By Sion Ford
Gair Rhydd at Cardiff Arms Park
Cardiff Blues cut a frustrated group after their 12-29 loss to Glasgow Warriors, and now face an uphill challenge to progress from their Champions Cup group. An afternoon which was riddled with penalties and mistakes from both sides, it was one to forget for the home crowd.
It was Glasgow who struck first, an early try coming for the fly-half Adam Hastings after only a couple of minutes. As their backline ran the ball back to the Blues defence, they were met with little opposition and the Blues’ drift defence seemed to open more doors than it closed. An incisive break out on the right touchline saw the Warriors push deep into Blues territory, with the forwards carrying hard. After taking the ball up to within five metres of the tryline, the Warriors brought play back across the field and Hastings ghosted over to open Glasgow’s account.
Though he missed the conversion, it wasn’t too long before he had another opportunity. With only four minutes played, it was a similar story to that of of the first try. Some telling carries by the Glasgow pack moved Glasgow up to the halfway line, before the ball went wide to the backs. Some swift handling through questionable defence eventually put DTH van der Merwe clear to run in down the left touchline.
As ominous a start as it proved to be, the Blues were gifted opportunities by Glasgow to get themselves back into the match. Repeated penalties gave Gareth Anscombe the opportunity to kick the Blues pack deep into Glasgow’s territory, often spurning the opportunity to kick at goal. Through a combination of errors and pressure from the opposition pack, the Blues were unable to capitalise on any of their chances.
A frustrating opening for the Blues continued across the rest of the half. Glasgow’s carries looked destructive on almost every occasion they had the opportunity, whereas the Blues had to struggle to get over the gain line when playing tight. There were moments of hope for the onwatching fans, though, as Aled Summerhill and Dillon Lewis carried well against a stern Glaswegian defence.
Summerhill, who came into the side for the injured Owen Lane, was to prove to be one of the rare highlights of the game for Blues fans. The young winger’s pace and balance often saw him beat the first defender, but credit to the Glasgow defence they were always able to control the damage dealt.
Given how well the past few weeks have gone for the Blues, it was a noticeably uncharacteristic performance from John Mulvihill’s charges. On a couple of occasions in the first half, players could be seen exchanging verbal frustrations, and that lack of cohesion was all too clear on the pitch. At half time, the score stood at 0-15 in Glasgow’s favour, Hastings having added a penalty to maintain their advantage.
Any hopes of a comeback from the Blues seemed to have been put firmly to bed by Glasgow, as Ali Price scored early in the second half. Another break through some half-hearted defending saw van der Merwe coast behind the Blues’ defensive line, before he offloaded to his scrum half for an easy finish.
Twenty two points down and with still a whole half to play, it was beginning to feel as though the Blues were climbing a mountain already. Some fantastic work in the loose by Dillon Lewis looked to have reversed that trend, his break into the Glasgow red zone ultimately leading to the Blues’ first try, the score taken by Summerhill.
On occasion, a game that is disjointed can be the result of a whistle-happy referee, but Luke Pearce’s involvement was brought about purely by the errors both sides made. A series of knock-ons, loose passes, and poor discipline ruined the momentum of the game, and neither team was really able to make their impression on the game.
The introduction of Matthew Morgan looked to brighten things up for the home team, his attacking runs asking questions of the Glasgow Warriors’ defence, but the Blues were unable to take advantage.
Whatever faint glint of hope that Morgan’s counter-attacking offered was soon snuffed firmly out, as Glasgow crossed for their bonus point score with less than a quarter of the game to go. Adam Hastings, rightly named man of the match, looked to initiate a break through the Blues’ line in his own 22, and some sloppy tackling lead to Jonny Gray dotting down after a kick in behind the rearguard.
A second try for Aled Summerhill came in the dying moments, but if anything that score would have been a bittersweet one for the Blues management. Frustrated at the lineout in the first half, this time the home team were able to secure their own ball, and the winger crossed the line off a first-phase attack. To see this coherency, which has been present in recent weeks for the Blues, with a handful of minutes remaining was as deflating as it was welcome.
If the Blues are to make a go of the Champions Cup this year, they now face the daunting prospect of a double-header against Saracens. Off the back of today’s performance, it looks as though the Blues still have some way to go to be able to compete at the top level. That said, with expectations now reset it could pave the way for a couple of shock results, but the reality is that the Blues now travel to Bloemfontein for a clash with the Cheetahs.
Something wasn’t quite right among the Blues’ players against Glasgow, there wasn’t the fluidity which has come so easily in recent weeks. If the coaching staff and players can iron out certain details in their game, then they can get this train back on its tracks. For now, though, there will need to be a lot of reflection on this derailing.