Blues scrape to vital victory
December 5, 2008
Man of the Match Ben Blair kicked the Blues to a vital win
© Getty Images
Cardiff Blues kept their charge alive at the top of Heineken Cup Pool Six with a hard-earned victory over Biarritz at the Arms Park.
An immaculate kicking performance from Blues full-back Ben Blair sent the home side to victory, with fly-half Nick Robinson pitching in with a pair of drop-goals. Biarritz recorded a losing bonus point thanks to tries from Damien Traille and Julien Peyrelongue.
Following an early break by Blair, Biarritz exerted control on proceedings with some clinical tactical kicking from wing Ilikena Bolakoro and Traille.
Some sloppy work from Biarritz following a Blues chip saw the early pressure on the home side released, with Martyn Williams making a nuisance of himself before Damien Traille recovered to clear well. Biarritz were quick to step up their physicality in attack, utilizing their front-row options in midfield, but were let down by some poor handling in the early stages.
A typically forthright break from Andy Powell put the Blues on the front-foot on the quarter hour, but the Biarritz defence was aggressive and firm. Jamie Robinson and Gareth Thomas were both dumped backwards before Nick Robinson took matters into his own hands, finding a superb touch to give the Blues position.
The home side's pressure was not to last however, with French international Traille finishing a flowing Biarritz move, set up by lighting fast USA wing Takudzwa Ngwenya, by dotting down under the sticks after 20 minutes.
Irritatingly for the visitors, prop Eduard Coetzee went off his feet at the breakdown only moments later, with Blair stroking over a superb kick from out-wide. Biarritz covered the Blues kicking game exceedingly well, with Peyrelongue and Traille's positining allowing Biarritz to deny the Blues any semblance of territory. A blindside break from Perylongue took Biarritz once again to the Cardiff line, before a superb tackle from Leigh Halfpenny denied Ngwenya. Sloppy lineout ball followed for the Blues before a hack and chase by Martyn Williams put Biarritz under pressure. Once again though the excellent Peyrelongue was again on hand to clear.
Biarritz extended their lead soon after as a risky off-load from Andy Powell gave Biarritz a scrum in centre-field, and Cardiff's discipline let them down, with a penalty conceded bang in front. Peyrelongue needed no second invitation and knocked over the points to put Biarritz firmly in control.
Good lineout ball and a fine kick from Nick Robinson then drew a penalty for the Blues after Thiery was pinged for holding on under pressure from the Blues back-row. Another exemplary kick from Ben Blair brought the Blues back into contention at 6-10.
A rare lapse from Traille saw him heave the ball into touch after the ball had been passed into the 22, allowing the Blues prime position just before half-time. After several phases of play, Robinson slotted a languid drop-goal to make it a one-point game at half time.
A moment of indiscipline at a scrum gave Blair another chance just after half-time, and he duly put the Blues in front. Moments later Blues scrum-half Jason Spice scythed through a forwards-heavy Biarritz midfield only for his pop pass to be knocked on by Andy Powell. Biarritz were penalised for feeding at the ensuing scrum and after several patient phases from the Blues, Nicky Robinson dropped his second goal of the night to open up the first breathing space.
Not to be outdone, Peyrelongue soon looked to have slotted a drop-goal of his own, but the TMO ruled out the score. Peyrelongue was straight back into the action, slicing through the Blues defence on the angle before rolling in the tackle of Leigh Halpenny to score Biarritz's second try.
Just minutes later a moment of foolishness from French international Imanol Harinordoquy, pulling down Andy Powell in the Blues lineout, allowed Blair another penalty to put the Blues back in front with another sweetly struck effort.
With ten minutes remaining Biarritz coughed up another simple penalty opportunity for Blair, who duly obliged. As much as the visitiors struggled in the final minutes, Nick Robinson penned them back time and again, and even a 74th minute sin-binning for Blues flanker Maa'ma Molitika could not give the French side the break they needed.
Cardiff Blues coach Dai Young admitted his side had been below their best. "We'd certainly have settled for 14 points out of 15 at this stage in the group," Young said. "We certainly didn't play well, but a win's a win. We struggled to get penetration, struggled to get behind them - all credit to the Biarritz defence - but at the end of the day you've just got to win.
"We showed a lot of character. We knew we weren't playing well, but we hung in there. Maybe two or three years ago we might not have won that."
Biarritz coach John Isaac took some comfort from a bonus point as they dropped eight points behind Cardiff. "We're disappointed not to have won the match," he said. "But we're glad to go home with a losing bonus point. We were expecting a bit more from the Blues, to be honest, but our defence was very good and very aggressive and probably forced them to play a tighter game."
Cardiff Blues: Blair, Halfpenny, J. Robinson, Shanklin, G. Thomas, N. Robinson, Spice, Jenkins, G. Williams, G. Powell, Jones, Tito, Molitika, M. Williams, A. Powell.
Replacements: James for Halfpenny (75), T. Thomas for G. Williams (70), Filise for G. Powell (70). Not Used: Morgan, Sowden-Taylor, Allinson, Sweeney.
Sin Bin: Molitika (75).
Biarritz: Thiery, Ngwenya, Bidabe, Traille, Bolakoro, Peyrelongue, Cibray, Barcella, Noirot, Moala, Thion, Hall, Som, Dridi, Harinordoquy.
Replacements: Cabannes for Peyrelongue (79), Coetzee for Barcella (16), August for Noirot (53), Lauret for Hall (50). Not Used: Damiani, Roidot, Tranier.
Ref: George Clancy (IRFU).
Toulon's Heineken Cup final victory over Clermont Auvergne may have ended a long title drought for the Top 14 club but two of their players are no strangers to success
We bring you our pick of the best pictures from around the world in the last seven days with the battle for Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup glory taking centre stage
"If you listen carefully you should be able to hear them mining the granite for the statue of a certain Jonny Wilkinson" Graham Jenkins reports from the Heineken Cup Final