.

Penalties were traded again, by Shingler and Billy Twelvetrees this time, before the Gloucester centre turned creator for the next score. Cardiff tried to play from deep with a high Gareth Anscombe cross kick but it didn’t come off, and the home side returned fire, winning a penalty for an adjudged block on a chasing player.

Gloucester Ross Moriarty
Rey Lee-Lo was powerless to stop Ross Moriarty

The ball went to the corner and off first phase attack the Cherry and Whites got a breakthrough as Twelvetrees was able to shrug off an attempted Shingler tackle and put Tom Marshall over the line, the conversion making the score 20-13 after 25 minutes.

With 15 minutes until the half Gloucester appeared to be in the ascendancy as The Shed got behind their side, but Cardiff worked hard to get back into the game and a high tackle on Kris Dacey resulted in Anscombe kicking us into home territory.

From the first lineout the hosts entered the maul at the side, resulting in another penalty kick to the corner and a lengthy attacking set, which finished with Gloucester being caught offside. A third kick to the corner saw the driving maul halted, but Josh Hohneck was penalised for killing the ball and subsequently sin binned.

It was now imperative that Cardiff converted this opportunity into points, and they duly did so. A driving maul off the fourth lineout didn’t bring any luck, nor did the forwards attempts to drive over from close, but they drew enough defenders in to allow the backs to form up, and Anscombe found Cuthbert on a trademark run from the blindside.

Gloucester Alex Cuthbert
Cuthy celebrates the double

Further advantage was taken of the extra man when Cardiff’s fly half, perhaps unnecessarily, kicked a drop goal when a kick-able penalty was waiting to be awarded. With 10 points secured on the back of the yellow card the half-time score was 20-23, and the away side were more than pleased to go in ahead at the break.

As the second half swung into action though, cracks started to show in Cardiff’s competitiveness. An early, very kick-able, penalty was sent to the corner, but the lineout was comfortable overthrown by Kris Dacey. Then as the away side tried to return to the redzone possession was spilled by Fa’ao Filise.

A Shingler penalty finally put points on the board after half-time, but from there crucial turning points converted a six-point lead into a heavy loss, and it wasn’t pretty to watch in the slightest.

Gloucester got back into the game with a try of Matthew Morgan’s making. After his superb solo break earlier in the game, all the limitations of his game were on show as the full-back kicked the ball straight to his opposite number. As the ball was returned over his head, the former Bristol man attempted to run it back but had the ball knocked away from him as he went into contact.

Gloucester Sam Warburton
Sam Warburton on the charge

Anscombe was forced to kick the loose ball dead, and the home side had a five metre attacking scrum. With possession secured Twelvetrees went for the cross-field kick straight to Jonny May. With Cuthbert covering inside it was down to Morgan to stand him up, but unfortunately he went straight past him and the England winger had an easy try.

With Gloucester ahead the noise inside Kingsholm was increasing rapidly. Morgan lost the ball in contact again, before Tomos Williams entered the fray and announced his arrival with two charged down kicks in a minute.

Then the second major turning point. Fa’ao Filise was forced off with an ankle injury, meaning young tighthead Kieron Assiratti came on to make his debut. Straight into a scrum it could not have gone worse for the Wales U20 international as he was driven backwards at a rate of knots and conceded the penalty.

One day we will all look back and laugh at this baptism of fire when Assiratti is winning his first Wales cap, but at this moment in time it has added to Gloucester’s momentum.

Gloucester Jonny May
Jonny May crosses the line with little resistance from Matthew Morgan

From the penalty the home side kicked to the corner and off the lineout there’s a final turning point in the game. Scrum-half Willi Heinz wandered through a huge hole in the defence, being caught before the line but offloading and some quick hands later Tom Marshall was over in the corner, having brushed off a Rey Lee-Lo tackle on the way.

Twenty minutes to go and Cardiff heads were gone. Scrums went against the head, unforced handling errors were being made in the backfield, and more missed tackles in the redzone lead to a Mark Atkinson try. In 12 second half minutes we’d conceded 21 points, and European dreams were left shattered on the Kingsholm pitch.

Cardiff continued to try and play, but everything was forced, and with Morgan hauled off and a big backline switch as a result, there was little fluidity to the play. Tomos Williams made a nice break, but Sam Warburton’s final pass was a way off, before another scrum penalty was conceded.

A very loose pass from Shingler put Matthew Rees under pressure, Gloucester counter rucked and spun the ball wide for Henry Purdy to wrap the game up. A second half scoreline of 26-3 in a performance that really did not do any sort of service to the 1,000 Cardiff fans that made the journey.

Gloucester Henry Purdy
Henry Purdy seals the win

How often I’ve written things similar to ‘we must learnt the lessons from this defeat’, ‘there were encouraging signs’ and ‘lack of leadership’. Only so many times can there be any sort of positive spin put on a performance.

I don’t want to take away from the fact that we were the better side for 55 minutes, but that last 25 minute does not appear to be joining us any time soon. There’s a fitness issue for a number of players, a squad depth issue as the bench made little to no impact and a significant gap in the skill sets of certain players.

