Jorden Marvelley follows the Welsh regions into Europe as they began their Heineken Cup or Amlin Challenge Cup campaigns. Here’s the first part as she looks at how Cardiff Blues and Ospreys got on.
French flare not enough to blindside the Blues.
The Heineken Cup got under way this weekend, with the Blues facing the tough challenge of Racing Metro in Paris. This is the first time any of the Welsh regions has come face to face with French opposition since that semi-final clash in the World Cup last month. There were those on the field who would have felt they had a score to settle, especially the return of Wales captain Sam Warburton, and settle it they did.
The intent and physicality of the game was displayed from the start with James Down being taken off injured and replaced by Paul Tito within the first three minutes of the game. It was refreshing to see that the referee George Clancy did not hamper the game’s flow with the continuous resetting of the scrum; it was one offence and then a penalty.
It was the Blues who were the first to make that mistake: Racing Metro chose to run the ball but with nothing on Juan Martin Hernandez opened the scoring with an impressive drop goal. The Blues first chance at points came after some great phases of play, which opened up the gap for Paul Tito, who was shuffled into touch inches from the line by what can only be described as a try saving tackle.
The pressure from the Blues continued however, as the resulting maul from Racing Metro’s five metre line-out collapsed and the ball presented itself to prop Tau Filise, who placed it under the sticks and Dan Parks added the conversion.
After a penalty a piece for the two sides, the French pack really turned on the flare with the winger Juan Imhoff cutting the Blues’ otherwise impeccable defence to shreds to add another five points to the score board. The favour was very quickly returned however, with Cuthbert powering over in the corner, the conversion from Parks put the visitors back ahead and the first half ended Racing Metro 14-17 Cardiff Blues.
The second half was no less intense, though it was dominated by the battle of the fly-halves; it was in the end the lack of discipline that ended Racing Metro’s hopes for a win coupled with Dan Parks’ on form kicking display. The game ended with a well deserved 20-26 win for the Cardiff Blues.
With an impressive Heineken Cup away win under their belt, the Blues now have to make it count and continue this form with a win against London Irish in front of home support on Friday night.
‘B’s are best in Ospreys opening Heineken Cup clash.
It really was the battle of the ‘B’s in Saturday’s Heineken Cup clash between the Ospreys and Biarritz at the Liberty Stadium, as the teams left it to players like Biggar, Bowe, Balshaw and Bosch to tidy up what was at times a scrappy game riddled with ill discipline.
The Ospreys looked to be repeating their rather lacklustre performance of last weekend with no fluidity in their attacking game and were rather lucky that Marcelo Bosch and Julien Peyrelongue were not firing on all cylinders with their first early attempts at goal.
But it was seasoned professional Damien Traille who steadied the visitors with a drop goal on the five minute mark. The crowd of 7,732 were treated to very little in the way of actual rugby until the boot of Dan Biggar finally levelled the scores after what seemed like a very long 15 minutes.
The rest of the half dragged on with nothing particularly exciting being produced by either team, Biggar was gifted another shot at goal before the interval providing the home side with a narrow lead as the half ended Ospreys 6-3 Biarritz.
Biarritz started the second half the way they had ended the first, with Biggar having two shots at goal within mere minutes of each other; nothing seemed to faze the young player who slotted both over with little difficulty, even from a tricky angle. Next came some penalty ping pong, with each side being awarded consecutive penalties against the other. Ian Balshaw was penalised for holding on, then Duncan Jones was pinged for an infringement almost immediately afterwards. Finally an originally good move by the Ospreys was killed when the Biarritz skipper deliberately put his hands in the ruck and referee Andrew Small ruled that the Ospreys had illegally overturned the ball.
They say cometh the hour, cometh the man and after trailing by nine points the visitors seemed to flick a switch and with some beautiful handling by Traille, Balshaw slid across the try line. Bosch was not as lucky with the boot and was unable to convert from the awkward angle. The fiery display from the French seemed to trigger an immediate response from the Ospreys. Kahn Fotuali’i got the better of Marcelo Bosch, who struggled with an up and under: Fotuali’i’s quick response allowed Tommy Bowe to gather the ball and literally slide across the line; Biggar made it the full 7 points.
An offside offence saw Biggar take the Welsh region two scores clear of the visitors and then came the dreaded interception pass. Yachvili, who read Bishop’s pass beautifully, then handed it off to Balshaw who had the pace to go all the way scoring his second of the night, the conversion cut the Ospreys lead to just seven.
I have discussed Balshaw’s third try with my friend and we both agree, even though I am an Ospreys supporter, that it was a somewhat controversial decision, neither of us could really see what was wrong with it but the referee disallowed it and the Ospreys and their supporters must have heaved a huge sigh of relief.
Biggar was rightfully named man of the match, no one can argue with a 100% kicking performance, even those who aren’t his biggest fans. On the night his 23 points made all the difference.
By Jorden Marvelley
Coming tomorrow Part Two covering the Scarlets and Newport Gwent Dragons!
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