Cardiff Blues break euro drought
January 19, 2013
Cardiff Blues fullback Leigh Halfpenny kicked 16 points at the Arms Park
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Wales squad member Lloyd Williams was the star of the show as Cardiff Blues rewarded the dedication of their fans with a 26-14 victory over Sale Sharks on Saturday - their first Heineken Cup victory of the season.
Droves of Blues supporters had answered a plea from the region by turning up on Friday and then again on the morning of the match to clear thick snow off the Arms Park pitch. Their sterling efforts paid off, with the Pool 6 clash able to go ahead following pitch inspections at 9am and 12 noon.
There was nothing on the match in terms of qualification for the knock-out stages, but the Blues had no wish to go through their Euro campaign without a victory and proceeded to gain revenge for their narrow defeat away to Sale back in October.
Scrum-half Williams was the key man, scoring a fine individual try and setting up another for replacement lock Michael Paterson, with Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny kicking 16 points, as touchdowns from visiting front row forwards Tommy Taylor and Aston Croall were cancelled out.
Aviva Premiership bottom club Sale had travelled down to Cardiff with a largely second string side, yet they swiftly showed they were not there just to make up the numbers. In fact, it only took them three minutes to open the scoring. After kicking to the corner, they put together a well-organised lineout drive which culminated in hooker Taylor crashing over, with fly-half Rob Miller adding the conversion.
The Blues cut the deficit to a point through two penalties from Halfpenny, but he then appeared to have cost his side a try, as his attempted clearing kick was charged down, with centre Mark Jennings pouncing on the loose ball to claim the score.
Irish referee Peter Fitzgibbon was unsure over the grounding, but had no video referee to consult as the game was not being televised live. So he went to consult his linesman Eddie Hogan-O'Connell, who advised him that Jennings had knocked on, and the try was ruled out, with Halfpenny then landing a superb penalty out of the mud near the left touchline to give the hosts a 9-7 interval lead.
Sale went back in front just a couple of minutes after the break when wing Charlie Amesbury broke through in midfield and prop Croall forced his way over from close range amid a pile of bodies for a converted try. But the Blues hit back immediately with an excellent effort from Williams, who broke from the base of a ruck, chipped over Amesbury and won the race to the ball, sliding in and rolling over the line.
Halfpenny converted and, after weathering a lengthy period of Sale pressure, the hosts made the game safe when Williams escaped down the left following a Paterson lineout take and returned the inside scoring pass to the supporting substitute.
"It was very important to get the victory," commented Blues boss Phil Davies said. "It's not very pleasant losing six games in the Heineken, I can tell you. That was good today. We got the result and we haven't finished bottom of the table, which is just reward for all the hard work we've put in."
Sale head coach Bryan Redpath was unhappy with the disallowed score, commenting: "I thought the referee disallowed a perfectly good try."
Reflecting on the game as a whole, Redpath said: "We had our opportunities. We had loads and loads of pressure and the chances to win. But there were a couple of defensive errors we lapsed on and gifted 12 to 15 points for them."
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