Milan is known as a great culinary centre, so it should not be beyond their rugby players to keep the lid on a few simmering saucepans. Theory and practice are two different things, though, and the Italians boiled over at the Arms Park yesterday just when they looked most capable of halting Cardiff's march towards a place in the last eight of the Heineken European Cup.
Armed with a diamond of an outside-half in Diego Dominguez and a quality line-out courtesy of Pierpaolo Pedroni and Gianbattista Croci, the Pool B whipping boys recovered so strongly from a calamitous start - Cardiff were 17 points up in as many minutes - that midway through the third quarter, an upset was on the cards.
But instead of staying calm and allowing Dominguez to turn the screw with his almost regal right boot, they allowed their tempers to gain the upper hand. Orazio Arancio and Franco Properzi were the biggest culprits and the latter, experienced enough at international level to have known better, was lucky to stay on the field after a stamp on Andrew Lewis 17 minutes from time.
Cardiff, who had struggled to exert any real authority up front in the absence of the injured Emyr Lewis, took advantage of the self-destructive mayhem to pull away from the perilous waters of 23-16 and reach the quarter- finals in relative safety. Justin Thomas and Mark Bennett scored late tries and with Lee Jarvis rattling up 21 points with the boot, the final scoreline did Milan no favours at all.
Thanks to the extraordinary result at Wasps on Saturday, the Welshmen are now well set to snatch a home tie from under the noses of the reigning champions and pre-tournament favourites Toulouse. However, none of their potential opponents - Bath, Dax and Pontypridd are the candidates - would have been too frightened by yesterday's underbaked display.
Cardiff were handicapped when they lost Derwyn Jones, their most reliable source of primary possession, who injured his right leg in the warm-up. There was little to write home about in the loose, where Hemi Taylor seemed to be fighting a lone battle, and although Thomas was full of running at full-back, he delivered enough hospital passes to fill a casualty ward.
All the same, the home side hit the ground running when Mike Hall, their former national captain, weaved over from 20 metres in the sixth minute. Six minutes later Rob Howley pounced on a loose tap from a line-out to double the score and Jarvis landed his first penalty.
Once the Italians settled, however, Dominguez cut the deficit with two penalties in the second quarter and when hooker Alberto Marengoni scrambled over from a tapped penalty, Cardiff faced an uncomfortable ride for the rest of the game.
Cardiff: Tries Hall, Howley, Thomas, Bennett; Conversions Jarvis 3; Penalties Jarvis 5. Milan: Try Marengoni; Conversion Dominguez; Penalties Dominguez 4.
Cardiff: J Thomas; S Hill, M Hall, L Davies, N Walker; L Jarvis, R Howley; A Lewis (L Mustoe, 72), J Humphreys, D Young, J Wakeford, K Stewart (L Jones, 27), M Bennett, H Taylor (capt), J Ringer.
Milan: F Williams (M Platania, 43); R Crotti, M Bonomi, M Tommasi, M Cuttitta; D Dominguez, F Gomez; S Cerioni, A Marengoni, F Properzi, P Pedroni (capt), G Croci, C Orlandi, O Arancio, D Beretta.
Referee: B Perez (France).Reuse content