Gloucester Nick Williams
Nick Williams arrives to help Kris Dacey

Game plan A seemed to work well, but plan B was non-existent as our attacking game fell apart late in the game, never mind the almost never-ending onslaught of errors. The senior players seemed unable to pull the squad back together as the tide turned and there can’t have been any messages coming on from the touchline.

The biggest issue that I can see though is a lack of the right mentality. Defensively there’s a mindset issue over first up tackles, while a club culture to fall back on just doesn’t seem to be there. Too often we’ve seen the team go down without a fight this season. It appears to now be an endemic problem.

With four Pro12 games remaining this season there’s a superb opportunity to set the side up for the rest of the season. A depth needs to be developed, and we have a lot of younger players set to leave the academy and fill that gap. Rhun Williams, Jarrod Evans, Tomos Williams, Corey Domachowski, Rhys Carre, Ethan Lewis and Seb Davies all need exposure to this level of playing.

That may not be pretty at times, and they need to be integrated alongside senior players, not thrown in all together, but we can take losses in the name of future development, not in that name of pointless defeats in dead rubbers.

Gloucester Jarrad Hoeata
Jarrad Hoeata makes a tackle

The European play-offs are still to play for, but honestly I don’t think we’re ready or worthy of them, and there’s a school of thought that says being beaten each week in the Champions Cup could be the worst thing for us.

Short term player exposure is the only aim for now, coaching additions in key areas to follow, and a summer finalising a squad for the third of Danny Wilson’s three year plan, as well as developing a team ethos. Cardiff Rugby requires better than Saturday, the history of rugby at the Arms Park demands it, the fans deserve it.

Gloucester Cardiff Team
The players look shell shocked after the final 20 minutes

 

Leinster 22-21 Cardiff

There was ultimately disappointment for Cardiff Blues in Dublin on Saturday as they narrowly missed out on a win away at league leaders Leinster. However, with a positive injury outlook and an extremely encouraging performance, all the signs were good ahead of a European quarter-final trip to Gloucester next week.

Danny Wilson was able to welcome back a number of players from either international duty or injury as Kris Dacey, Rey Lee-Lo, Blaine Scully and Alex Cuthbert all started while, crucially, Ellis and Gethin Jenkins returned to the bench after a number of months on the sidelines for each of them.

Gethin Jenkins Ulster
Gethin Jenkins last played against Ulster in December

Leinster made the early running, going through a few phases in the Cardiff half before Dan Leavy put Noel Reid through with an offload. Gareth Anscombe was on hand to make a slightly awkward looking tackle though, before Steve Shingler snaffled a turnover allowing Matthew Morgan and Blaine Scully to combine and get the ball away for the time being.

Unfortunately Leinster were on a mission early on, and soon were back in the opposition 22 looking dangerous. Cardiff’s defence was looking strong as it opted to drift more often than blitz early on, but eventually this allowed Reid an extra yard to pick out a perfect grubber kick that sat up for Leavy to spin past Morgan.

Dan Leavy Leinster
Dan Leavy collects the ball to open the scoring

Ross Byrne added the extras to make the score 7-0 inside five minutes, and it seemed a long afternoon may be ahead. This was compounded when Kris Dacey opened his set piece aspect of the afternoon with a throw in that wasn’t straight, before Steve Shingler spilled Cardiff’s first possession in midfield.

However, almost out of nowhere, the visitors drew level after 11 minutes thanks to some excellent counter-attacking. Good hurrying work by Corey Domachowski as the first line of defence caused Leinster to spill possession, which Cardiff pounced on to spin the ball wide through Rey Lee-Lo’s hands, out to Scully to make ground before the captain handed back inside to his Samoan colleague and onto Tomos Williams running the supporting line.

Tomos Williams Leinster 1
Tomos Williams runs in to level the scores

Cardiff struggled to maintain a foothold in the game though as Leinster dominated territory and possession. They were assisted by an extremely dodgy looking Cardiff scrum which gave up a penalty before resulting in scrappy ball for Tomos Williams who’s box kick clearance was charged down but fortunately recovered by Anscombe.

The defensive lineout did provide a moment of inspiration though as Macauley Cook stole the ball at the tail, before a long pass and quick hands from the centres released Morgan and Scully on the left. The ball was kept alive as the away side entered the Leinster 22, and when Alex Cuthbert took us up to the five metre line it seemed like a try might be on.

A long, looping pass out wide from Shingler to Scully took the forward momentum out of the attack though, and when the American had to blindly offload to avoid touch it was the hosts who dived on the loose ball and were able to clear. An opportunity lost, but the pressure of defending relieved momentarily and confidence was gained.

Rhys Ruddock Leinster
Kris Dacey front up against Rhys Ruddock

Cuthbert certainly was brought alive by his foray towards the try line as he intercepted a dangerous looking Leinster attack, turning to kick the ball and force Rory O’Loughlin into touch. Unfortunately Dacey’s lineout was lost, but Josh Navidi made up for that with a midfield turnover.

Cardiff were really swinging between the sublime and ridiculous by this point as Nick Williams made a trademark surging run through midfield, but with no support to offload to he knocked on as he hit the deck with the ball in one hand. The Morgan claimed a high ball and looked to counter, but his pace couldn’t be gathered by Scully.

