Planet Rugby

Blues hold on to take Toulouse

11th April 2009 17:23

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Bradley Davies at his peak

Kings of Cardiff: Brad Davies rises high for the Blues

Cardiff Blues made it to the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup on Saturday, holding out for a 9-6 win over Toulouse and ending French interest in the competition at the Millennium Stadium.

A terrific defensive performance in the final 15 minutes got the Blues to their target in a game that simmered unappetisingly for an hour and then bubbled into life for the final quarter.

The tension took a hold of the occasion far more than either of the teams did during a cagey first half. Cardiff Blues went in at half-time ahead by the odd penalty in three but rode their luck to get there.

Toulouse had the more meaningful attacks, not least the two lunges for the line by Thierry Dusautoir, one of which was short by a whisker, the other adjudged - after fully two and a half minutes' examination by the TMO - to have been knocked on.

Cardiff rarely threatened to break through but did enjoy more of the possession and forced more penalties as a result.

Ben Blair landed one in the first minute after Patricio Albacete had been penalised for some over-enthusiasm at the first ruck, and another after 32 minutes when Jean Bouilhou strayed offside.

Frédéric Michalak, who has been widely criticised for his inaccurate place-kicking in France since his return from South Africa, landed one of his own after six minutes following a philosopical discussion between Martyn Williams and Byron Kelleher.

By contrast to the Blues, whose intend was to bash away and waity patiently for the gaps, Toulouse looked to attack from deep where possible and keep the Blues at bay.

The movement that led up to Dusautoir's ill-fated assaults on the line was sparked by a terrific tackle from Dusautoir on Paul Tito and steal from Pelous, followed by some classic running and jinking from Vincent Clerc down the right.

Many other attempts at such counter-attacks were snuffed out, but the intent, and the inherent danger, were there.

The second half did not improve much. Some poor kicking and some unenterprising structure on the game was only briefly livened by a scintillating break from Médard on 50 minutes.

Then...

Nick Robinson finally broke the line and accelerated down the middle. Perhaps Tom James should have backed himself and stayed to Robinson's left, but he opted to cut inside for a switch which Robinson read too late and spilled.

Médard picked up the spilt ball and booted it ahead into the space where Tito covered and did marvellously well to stand in protection of the ball. Out it came to Robinson, who fed James who went on a jinking run which ultimately came to nothing, but the whole passage of play inspired everyone else.

Robinson made a quarter-break, just enough to slip a delicious pass behind his would-be tackler and into the hands of the onrushing Jamie Roberts who got to within 5m, sparking a heavy spell of Cardiff pressure that culminated in a drop goal attempt from Robinson that bounced meatily off the post.

From the rebound, Cardiff's pack won a penalty for not releasing the tackled player, much to the disgust of the Toulousains nearby, and Blair landed it for a 9-3 lead.

Guy Novès reacted by bringing on David Skrela, who immedaitely slipped a tackle and sparked the kind of handling movement between forwards and backs for which Toulouse have become famous. Five passes later, Dusautoir was brought to ground and the ball was cynically killed by Martyn Williams who should surely have been yellow-carded.

As it was, Skrela landed the penalty and it was 9-6.

Jauzion broke cleanly as Toulouse upped the pace further, but the cover was just numerous enough to prevent him passing out to Clerc, just present enough to prevent Médard taking the scoring pass out of the tackle. Ten minutes to go and the Blues were stretched.

James chipped and regathered and was unfortunate to lose the ball in contact with Kelleher to give Toulouse another scrum, from which the ball went wide to Médard threateningly but was then turned over.

That was it. Toulouse had shot their bolt. The ball moved through their hands left and right but there were no more breaks to be had and most importantly, no penalties forthcoming from the blue line that could have taken the game to extra time. The semi-finals will return to the Millennium Stadium where Leicester or Bath will be the visitors - let them be the ones to try and crack this defence!

Man of the match: Martyn Williams? He saved a certain try with his kill of the ball but, purists as we try to be, we can't give a gong to negative play. Maxime Médard had some sublime moments but blotted his copybook with some bizarre errors in the first half. So we'll look elsewhere, and we find that Gethin Jenkins' display in Cardiff's engine-room was the pick of the player performances.

The scorers:

For Cardiff Blues:

Pens: Blair 3

For Toulouse:

Pens: Michalak, Skrela

Cardiff Blues: 15 Ben Blair, 14 Leigh Halfpenny, 13 Tom Shanklin, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tom James, 10 Nicky Robinson, 9 Jason Spice, 8 Xavier Rush, 7 Martyn Williams, 6 Maama Molitika, 5 Paul Tito (c), 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Tauf'au Filise, 2 Gareth Williams, 1 Gethin Jenkins.

Replacements: 16 John Yapp, 17 T Rhys Thomas, 18 Deiniol Jones, 19 Andy Powell, 20 Richie Rees, 21 Ceri Sweeney, 22 Gareth Thomas.

Toulouse: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Yannick Jauzion, 11 Cédric Heymans, 10 Frédéric Michalak, 9 Byron Kelleher, 8 Shaun Sowerby, 7 Thierry Dusautoir, 6 Jean Bouilhou, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Fabien Pelous, 3 Salvatore Perugini, 2 William Servat, 1 Daan Human.

Replacements: 16 Alberto Vernet Basualdo, 17 Yohan Montes, 18 Grégory Lamboley, 19 Yannick Nyanga, 20 David Skrela, 21 Maleli Kunavore, 22 Clément Poitrenaud.

Referee: Chris White (England)

Touch judges: Roy Maybank (England), Stuart Terheege (England)

Assessor: Brian Stirling (Ireland)

Television match official: Huw Lewis (Wales)

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