Cardiff Blues kicked off the 2007/08 Magners League with a hard fought 17-15 victory over local rivals and reigning champions the Ospreys on Friday at the Arms Park.
The result sees them set a new Magners League record for consecutive home wins. They shared the record, at fifteen, with Leinster going into this encounter but are now outright leaders with sixteen consecutive home wins in the league.
The game never quite lived up to its pre-match billing with both sides falling foul of referee Tim Hayes and coming up with several basic errors. It was not for a lack of adventure though, as both sides showed attacking intent with the ball in hand.
The Blues, as one would expect from the home side, applied the early pressure through a series of driving mauls. They were rewarded for their endeavour with a fifth minute penalty from fly-half Nicky Robinson.
Despite controlling much of the first half the Blues were pegged back by the monster boot of Shaun Connor. The Ospreys fly-half bagged a trio of fifty metre plus penalties to make the most of the Blues indiscipline.
Credit to the Blues defence in the first half, as aside from Connor's kicks the contained the Ospreys lively back line without much effort. The only threat from the Ospreys came in the form of Lee Byrne. Having missed out on World Cup selection the pacey full-back caused the Blues trouble on several occasions with his dynamic running.
The Blues had the last say of the half with what was easily the best passage of play. Another driving maul enabled hooker Gareth Williams to burst into the Ospreys twenty-two. Several quick phases later ad the ball was spun wide to Maama Molitika who drew the final two defenders before producing a sublime pass off the ground to Rhys Williams who had the easiest of scores.
Despite going into the tunnel trailing by a point the Blues exploded out of the blocks in the second half and were ahead within two minutes thanks to Robinson's second penalty from fifty three metres.
With the Ospreys infringing one too many times referee Hayes had little choice other than to send Andrew Millward to the sin bin for coming in at the side of a ruck. Robinson kicked the resulting penalty and the Blues were taking control.
A fourth fifty metre plus effort from Connor pulled the Ospreys to within a score but the were increasingly on the back foot and soon found themselves five points adrift when Robinson landed his own fifty metre effort.
As the game entered the final twenty minutes it was the Blues who were in the ascendancy, especially in the forwards where Paul Tito, Molitika, and Xavier Rush were instrumental. Tito was in supreme form at the line out, stealing five of the Ospreys own throws.
With just four minutes on the clock Connor slotted yet another effort from inside his own half to set up a tense final few minutes. And he had the chance to win it with the last kick of the game. Surprisingly, given the distance, a mere thirty metres he fluffed the kick and the Blues hung on for a deserved victory.
Despite the win coach Dai Young was far from pleased with the display his side produced, and felt justice was done when Connor missed the final kick.
"We were the best team on the night, even though that was not a very good display," Young told BBC Wales
"I am disappointed in our discipline and general game plan at times. There was a lot of ball kicked away needlessly and on another day that could have cost us.
"Justice was done when he (Connor) missed that last kick, as with no disrespect the Ospreys didn't deserve to win."
Ospreys coach Lyn Jones was in agreement with Young on that front, although he was delighted with the efforts of Connor.
"If we look at it we didn't deserve a win based on how bad our set piece was," admitted Jones.
"Shaun (Connor) was outstanding and at times without him we would have struggled to stay in touch at all.
"Tito caused us all sorts of problems at the line out and our scrum was under pressure all night. It is something we need to work on before the next game."
Man of the Match: This was a tough one as the Blues forwards were rampant at times. But it comes down to Xavier Rush, who lead by example as well as carrying with gusto, Maama Molitika who was instrumental in his first game back at the Arms Park, and Paul Tito. We plumped for Paul Tito who was a dominating presence both at the set piece and in the lose. A fine off season signing for the Blues.
For Cardiff Blues:
Pens: Robinson 4
Pens: Connor 4
Yellow card: Andrew Millward (entering the ruck from the side - 47 minutes)
Cardiff Blues: 15 Ben Blair, 14 Rhys Williams, 13 Tal Selley, 12 Dafydd Hewitt, 11 Jamie Roberts, 10 Nick Robinson, 9 Jason Spice, 8 Xavier Rush (c), 7 Robin Sowden-Taylor, 6 Maama Molitika, 5 Paul Tito, 4 Deiniol Jones, 3 Gary Powell, 2 Gareth Williams, 1 John Yapp.
Replacements: 16 Scott Roberts, 17 Ross Johnson, 18 Robert Sidoli, 19 Mark Lewis, 20 Richie Rees, 21 Nick Macleod, 22 Marc Stcherbina.
Ospreys: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Stefan Terblanche, 13 Mark Taylor, 12 Andrew Bishop, 11 Aled Brew, 10 Shaun Connor, 9 Justin Marshall, 8 Filo Tiatia, 7 Richard Pugh, 6 Andy Lloyd, 5 Mike Collins, 4 Brent Cockbain (c), 3 Andrew Millward, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Barry Williams, 17 Cai Griffiths, 18 Mike Powell/Tom Smith, 19 Ben Lewis, 20 Martin Roberts, 21 Jonathan Spratt, 22 Jonathan Vaughton.
Referee: Tim Hayes (Wales)
Touch judges: Jon Mason (Wales), Scott Fleming (Wales)
Television match official: Neil Ballard (Wales)
By Marcus Leach