This is where the scrum was really exposed as Kris Dacey and Anton Peikrishvili buckled, allowing Leinster to win the penalty and kick to the corner. The driving maul was well defended, as was Adam Byrne’s scamper to the line out wide, but it was only a matter of time for the hosts and scrum-half Luke McGrath eventually sniped over.

Luke McGrath Leinster
Luke McGrath put his side back ahead

Byrne added the extras to restore the seven-point lead, but Cardiff came back again, winning two quickfire penalties to set up a lineout on the 22. Some strong carrying edged us towards the red zone, but a knock on from Scott Andrews, on for the injured Peikrishvili, killed the attack and ended the half at 14-7.

Definite positives to take forward, although there was a distinct feeling that surely Leinster can’t continue to be this lacklustre into the second period?

Off the pace the Pro12 league leaders were though as forward passes and a foot in touch denied them try scoring opportunities, before an ill-advised grubber kick from Isa Nacewa gave Gareth Anscombe the chance to counter attack.

Stepping past two men he threw an offload to Kristian Dacey who proved his worth as a ball playing hooker with a shimmy past his man and a turn of pace to break away. Drawing the last man he fed Tomos Williams to run in for his second try of the game, and Cardiff were level eight minutes after half-time thanks to Shingler’s boot.

Tomos Williams Leinster 2
Tomos Williams recovers after a lung busting run for try two

Leinster did manage to nudge their noses back ahead, but only with the assistance of referee Mr Clancy as they won a suspicious looking scrum penalty, despite replacement tighthead Mike Ross being on his knees, before Nick Williams was harshly penalised for not rolling away and Byrne took full advantage off the kicking tee.

However, just like in the first half, Cardiff produced something out of nothing. On the back foot and defending inside their 22, George Earle produced an excellent turnover, secured by Jarrad Hoeata before the ball found it’s way to Steve Shingler.

The inside centre released his outside colleague Lee-Lo who promptly broke two tackles before a delightful offload allowed Blaine Scully to run free and draw the last defender before feeding replacement Sion Bennett to go under the posts only two minutes after he came on. Shingler’s conversion took us four points clear and ahead for the first time.

Team Leinster
Cardiff celebrate going ahead in the game

For the next 10 minutes the game was all Leinster. Pounding away at the Cardiff line, only being interrupted by strong defensive and a knock-on from a Lee-Lo interception attempt. Halfway through the onslaught the away side did manage a brief turnover, as Scully and Shingler’s counter-ruck lead to a knock-on, but this started the downfall.

Despite bringing Matthew Rees and Gethin Jenkins off the bench, the away scrum was still on the end of a hammering. This defensive set-piece, five metres from the Cardiff line, was a prime example as Leinster got the shove on and both visiting props buckled.

Bennett scooped some scrappy ball out from number eight, but then Tomos Williams’ inexperience came to the fore as he took us through another phase deep in our own 22 before clearing his lines. Unfortunately that unnecessary ruck coughed up a Leinster penalty and we were back under the cosh.

Scrum Leinster
The scrum was a source of frustration all afternoon

The hosts went to the corner and as the driving maul went forward, Ross Molony came on the blindside to seemingly touch down in the corner. Despite being stood no more than half a metre from the grounding, the touch judge asked to check if the second row’s elbow was in touch, and although it seemed it was, the TMO awarded the try.

This paragraph will now be dedicated to Alex Cuthbert who had a very good game overall. Not a lot of chances with ball in hand but kick chase and defensively he answered a lot of questions, none more so than when another lineout was lost shortly after conceding to Molony and James Tracey kicked on. The right winger went back to cover the kick, turned past two players and produced a kick of his own right into the corner. Outstanding play.

Alex Cuthbert Leinster
Alex Cuthbert turned out another good performance

The last 10 minutes was a frantic affair as Leinster asked questions of the Cardiff defence, but the visitors stood up well as Matthew Morgan was solid under the kicks before sending back replies of his own to win the territory battle.

Off the lineout the ball was worked nicely through Willis Halaholo to Josh Navidi who seemed to release Tom James for the corner, but the lack of match sharpness appeared to catch up with the winger as he slipped and was almost put into touch.

James’ offload was snaffled by Ellis Jenkins, before Cardiff stretched Leinster to the right wing. Morgan appeared in midfield, but with a two-on-one overlap outside he somehow managed to get caught in about one hundred minds, eventually producing a bizarre NFL style forward pass to Rey Lee-Lo who had already made his run while the full-back was holding onto the ball.

Matthew Morgan Leinster.jpg
Matthew Morgan couldn’t capitalise on late pressure

Cardiff continued to try and come forwards, but the situation was being forced by this point, and two loose passes ended the two further attacking opportunities before the game was brought to a close and the losing bonus-point was confirmed.

If someone had offered me a losing bonus point and all key players coming through unscathed before the game I’d have likely ripped their arm off, however it’s certainly not unfair to feel a tinge of disappointment at not taking the opportunity to pick up a win in Dublin and head off to Gloucester on a real high.

However, that disappointment must be put to one side as the players and coaches focus on a large number of positives from Saturday’s performance. The defence was very strong again, and our counter-attacking game is looking more dangerous every week, while senior players of Alex Cuthbert and Josh Navidi’s ilk were superb again.

Leinster A.jpg
Tomos Williams had a good day

The set piece is a big area of concern that will need to rectified this week before the European quarter-final, but with only one major area to work on it’s certainly do-able.

