Saracens 29 Cardiff Blues 40: Shanklin shines to end Cardiff's grim away run

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The Independent Online

Tom Shanklin rather enjoyed his return to old haunts at Watford, the Wales centre making a thorough nuisance of himself in the Saracens defence with some impudent off-the-ball running, besides scoring two tries that helped end his former club's interest in the Anglo-Welsh Cup.

Cardiff, who needed a pick-me-up away from home, had already accounted for Wasps at the Arms Park and a semi-final place beckons when they tackle London Irish in early December.

The omens were not good for Cardiff. They had not won on the road since last April and on five previous visits to England since the formation of the Welsh regions in 2003, they had lost the lot. Still, there was a nice bit of Welsh magic to begin proceedings.

Nick Robinson had kicked deep to ease the pressure but when Shane Byrne missed his jumper at the ensuing line-out deep in the Saracens half, Martyn Williams poached the ball and linked up with Robinson, who sent in Marc Stcherbina for Ben Blair - who kicked 15 points in an assured display - to convert.

A Glen Jackson penalty was better news for Saracens, though their defence was breached again, a turn-over resulting in Shanklin running in from halfway. Saracens at this point were off the pace. Still, a forward drive up towards the Cardiff line saw Neil de Kock send in Tomas de Vedia with a fine reverse pass.

After Jackson had converted, it was then a penalty shoot-out between himself and Robinson, the Saracens outside half winning hands down 4-1 for a 22-15 interval lead.

That Saracens cushion was soon whipped away, Cardiff scoring two tries inside 10 minutes of second-half action. In the first instance, De Kock put in a thunderous tackle on Martyn Williams but could not keep the Cardiff captain out.

Williams' reward was to be helped off in a daze, but Cardiff kept up the pressure, Shanklin ignoring a sizeable overlap to score himself and bring up the bonus points, while Blair landed a penalty to stretch the lead to eight points.

As for the Andy Farrell affair, which is set to run and run, yesterday it was bench work for the Rugby League convert following the defeat at Irish the previous weekend. Meanwhile, the debate about his best position rages around him, though Sarries have yet to budge over confining him to the back row.

Many would love to see him at inside centre but when he came on in the 60th minute, it was only to dog it out again in the pack.

By then, there was precious little Farrell could do to stem the tide. Blair added his third penalty and then Mosese Luveitasau intercepted Ben Johnston's pass, which was intended for Farrell, and cruised over for their fifth try. Blair's conversion made it 40-22.

Johnston added a late consolation try for Sarries but it could not mask a poor display. And what about Farrell? "He will be given an opportunity at inside centre at a suitable time, at A-team level maybe," said Alan Gaffney, Saracens' director of rugby, last night.

Saracens: Tries De Vedia, Johnston. Conversions: Jackson (2). Penalties Jackson (5). Cardiff: Tries Stcherbina, Shanklin (2), Williams, Luveitasau. Conversions Blair (3). Penalties Blair 3.

Saracens: R Haughton; T de Vedia, K Sorrell, B Johnston (R Penney, 22-32), K Ratuvou; G Jackson, N de Kock (A Dickens, 65); N Lloyd, S Byrne, C Visagie (T Mercey, 75), I Fullarton (B Russell, 60), S Raiwalui (captain), K Chesney (A Farrell, 60), D Seymour, P Gustard.

Cardiff: B Blair; C Czekaj, T Shanklin (D Flannigan, 25-34), M Stcherbina, M Luveitasau; N Robinson, M Phillips; G Jenkins (J Yapp, 74), T Rhys-Thomas, G Powell, D Jones (B Davies, 74), R Sidoli, S Morgan (D Goodfield, 32-42), M Williams (captain, X Rush, 49), M Lewis.

Referee: T Spreadbury (Bristol).

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