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Cardiff Blues see off Harlequins

Cardiff Blues celeb Harlequins Heineken Cup 2009

Cardiff celebrate the crucial try from Tom James

10th October 2009 13:35

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A try just after half-time gave Cardiff Blues sufficient breathing space to claim a 20-6 victory against Harlequins at Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday.

This encounter was an ideal platform for these two to put early-season woes behind them, with the Blues losing four from five in the Magners League while Quins had also picked up just won just one from their domestic openers.

But it was a counter-attacking score from Tom James coupled with Ben Blair's boot that proved to be the difference in this Pool Five clash.

Replacement winger Leigh Halfpenny's late score added the gloss.

In truth it was nowhere near a classic in south Wales as the aforementioned form leading up to the game brought out a tinge of nervous play from both sides, who will need to improve against French giants Toulouse in the upcoming weeks.

Harlequins did come extremely close to snatching a draw on the day following a sustained period of late pressure on the Blues' line, but the defence stood firm.

It was Quins' first European appearance since the 'Bloodgate' fake injury scandal led to bans for their former rugby director Dean Richards, ex-physio Steph Brennan and current wing Tom Williams.

Blues fans though, were in a mood to forgive and forget last season's shameful business, applauding Will Skinner and his team on to the pitch.

Hard-nosed judges feel Quins should be nowhere near the competition this time around, but on the evidence of their opening game, this latest European adventure will be over well before the quarter-finals.

Fly-half Nick Evans, the injured goalkicker Richards tried to send on as replacement for Williams against Leinster six months ago, booted two penalties from four attempts.

Quins though, offered little in attack - a mirror-image of their poor Guinness Premiership form this term - and the Blues were never seriously threatened.

The visitors fielded seven survivors from the line-up that started against Leinster in April, but three of their England stars - Ugo Monye, Danny Care and Nick Easter - were rested under the elite player agreement.

It meant respective opportunities for Gonzalo Camacho, Steve So'oialo and Tom Guest as they looked to let their rugby do the talking in Europe following last season's sorry saga.

The Blues, Heineken semi-finalists five months ago, welcomed back talisman number eight Xavier Rush, while Lions centre Jamie Roberts also returned from injury to partner his Wales international colleague Tom Shanklin in midfield.

Blair and Evans exchanged early penalties as referee Alan Lewis looked to impose himself on the contest, but it proved a forgettable opening quarter.

Blair lifted Blues' spirits by rifling over a 45-metre penalty, and while Cardiff had produced all of what little creativity was on display, try-scoring chances were at a premium.

When the Blues did spin possession wide, initially helped by Rush's powerful straight running, it came at a cost.

Former Wales captain Gareth Thomas limped off nursing a hamstring injury after his first foray into Quins' territory reached a painful end, and he was replaced by Lions back Halfpenny.

And the Blues' injury troubles did not end there as lock Bradley Davies departed nursing what appeared to be a shoulder problem either side of Evans missing two penalty chances.

There was little to enthuse the Cardiff City Stadium crowd, whose hopes of witnessing a free-flowing spectacle proved little more than a pipe dream.

Blues skipper Paul Tito then went down after an alarming collision with Quins centre Gonzalo Tiesi that left the New Zealander requiring urgent attention.

He was hurt attempting to tackle Tiesi, prompting a seven-minute stoppage before medics stretchered him away for further treatment.

Inevitably, there was a muted feel after Tito's departure, and Lewis' half-time whistle served as welcome relief.

Cardiff's injuries meant a reshuffle up-front with four back-row forwards in the pack, but they did not let such disruption affect them.

And they forged a 10-point lead within five minutes of the restart, courtesy of a well-worked converted try.

Quins struggled to clear after a 55-metre penalty attempt by Halfpenny bounced back off the post, and the Blues backs snapped into life.

Roberts made a neat half-break, Shanklin took the move on at pace, then fly-half Sam Norton-Knight cut back inside to send James over.

Blair added the conversion, and there was fresh anxiety for Quins after the full-back emulated Halfpenny by striking the post with a penalty attempt.

This time though, Quins got the ball away and set about attempting to reduce their deficit.

They should have scored six minutes from time, but full-back Mike Brown failed to gather a pass from substitute prop John Andress with wing David Strettle unmarked outside him.

It heralded Quins' best spell of the game, yet some aggressive Blues defending ultimately thwarted the visitors before Cardiff stormed upfield and Halfpenny administered a final blow.

The scorers:

For Cardiff Blues:
Tries: James, Halfpenny
Con: Blair 2
Pen: Blair 2

For Harlequins:
Pen: Evans 2

Cardiff Blues: 15 Ben Blair, 14 Gareth Thomas, 13 Tom Shanklin, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tom James, 10 Sam Norton-Knight, 9 Richie Rees, 8 Xavier Rush, 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Andy Powell, 5 Paul Tito (c), 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Taufa'au Filise, 2 Gareth Williams, 1 John Yapp.
Replacements: 16 T Rhys Thomas, 17 Darren Morris, 18 Gary Powell, 19 Deiniol Jones, 20 Robin Sowden-Taylor, 21 Gareth Cooper, 22 Ceri Sweeney, 23 Leigh Halfpenny.

Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 David Strettle, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Tosh Masson, 11 Gonzalo Camacho, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Steve Sooialo, 8 Tom Guest, 7 Will Skinner (c), 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 Jim Evans, 4 Lewis Stevenson, 3 Mark Lambert, 2 Tani Fuga, 1 Ceri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Chris Brooker, 17 Aston Croall, 18 John Andress, 19 Shane O'Connor, 20 Neil McMillan, 21 Gareth Williams, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 George Lowe.

Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Dudley Philips (Ireland), Trevor Collins (Ireland)
Television match official: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)

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