Winners and losers from Saturday ahead of next week? Cuthbert and Blaine Scully both nailed down starting spots in the back three, as did Rey Lee-Lo in midfield. Josh Navidi will have to feature somewhere, while youngster Corey Domachowski and Tomos Williams weren’t daunted by a trip to the RDS, although may find themselves benched next week.

Kris Dacey may well be the one big loser as his lineout throwing and scrummaging left plenty to be desired, and his open play work may be better off the bench as game becomes less structured later on against Gloucester. Anton Peikrishvili was the only injury concern, and Danny Wilson will be cautious about risking his back after Saturday’s display.

Overall though there is a confidence to take into the big game next week, and I for one cannot wait for it. A strong travelling contingent will be coming from all over to support the team looking for a good day out and a performance from the boys, come on Cardiff!!

Ellis Jenkins Leinster A.jpg
Ellis Jenkins is frustrated but happy to be back

 

 

 

 

 

Cardiff 13-23 Munster

Cardiff Blues suffered a defeat to Pro12 high flyers Munster at the Arms Park in a performance that almost perfectly summed up our season. Even the cold, wet and windy conditions seemed to be joining in to mock how 2016/17 has been as a fan.

Danny Wilson was forced into a number of changes from the side which stole victory against Edinburgh last week, with an injury resulting in Corey Domachowski replacing Rhys Gill at tighthead, while the fit again Josh Navidi started ahead of Sion Bennett on the openside.

A real source of frustration even before kick-off came in the form of Team Wales, not for the first time this season. Although nobody would expect Sam Warburton to be released, for Alex Cuthbert, Scott Andrews and Kris Dacey to be retained on the basis that they would be tackle bag holding on Sunday morning was disappointing at best.

Taking their places were Aled Summerhill, Fa’ao Filise and Matthew Rees, as Blaine Scully failed a late fitness test to make his return to the matchday squad, Rhun Williams took a spot on the bench as a result.

The game kicked off, after a minute’s silence for women’s player Elli Norkett, with the home side benefitting from the wind in the opening period, which blew from the river end of the North Stand down towards the clubhouse, while the heavens opened just before Gareth Anscombe got the game underway.

Cardiff Blues and Munster stand for a minute silence for Elli Norkett and former Cardiff RFC player Lloyd H Willliams 4/3/2017
Both teams stood to remember Elli Norkett.

It was clear from the off that the weather would play a big part in proceedings, with Munster scrum-half Duncan Williams’ kick being blown back towards him, before Matthew Rees’ lineout throw was taken off course. There was time for a quick Nick Williams snipe down the blindside from the back of a scrum though as Cardiff looked to set the tone early on.

Munster were the first to have any sort of real attack however, as Matthew Morgan failed to collect a high kick before Macauley Cook made a high tackle to allow the visitors a chance to get into our 22, but solid defence, including two huge hits from number eight Williams, kept them at bay.

Nick Williams 4/3/2017
Nick Williams was heavily involved early on

Opportunities to open the scoring were there for each side as Ian Keatley and Steve Shingler both missed penalties, before Tom James was released by a beautiful inside pass from Willis Halaholo, only for the winger to totally mistime the final pass to Lloyd Williams and the Cardiff captain was tackled easily.

With the wind blowing into their faces the visitors failed to clear their lines effectively allowing Cardiff to dominate territory in the opening 20 minutes, but handling errors from George Earle and Macauley Cook stunted any momentum, as did two chip kicks from Anscombe going either long or straight into the full-back’s hands.

There were still positives for the hosts though as Tom James made a second line break of the match, although was stopped with a big hit from former Arms Park favourite Robin Copeland, as well as Ian Keatley going off for Munster meant they were forced to play inside centre Rory Scannell at 10.

Only on 22 minutes was the deadlock finally broken by Shingler off the tee, after Earle was tackled in the air, however Scannell immediately hit back when Anton Peikrishvili was penalised at the scrum.

Rory Scannell kicks a penalty 4/3/2017
Rory Scannell took over the fly-half berth and kicking duties

Cardiff should really have been dominating and looking to take advantage of the wind at their backs, but little errors across the pitch, from handling to attacking breakdowns, meant they could not keep the visitors under any sort of pressure, and in fact it was Munster who had a further good opportunity to score only for Ronan O’Mahony to run into his own man just ten metres out from the try line.

It would take a bit of luck to finally get across the line and that almost came on the half-hour mark as Andrew Conway attempted to counter-attack from deep, but his chip kick was met on the volley by Lloyd Williams and the scrum-half was able to collect the ball and head for the corner, but was stopped by an excellent cover tackle from opposite number, and namesake, Duncan.

Consolation came from the boot of Shingler as Munster infringed when forming a driving maul, before Scannell missed the chance to keep the scores level by pushing his penalty wide.

The half ended in the frustrating manner that it had played out in really, as first Anscombe’s kick was charged down, before he missed touch on a penalty thanks to some incredible acrobatics from Conway. The referee didn’t help as he inexplicably awarded Munster a scrum for a mystery ‘knock-on’, before Cook secured a turnover and Lloyd decided enough was enough.

