Planet Rugby

Blues cruise in Italy

11th October 2008 15:26

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Ben Blair

Leader: Cardiff Blues star Ben Blair bosses proceedings in Italy

Cardiff Blues signalled their Heineken Cup intent by notching up a 56-20 victory over Calvisano on Saturday, putting eight tries past the brave but limited Italians at Centro Sportivo San Michele.

Blues coach Dai Young had been mindful to talk up Calvisano in the build-up to his game, yet it seemed he had to reiterate his message over half-time oranges with his side nursing a slender 18-13 lead.

The locals, wearing jerseys fit for duty on the Tour de France, summoned up the spirit of Montauban in the first 40 minutes of their European campaign, standing firm in defence and punishing the visitors for extended bouts of navel-gazing.

The first half ended at one try apiece and a buzz of expectation began to whir around the sun-kissed ground during the break - could Calvisano score a third Heineken Cup victory in the side's 37th European outing?

Alas, it was not to be.

What must have been a royal rollocking from Young during the interval paid handsome dividends. Inspired by their world-class generals - Ben Blair, Martyn Williams and Tom Shanklin - the Blues exploded into the second half and pocketed the bonus point in the 51st minute of the game.

Cardiff didn't look back from that point on. Although Calvisano worked their captain Leonardo Ghiraldini over in the corner, two more tries from the visitors sealed the Italian job.

Cardiff opened their account when Maama Molitika galloped through two tackles to score on nine minutes after Gareth Thomas had stretched Calvisano out wide.

Blair missed the conversion and moments later the Blues were reduced to 14 men for the first time when Deiniol Jones was shown the yellow card for his high tackle on fly-half Gerard Fraser, who picked himself up to convert the resulting penalty.

Despite being a man down, it was Cardiff who extended their lead during the 10-minute spell. Blair kicked a penalty before Alessandro Zanni deliberately blocked Jamie Robinson from racing onto a kick from Cardiff pressure on their own goal line, and French referee awarded a penalty try.

Blair converted and Cardiff appeared to be on course for a comfortable win at 15-3 ahead, but Australian loose forward Justin Purll picked a hole in their close-quarter defence and stormed in from 25 yards out to bring the home crowd to life.

Fraser converted and Calvisano confidence grew as Jamie Robinson was ruled to have fouled during the build-up to the try, and was the second Cardiff player into the sin-bin in the half.

Blair and Paul Griffin exchanged penalties to leave the Blues 18-13 ahead at the break.

That was as close as Calvisano got as the Blues steadied the ship and produced some devastating attacking rugby, helped by some horrendous Italian defending.

Jason Spice got Cardiff on track just three minutes into the second half when he latched onto a clever long pass from hooker Rhys Thomas's line-out. Gareth Thomas was again provider moments later when Shanklin brought up the bonus point.

Blair raced onto Robinson's delightful floated inside pass on 51 minutes before the fly-half scored a deserved try himself, the pick of the bunch after Andy Powell's initial break.

Ghiraldini grabbed the consolation score just after an hour to reduce the damage on the scoreboard. But Tom Shanklin put 19-year-old Leigh Halfpenny over in the corner before Thomas grabbed the easiest score of his long career after Calvisano lost possession behind their own goal line.

The scorers:

For Calviano:

Tries: Purll, Ghiraldini

Cons: Fraser, Raineri

Pens: Fraser, Griffen

For Cardiff Blues:

Tries: Molitika, Penalty Try, Spice, Shanklin, Blair, Robinson, Halfpenny, Thomas.

Cons: Blair 5

Pens: Blair 2

Yellow card(s): D Jones (Cardiff Blues) - dangerous tackle, 16; Roberts (Cardiff Blues) - killing the ball, 33

The teams:

Calvisano: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Daniele Forcucci, 13 Andrea Pratichetti, 12 Matteo Pratichetti, 11 Ludovico Nitoglia, 10 Gerard Fraser, 9 Paul Griffen, 8 Justin Purll, 7 Aaron Persico, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Peter Sidoli, 4 Valerio Bernabo, 3 Ben Evans, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini (c), 1 Hoani Tui.

Replacements: 16 Alister McKenzie, 17 Alejandro Moreno, 18 David dal Maso, 19 Maurizio Zaffiri, 20 Pino Patelli, 21 Nanni Raineri, 22 Marko Stanojevic.

Cardiff Blues: 15 Ben Blair, 14 Leigh Halfpenny, 13 Jamie Robinson, 12 Tom Shanklin, 11 Gareth Thomas, 10 Nicky Robinson, 9 Jason Spice, 8 Andy Powell, 7 Martyn Williams, 6 Maama Molitika, 5 Paul Tito (c), 4 Deiniol Jones, 3 Gary Powell, 2 T Rhys Thomas, 1 Gethin Jenkins.

Replacements: 16 Taufa'ao Filise, 17 Gareth Williams, 18 Scott Morgan, 19 Robin Sowden-Taylor, 20 Richie Rees, 21 Ceri Sweeney, 22 Jamie Roberts.

Referee: Rob Debney (England)

Touch judges: Tim Wigglesworth (England), Alan Biggs (England)

Television match official: Dave Matthews (England)

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