Cardiff struggle to Aironi win
January 7, 2011
Cardiff Blues' Tom Slater tackles Aironi's Gabriel Pizarro during the game at the Cardiff City Stadium
© Getty Images
The Blues began 2011 with a 24-13 victory which put them into the Magners League play-off positions - but they struggled to see off the only team in the competition without a win all season.
The New Year's Eve thrills of a two-point triumph over local rivals Ospreys before a Welsh record 22,000-plus crowd were lost in a turgid encounter in which over-confidence seemed the Blues' biggest danger.
After fly-half Ceri Sweeney slotted over a simple early penalty, Wales winger Leigh Halfpenny - making his first start since October - celebrated with an eighth-minute touchdown.
Sweeney's neat grubber kick was intended for the other wideman, Tom James, but, slightly impeded by a lurking defender, James could not gather and the supporting Halfpenny took advantage. But Sweeney missed the conversion, though he made a better fist of it than Aironi's French fullback, Julien Laharrague, who blazed two penalties way off target.
Their next opportunity saw the Italians go for the corner rather than the posts and they were rewarded when flanker Gareth Krause was driven over and fly-half James Marshall, taking over with the boot, kicked the extras.
After Scottish referee Peter Allen had warned both skippers about repeated infringements, Aironi again attracted his wrath and international hooker Fabio Ongaro saw a yellow card.
Opposite number Rhys Thomas was the immediate beneficiary, boring over from close range for Sweeney to convert. Marshall missed a kickable penalty just before the break but Paolo Buso, who replaced the hapless Laharrague at half-time, cut the deficit when the Blues managed to concede a penalty against the seven-man scrum.
Buso added another three points while the Blues still concentrated on planting their penalties into the corner, only to squander the resultant openings.
Luckily Buso wasted a long-range chance to put the Italians in front and the Blues, having breathed a sigh of relief, decided to go for goal themselves next time only for Halfpenny to drag it wide.
Sweeney gave them a little breathing space with an easier effort and a drop-goal by the diminutive fly-half made the points secure before an injury-time penalty by late replacement Dan Parks gave the scoreline a flattering look.
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