Gareth Anscombe kicks a drop out despite the block of Rhys Marshall 4/3/2017
There was little to separate the teams at half-time

A massively frustrating half which should have resulted in a much clearer lead, but simple errors and poor decisions from good attacking positions meant that it was just a three point advantage going into the second period and 40 minutes of the weather in our faces.

For the first five minutes it didn’t seem to be a huge issue, as even though Duncan Williams made a dangerous break it was seen off quite comfortably before we set up a few midfield phases. However Matthew Rees soon returned us to handling errors and with Munster starting to build pressure, Willis Halaholo committed a recklessly dangerous high tackle and rightly saw yellow.

At this point I’m sure I wasn’t the only Cardiff fan fearing the worst, with a strong looking visiting side playing with a man advantage and benefitting from the conditions, it was setup for the Irish team to run wild.

However, against the run of play, and largely thanks to Munster playing without a recognised fly-half, the home side grabbed a chance. Duncan Williams threw a loose pass, which missed the slipping Darren Sweetman and only just made the deep standing Scannell who flicked the ball out wide to be intercepted by Aled Summerhill, with the winger speeding away for a 50 metre try.

Aled Summerhill scores his side's first try 4/3/2017
Aled Summerhill got a try on his first Pro12 start this season

The 10 point lead looked good and hopefully was a springboard to see out the rest of the sin bin period, but actually it worked out hindering us more than anything. Our game became frightened, all short forward drives and lengthy box kicks with an uncommitted chase. Pressure was invited and soon the cracks showed.

A clever offload game and some quick hands in midfield gave Munster impetus, while wearing out our forwards at the same time, which resulted in a lapse of concentration with serious consequences. An attacking ruck was set up, Matthew Rees moved away from first guard and called Nick Williams across, but the big number eight was clearly puffing and left a huge gap for Francis Saili to wander straight through and score under the posts.

Francis Saili scores his side's first try 4/3/2017
Saili wandered past Morgan as if he wasn’t there

The tide was turning and Cardiff were not adapting to the game at all. Despite returning to the full compliment of players we were still playing as if there were only 14 men on the pitch, and the handling mistakes were still rife. Munster maintained field position and Saili put a kick in behind which was not fully covered by Matthew Morgan, but fortunately Conway could not get the ball down.

Cardiff were massively struggling and the game was rapidly becoming a foregone conclusion, despite the home side still retaining the lead. Attacking ball was painfully slow as there was an avoidance of committing any players to the breakdown so as to leave forwards free to just tuck the ball up their jumpers. No metres were made and any time possession did try to go wide it was defeated by a simple Munster midfield line blitz.

Inevitably this would eventually result in handling errors or a lengthy kick away straight back to the opposition, who kept us pinned inside out own half for the vast majority of the second half. Defensive phases came and went before Munster either broke through or Cardiff infringed, the latter of which allowed Scannell to draw the scores level on 67 minutes.

Munster Home Team 2
Cardiff were struggling to recoup

At this point we required our bench, but the big hit on injuries and international call-ups meant the options just weren’t there. Young players or recently drafted in cover was the majority of the choices, with just Kirby Myhill, James Down and Tomos Williams amongst the replacements who would even come close to challenging for a matchday squad when all are fully fit.

In fairness to the players it was really difficult to criticise their commitment to the cause. Some of the shifts being put in were immense, the scrum was dominant, and on the whole the defensive effort was massive, but when the ball is continually kicked straight back to Munster after being won back well, it is demoralising at the best of times, and inside the last 10 minutes big cracks started to show.

From one phase the line was all wrong as the blindside became over-stocked and Dave O’Callaghan found space on the wing. He carried up to the edge of the 22, and even though the Cardiff defence recovered well to stop any further progress, Scannell wisely took the decision to kick the drop goal.

Lloyd Williams 4/3/2017
Lloyd William kicked the ball away a lot after half-time

It wasn’t the cleanest strike, but Munster were getting the breaks they deserved. It felt like nothing was going Cardiff’s way, as any bounces went the wrong way or loose passes didn’t stick, but you make your own luck by trying to play and making things happen. That was partly the downfall.

Just under five minutes left and behind for the first time in the game, Cardiff really needed to start playing, so what did they do? Threw a loose pass and then fell foul of a handling error. Why change the habit of 80 minutes?

Munster promptly turned the ball over after Garyn Smith had fumbled Steve Shingler’s hospital pass and replacement flanker Conor Oliver took advantage of nobody being home on the fringe defence again for the easiest try of his career. Game over.

Conor Oliver scores a try 4/3/2017
Oliver touches down for the winning score

Scannell kicked the conversion for a 13-23 scoreline, and just to add to the frustration of Cardiff fans, we then had to watch the team actually play some rugby for the first time in the game and successfully make the Munster 22, only for the dream of the bonus point to be taken away as slow passing in the midfield and the defensive blitz forced the ball to ground and the referee to signal full-time.

A defeat to signal the end of the Six Nations set of Pro12 fixtures, and also to make top six qualification nigh on impossible with our next three league games being trips to Leinster and Ulster before meeting the Ospreys at Judgement Day.

There will no doubt be a tendency to overreact after this defeat in some quarters, I’m sure people will be branding the coaches a failure, the players sub-standard or the whole club in crisis. It is difficult to argue that all is well at the moment, but to say that Cardiff Blues are in extreme measures is a touch over the top.

