Cardiff Blues secure top-seeding with big win
January 23, 2009
Leigh Halfpenny scored the Blues' third try
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Cardiff Blues guaranteed their position as number one seeds going into the Heineken Cup quarter-finals and finished with a 100 per cent pool record for the first time after a 62-20 win over Calvisano at the Arms Park.
But while their record-breaking nine-try victory was predictable against the whipping boys from Italy - Calvisano have not won a match in their last five seasons in the competition - they were made to work by the enthusiastic visitors. The Blues, however, had the fire-power and the fitness to make sure that last weekend's phenomenal victory at Gloucester was not followed by embarrassment at home.
Fullback Ben Blair, back after a wrist injury, contributed 22 points and claimed the Man-of-the-Match award. Calvisano's chances, already slim, were not helped when captain Leonardo Ghiraldini limped off after only seven minutes, yet 60 seconds later the Italians were ahead.
Kiwi fly-half Gerard Fraser charged down opposite number Nicky Robinson's kick and centre Gonzalo Garcia won the race to touch down before Fraser added the extras.
The Blues responded with wing Gareth Thomas breaking through two tackles to score a try awarded after consultation with the video referee. Blair missed the conversion and then conceded an easy penalty which Fraser slotted over, but the Blues fullback was soon a hero again. He fed winger Leigh Halfpenny and took a return pass to race clear to the posts, providing himself with a simple conversion, and then added a penalty to further settle the Arms Park nerves.
Continued home pressure led to a move which spread quickly to the right, where the flying Halfpenny raced over close to the flag, Blair's conversion giving the scoreboard the sort of appearance most had expected.
Xavier Rush replaced Andy Powell at half-time and within three minutes of his arrival he broke from a scrum and strolled over without a hand laid on him to secure the bonus point. Fraser kicked a penalty for Calvisano, but it was only a brief interruption before a neat cross-kick from Robinson was taken by Gareth Thomas, who handed replacement kicker Rhys Thomas the try.
As both sides rang the changes, the Italians grabbed another breakaway try, from Matteo Pratichetti, but Rhys Thomas stretched over to cancel it over with his second score. A yellow card for Calvisano prop Gabriel Bocca, who had only just entered the fray, shattered the visitors' spirit and the floodgates opened.
Flankers Martyn Williams and Maama Molitika, with a 50-yard gallop, and wing Thomas all crossed, sending the Blues past the 56 points they recorded in Italy in October and establishing a new best for the region in this competition.
With a home quarter-final now secured, the Blues can speculate as to the possibility of a big occasion at the Millennium Stadium. "I won't object to moving, though it's not my decision. I'm sure the powers that be above me will look at it commercially," said Blues boss Dai Young. "But we always stress we are a region and it's important we give the opportunity to everyone throughout the region to watch us.
"We love playing at home, but we've had some really good results next door as well. We beat Gloucester there this season, so it's like our second home, really."
After last weekend's outstanding win over Gloucester while down to 14 men, many have tipped the Blues to be challenging at the death in the tournament. Young, however, was careful not to overstate their improvement.
"A few seasons ago we weren't as bad as people were making out and now we're not as good as they have been claiming," he said. "The players deserved a lot of credit last week and I'm glad they got it, but we still have areas to work on.
"Our defence has been good, but until tonight we haven't scored as many tries as I'd like. And we need to improve our set-piece. We are still a work in progress, but we can go forward from a good platform and with a bit of a smile on our faces."
Cardiff Blues: Ben Blair, Leigh Halfpenny, Tom Shanklin, Jamie Roberts, Gareth Thomas, Nicky Robinson, Jason Spice, Gethin Jenkins, Gareth Williams, Gary Powell, Deiniol Jones, Scott Morgan, Maama Molitika, Martyn Williams (capt), Andy Powell
Replacements: Taufa'ao Filise, T Rhys Thomas, Bradley Davies, Xavier Rush, Darren Allinson, Ceri Sweeney, Jamie Robinson
Calvisano: Calvisano: Ben Smith, Ludovico Nitoglia, Matteo Pratichetti, Garcia Gonzalo, Daniele Forcucci, Gerard John Fraser, Pino Patelli, Alessandro Zanni, Aaron Persico, Filippo Cristiano, Cameron Treloar, Peter Sidoli, Ben Evans, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Alistair McKenzie
Replacements: Gabriel Bocca, Alejandro Moreno, Luca Beccaris, Matteo Galluppi, Paul Griffen, Nanni Raineri, Luke McLean
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