Ben Blair was the hero for Cardiff Blues as they edged a tight Heineken Cup game at the Arms Park on Friday, running out 21-17 victors against a dogged Biarritz outfit.
Blair kicked five superb penalties to go with Nicky Robinson's two well-taken drop goals. Biarritz did score two tries, through Damien Traille and Julien Peyrelongue, but in the end it was not enough to cause an upset.
The opening exchanges were fragmented as both sides endeavoured to slow their opponents' ball down, resulting in plenty of slow ball at the breakdown. You could argue Biarritz had the better of the early exchanges, but when the Blues did manage to get it wide they looked dangerous.
Those wide forays were scarce though as Biarritz, much like they did against Gloucester in the opening round, frustrated their hosts, ensuring they could not find any sort of rhythm. Added to that Nicky Robinson, as he has the capacity to do, was having a mixed night with the boot - sending several kicks floating aimlessly down field.
Turnover ball found its way to Takudzwa Ngwenya and he had too much pace for the covering defence. Finally Jamie Robinson, who lost the ball in the first place, got back to the American winger, only to see the ball popped up to Damien Traille who cantered in for the opening score.
After Ben Blair pulled three points back for the Blues, with a fine kick, Ngwenya fluffed a golden chance to extend the French side's lead. Peyrelongue exposed the home side's deficiencies down the blind side only to see Ngwenya drop the ball over the line.
Peyrelongue and Blair then exchanged penalties as neither side looked anything like their best, the game slipping into a mire of mistakes as the half drew to a close. A final attack saw the Blues go through eight phases without any sign of breaking a resolute Biarritz defence, forcing Robinson to slot over a drop goal on the stroke of half time.
Blair's exemplary form with the boot continued after the break as he calmly slotted his third challenging penalty of the game to give his side the lead for the first time. It should have got even better for Dai Young's men after Jason Spice sliced the defence open, only to send his pass behind Andy Powell - who had a clear run to the line.
Having struggled to establish themselves in the game for large periods, Cardiff Blues enjoyed a purple patch following Spice's break. Another telling attack yielded a further three points, Robinson's second drop goal ensuring the home side were rewarded for their efforts.
Sensing a lack of drama and controversy the television match official decided to inject some into proceedings. Moments after Robinson had bagged his second drop goal his opposite man, Peyrelongue, sent a wobbly effort towards goal. Unable to judge for himself George Clancy sent the decision upstairs to John Sheehan.
Sheehan, having seen at least ten replays, all of which confirmed the ball went over, bizarrely told Clancy the ball had in fact not gone over. There was some justice to come from it all though, Peyrelongue slicing through the heart of the Blues defence to crash over under the posts for a converted score that gave Biarritz the lead once again.
Once again the game swung the way of the home side, Blair sending another pair of well-measured kicks straight through the uprights. Despite a yellow card for Maama Molitika the home side showed a mature composure, that has been missing in previous seasons, to close out the game.
Robinson, whose kicking improved throughout the second half was happy to keep Biarritz pinned in their own twenty-two, and from there it was only ever going to end in the home side's favour. Biarritz summed their efforts up by kicking away their final possession, knowing they had to score a try to win it.
It was not vintage rugby from the Blues, but as they say winning games without playing well is a sign of a good team. What really matters for Young and his troops is that they secured the win and maintain their position at the top of the pool.
One thing you can guarantee is that the return fixture next week is going to be just as physical, and give Biarritz's need to win you can expect another tight affair.
For Cardiff Blues:
Pens: Blair 5
Drop goals: N.Robinson 2
Tries: Traille, Peyrelongue
Cons: Peyrelongue 2
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, 4 Deiniol Jones,3 Gary Powell, 2 Gareth Williams, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Faao Filise, 17 Rhys Thomas, 18 Scott Morgan, 19 Robin Sowden-Taylor, 20 Darren Allinson, 21 Ceri Sweeney, 22 Tom James.
Biarritz: 15 Benjamin Thiery, 14 Takudzwa Ngwenya, 13 Philippe Bidabe, 12 Damien Traille, 11 Ilikena Bolakoro, 10 Julien Peyrelongue, 9 Fabien Cibray, 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, 7 Mohammed Dridi, 6 Pe´o Som, 5 Trevor Hall, 4 JÚr˘me Thion,3 Mosese Moala, 2 Benjamin Noirot, 1 Fabien Barcella,
Replacements: 16 Benoit August, 17 Eduard Coetzee, 18 CÚsar Damiani, 19 Wenceslas Lauret, 20 Romain Cabannes, 21 Jean-Baptiste Roidot, 22 Laurent Tranier.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Touch judges: Simon McDowell (Ireland), Sean Flannery (Ireland)
Television match official: John Sheehan (Ireland)
By Marcus Leach