Munster Home Team
The players look well and truly beaten at full-time

For me there appears to be an issue with the players being able to react effectively to what’s in front of them, while in attack we are massively lacking quick ball as the forwards look disorganised while the backs are massively telegraphed in their ideas. It’s becoming clear that an addition to the coaching staff may well be the most important signing of the summer.

Of course the injuries haven’t helped in terms of taking out a number of key players, 12 players who featured in the reverse fixture victory were missing on Saturday, but what they have done is exposed a vulnerable underbelly to the side, and that is something that will have to be worked on ahead of next season.

For now though there is still the challenge of confirming a spot in the end of season Champions Cup play-off fixtures, as well as the Challenge Cup knockout rounds to come. I’d quite like to see a few of the younger players given a go as the season draws to a close, and with plenty still to play for, the team need our support now more than ever.

danny-wilson-llanelli
Does Danny Wilson need to be looking upstairs in his recruitment?

 

 

 

Edinburgh 17-18 Cardiff

A massive defensive effort secured a narrow victory for Cardiff Blues away at Edinburgh, after a Lloyd Williams inspired 10 minutes helped turnaround a 17-6 scoreline and make it two wins in a week, keeping top six hopes alive.

Danny Wilson was able to stick largely with the side that had hammered Treviso the week before, making just two changes to the starting XV as Anton Peikrishvili replaced Fa’ao Filise at tighthead while Tom James made his first start for nearly three months in place of Blaine Scully. On the bench Aled Summerhill made a long awaited return to the Pro12 squad.

With the rain falling and wind swirling at Edinburgh’s new Myreside home, Cardiff opened the scoring after seven minutes with a Steve Shingler penalty, however for the next 10 minutes the play was all about the hosts, and the referee.

Initially Cardiff got unlucky as Willis Halaholo conceded a penalty for a high tackle with Rory Scholes falling into him. Edinburgh went to the corner and from the lineout quickly organised a dominant driving maul, with George Earle penalised for a side entry to bring it down.

_94840636_13304828
George Earle was penalised early on

 

Bizarrely he was also penalised for giving the scrum-half a good old fashioned shove after Sam Hidalgo-Clyne had dragged him out of the maul initially. Obviously rugby isn’t such a contact sport anymore.

Anyway, Edinburgh returned to the corner and this time it was Anton Peikrishvili at fault for trying to drag down the maul, receiving a yellow card for his trouble, which he may not have had Mr David Wilkinson not perceived the handbags from Earle to be a punishable offence.

Quite wisely the home side returned to the corner and with 15 minutes on the clock they were over for the opening try courtesy of hooker Neil Cochrane. Hidalgo-Clyne kicked the conversion and Edinburgh were in the lead with a man advantage.

Despite that it was Cardiff next on scoreline as Shingler kicked a second penalty of the evening with Edinburgh entering our driving maul at the side. However, Mr Wilkinson would soon be striking again.

steve-shingler-scarlets
Shingler’s boot kept us in the game.

First up he penalised Earle and Jarrad Hoeata for going ‘off their feet’ at an attacking breakdown when Cardiff were in a good field position, then totally ignored Hidalgo-Clyne for using his hands at the ruck before Peikrishvili, now back on the field, and Rhys Gill were next to go ‘off their feet’.

At this point Lloyd Williams was warned another yellow card would be waiting for further ‘infringements’ on the floor, and when Hoeata was unable to roll away quickly enough he was sent to send 10 minutes in the sin bin. Fortunately Hidalgo-Clyne was unable to capitalise twice off the tee.

The frustration at the refereeing seemed to invigorate Cardiff in defence as Gareth Anscombe ripped the ball from Murray McCallum before Shingler hacked the ball away. A poor clearance kick gave the visitors an attacking chance, but a handling error and forward pass lost possession.

Only 7-6 down at half-time with the full compliment of players back on the field was still a positive though, even if Cardiff were now playing into the wind in the second half. This would be a problem right from the off as Lloyd’s clearance kick was blown right back to where it came from.

Edinburgh were on the receiving end of the dodgy refereeing just after the restart as Chris Dean was adjudged to have been held in a tackle before he had got up and run under the posts. A decision in our favour at last.

cdf_240217_edinburgh_v_blues_16_rdax_659x340_60
Nick Williams tries to force momentum

Cardiff tried to keep the ball in hand with the wind in their faces but a slow and telegraphed attacking set soon got bogged down in the fringes and a knock-on was inevitable. From the first phase off the scrum Rory Scholes ran a beautiful delayed line from the blindside and Jason Tovey put him through a gap before the winger rounded Matthew Morgan far too easily.

It was a poor moment for the Cardiff full-back who had been very good in the first half, showing off his kick recovery and kicking from hand game, but his defensive frailties continue to be a concern even when he’s in the best form we’ve seen since he signed.

The away side attempted to get straight back into the game, with a lineout in midfield being the perfect basis for that, but when Anscombe’s pass from first receiver found nobody, Edinburgh picked the ball up and headed towards the line. Yards were made at speed before the blindside opened up for Scholes to grab his second try.

 

 

Two tries, but crucially no conversions, in seven minutes had put Cardiff 11 points behind and firmly on the back foot, as the players seemed shell shocked. There was also an obvious fear of competing at the breakdown, both in attack and defence, created by the refereeing. Playing into the wind it seemed a hammering may be on the way.

However, the tide turned dramatically thanks to Matthew Morgan recovering from his defensive misdemeanour and doing what he does best, counter-attacking. His first clean break only resulted in Shingler being put into touch, but when Edinburgh kicked possession straight back to the full-back he get the ball alive, allowing Alex Cuthbert to set up good field position in midfield.

The ball was now being moved wider and at speed, Tom James made a half-break as confidence visibly grew in the team. With the wind in their faces playing a short game off Lloyd at scrum-half would be crucial, as shown when he went sniping from the breakdown and got his hands free to offload.

Hoeata streaked away, but when he was pulled down short it seemed Edinburgh would have sufficient numbers present to counter-ruck effectively. The All Black had other ideas though, producing an excellent offload from the floor to Nick Williams who offered up an offload of his own for Sion Bennett to grab his second try of the week.

cdf_240217_edinburgh_v_blues_26_rdax_659x340_60
Sion Bennett was on the scoresheet again

The conversion made it a four point game, and with an hour gone Cardiff were beginning to get the upper hand. Kicking was improved, particularly by Lloyd from the breakdown, as grass was found regularly and Edinburgh gave up field possession, before their centre Glenn Bryce kicked too long and allowed an away scrum just outside his own 22.

Penalties came from Matthew Rees, on for Kris Dacey, turning the screw at the scrum, before Edinburgh failed to roll away. Anscombe put us in the corner but Cardiff could not break down the home defence, with Cuthbert going close up the middle but Shingler and Cook getting no success out wide.

In the end Cardiff had to benefit from a huge stroke of fortune. Wilkinson played advantage from the hosts going in at the side of the ruck, allowing Lloyd to go for an all-or-nothing play. He chipped over the top for Hoeata to chase, but the ball bounced wickedly back into our captain’s hands for the easiest of scores.

Steve Shingler’s conversion in front of the posts was actually legally charged down as he kicked low into the wind, but fortunately it did not come back to haunt Cardiff as Blair Kinghorn missed a penalty before a quite magnificent period of defending.

For around the last four minutes of the match Edinburgh pounded the Cardiff defence from just beyond the halfway line, but 35 phases later they lost possession and a defensive set to go down in history was complete.

The commitment, passion and desire of the players to not only make 35 tackles, but to overall concede no ground, commit no offences either at the breakdown or beyond the offside line and continue to organise an excellent defensive line time-after-time on tired legs was massively impressive and deserving of a match win in anyone’s book.

Edinburgh will likely be disappointed and feel that they lost the match as much as we won it. When they scored two quick tries after half-time with the wind at their backs they should certainly have gone on to victory, but a failure to manage the game properly and that hugely lucky bounce to Lloyd Williams meant the game slipped away from them.

cdf_240217_edinburgh_v_blues_25_rdax_629x325
Lloyd Williams takes the plaudits for the jammiest try of the season

In Cardiff terms they are sure to take huge confidence from that match ending, but also at the way they were able to get back into the game through some attacking sets into the wind and against a frustrating referee.

Of course there is a knowledge that if we play below par against Munster next week then they will take us to the cleaners and not allow us back into the game, but for now it’s time to bask in the glory of a snatched win at the death.

It’s also not the time to start looking up the table or at other results in terms of Pro12 finishing spots. We must continue plodding along, picking up victories and returning to that winning mentality that served us so well at the start of the season. Starting with Munster on Saturday let’s pack the Arms Park and get behind the lads, come on Cardiff!!

cdf_240217_edinburgh_v_blues_23_rdax_660x340_60
That winning feeling

 

Cardiff 57-20 Treviso

Cardiff Blues returned to winning ways on Saturday as a six-try second half performance made up for a distinctly lacklustre opening period. Alex Cuthbert and Matthew Morgan were both contenders for man-of-the-match, although perhaps that should go to whichever member of the coaching staff provided the much needed inspiration at half-time.

Danny Wilson made a number of changes after the previous week’s disappointing loss to Connacht, calling on the experience of Fa’ao Filise, George Earle, Steve Shingler and Alex Cuthbert to steady the ship, while Sion Bennett made his Cardiff debut at openside flanker in place of the injured Josh Navidi, however these changes didn’t seem to have much impact throughout the first half.

sion-bennett-treviso
Sion Bennett made his first start against Treviso

 

The game did get off to a flyer from a Cardiff point of view, with Nick Williams the focal point making early yards to keep the home side on the front foot before Blaine Scully knocked on. Possession was recovered though and soon ‘Big Nick’ was able to execute his trademark break from the back of a ruck to run over unopposed from just outside the 22.

Steve Shingler was on kicking duties for the day and converted easily, but would have to wait 25 minutes for the next score as the home side seemed to be falling foul of last week’s deficiencies. Slow ball, lacklustre breakdown work and generally a lack of work rate seemed destined to cause embarrassment.

nick-williams-treviso
Big Nick kicked things off with a bang

 

Treviso scrum-half Tito Tebaldi notched two penalties to keep the away side in touch, before Shingler’s penalty in response was cancelled out by an excellent Ian McKinley finish off the back of some simple Cardiff errors.

At this point I’m sure I wasn’t the only one fearing the worst, with the early try seemingly having precisely the opposite effect than it should have, causing the players to almost completely take their feet off the pedal and start cruising.

In fact, in a twist of fate that really sums up our Pro12 season post-September, it took going behind at home to Treviso to shame the team to the extent that they started to combine the effort required to win a game with the accuracy expected and produce some of the exciting attacking rugby that we in the Arms Park stands have longed for.

Scully kicked off the race to avoid being behind at half-time with a typically flying American restart claim. Gareth Anscombe capitalised to make some ground, before camp was setup in the redzone. It came back to the two aforementioned players to break the green wall though, as they switched the point of the attack to the blindside where the fly-half took out the last two defenders to give the winger the simplest of finishes.

blaine-scully-treviso
Blaine Scully grabbed a crucial score before half-time

 

Shingler kicked the coversion with the last kick of the half for a 17-13 lead, before opening the gap within a minute of the second period commencing. Whatever was said at the break, mixed with the momentum of the score on the stroke of half-time, seemed to work wonders.

What a try it was too as a real team effort saw the attack start in the 22 with the ball going through the hands of Lloyd Williams, Kris Dacey, Anscombe, Shingler and Willis Halaholo before Matthew Morgan made the break. The scrum-half tracked the run superbly to play the middle man and set-up the inside centre to run the ball home from 30 metres.

steve-shingler-treviso-2
Steve Shingler ran home to finish off a team move

 

The conversion was good and five minutes later Shingler was back on the tee as Alex Cuthbert was tripped desperately short of the line but possession was shifted from right to left before the man who can now call the 12 shirt his own made a half-break and fed full debutant Sion Bennett for his maiden score in the famous blue shirt.

The bonus point was now sewn up, and Cardiff were really motoring as they made it three tries in 10 minutes. Dacey was the scorer, his fifth of the season, but the try was all the work of Morgan who counter-attacked from inside his own half, waltzing past Treviso defenders as if they weren’t there, before offloading a few metres short of the line.

sion-bennett-treviso-try
Sion Bennett touches down

 

Treviso briefly threatened to get within a respectable distance of the home side, as Angelo Esposito’s converted score made it 38-20, the visitors recording their most points in an away game this season, but in truth it didn’t matter too much as the most important aspect of the match was the return to form of the Cardiff attack.

Perhaps the most pleasing moment of the game was the sixth home try which started from Scully and Shingler cleaning up a Treviso hack through, before Morgan and Halaholo showed a desire to re-establish front foot ball, working hard to track back and offer width to the counter attack.

This in turn allowed Cuthbert to get the ball in a few yards of space on the right wing, and what happened next was a sight to behold. After a week of totally unjustified and downright unfair social media vitriol, the British and Irish Lion went rampaging down the Arms Park pitch, stepping past two players before producing an excellent offload for Halaholo to claim the try.

willis-halaholo-treviso-try
Willis Halaholo scores after Alex Cuthbert’s run

 

The roar of the crowd and the eagerness of the players to celebrate with Cuthy was evidence enough that the Cardiff Blues attitude of looking after our own is as strong as ever, and the winger quite rightly deserved the congratulations of all at CAP.

The final two tries of the afternoon could not have gone to more deserving players, with first up Matthew Morgan benefiting from a wonderful Anscombe miss-pass to have an easy run-in, after two assists for the afternoon really confirming he is hitting some excellent form.

Then the big horse himself, Alex Cuthbert, rounded off a confident performance in a fashion that was Cuthy at his absolute best. He didn’t just come off his wing, he was purposely lining up in midfield, running a straight line straight between two purposely targeted props, and as he burst through he just kept accelerating past the full-back.

alex-cuthbert-treviso
Alex Cuthbert received the biggest cheer of the afternoon

 

Shingler kicked a final conversion to take him to 22 points for the day, the highest tally in a match of any Pro12 player this season, for a final score of 57-20. Bonus point win secured, and job done.

However, I would urge caution after Saturday. Firstly, it’s important to remember that for 35 minutes of the first half we were dreadful, yet again. I don’t want to be the pessimist, but it’s just to underline that there is much work ahead. Against a better side we would have been put to bed by half-time, we were losing to Treviso at home after all!

Secondly, this bonus-point win does not put us back in the race for sixth place, not by a long shot. What it does is make us winners again, something we hadn’t done in the Pro12 since Boxing Day. That’s important, and the rest of the season should now be about developing that mentality and forming a basis to work off.

kris-dacey-treviso
Kris Dacey on his way under the posts

 

What happens in terms of the league will play out by itself, but Cardiff would do extremely well to live by the old sporting adage of ‘taking things a week at a time’. Small steps were taken on Saturday, but there is still a distance to go in terms of repairing the damage done over the last four months.

The attack seemed to fire back into life in the second half, with straight, direct running really putting the Treviso defence to the sword. Of course the defence needs to be worked on ahead of a trip to Edinburgh on Friday, as does the ability to dominate a larger majority of the game, but a win will always be a win, and at this point I’ll take them however they come.

alex-cuthbert-treviso-celebration
The players rightly support Cuthy after a tough week for the winger