Rugby Union: Lacroix's guile inspires Quins

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The Independent Online
Cardiff 21

Harlequins 28

The poor, persecuted Welsh have seen enough Frenchmen to last them a lifetime. As if the recent cross-Channel trials of Pontypridd and Llanelli were not sufficient to blow a gaping hole in the rugby morale of the principality, Cardiff's defences disappeared without trace against the guile of Thierry Lacroix and the finishing power of Laurent Belligoi. Harlequins thus became the first side to breach the Arms Park stronghold in three seasons of Heineken Cup competition.

That the Londoners deserved their hugely satisfying and significant victory was beyond question. They scored three quality tries without reply and once they had dusted themselves down after a frantic and distinctly uncomfortable opening quarter, they were quicker, sharper and more direct than their leaden opponents. What was more, Keith Wood and his fellow forwards were committed enough to play a full and frank part in the tough stuff. These Quins are no soft touch.

Nine points adrift to three early Lee Jarvis penalties, Quins delivered a statement of intent with stunning effect by scoring 17 of their own in the space of five minutes midway through the first half. Lacroix set the ball rolling with a penalty and when Jarvis was marginally too long with his restart, Will Carling's oblique pass sent Daren O'Leary haring 70 metres upfield. The resulting overlap was almost impossible to foul up and Jamie Williams duly touched down in the left corner.

Quins then moved from the sublime to something approaching the ridiculous. Lacroix's bold run into the Cardiff 22 was snuffed out by a posse of Welshmen, but Wood was alert enough to sell Derwyn Jones and Tony Rees down the River Taff with a startling side-step en route to the posts. The front row union really will have to consider censoring the irrepressible Irishman if he continues to throw tradition to the four winds.

By this time, Lacroix was wonderfully clued in to the contest. One absolute pearl of a break 10 minutes into the second half opened up the entire field for his outside backs, but O'Leary dropped Rob Liley's scoring pass five metres from the line.

A brace of Jarvis penalties gave Cardiff a one-point lead as the game moved into the final quarter, but Quins were by some distance the calmer outfit and when Belligoi took advantage of a rebound to slip past Steve Wake's miss-timed tackle on an angled run to the line, the dye was cast. Lacroix tied it up with a 75th minute penalty and all Cardiff could offer was Rees' unpleasant tap-dance routine on the head of Gareth Llewellyn, the anglicised Welshman from Neath.

A couple of celebratory pints were probably enough to douse Llewellyn's anger, however; he knows better than any Englishman just how much it takes to beat Cardiff on home soil.

Cardiff: Penalties Jarvis 7. Harlequins: Tries Williams, Wood, Belligoi. Conversions Lacroix 2. Penalties Lacroix 3.

Cardiff: R Ross; S Ford, L Davies, G Jones, S Hill; L Jarvis, S Wake (J Hewett, 78); A Lewis, J Humphreys (capt), D Young, A Rees, D Jones, G Kacala, E Lewis, G Jones (S Williams, 65).

Harlequins: J Williams (R Liley, 47); D O'Leary (S Power, 73), W Carling (N Walshe, 78), J Ngauamo, L Belligoi; T Lacroix, H Harries; M Cuttitta, K Wood (capt), J Leonard, G Llewellyn (Gross, 63), L Gross (G Allison, 61), R Jenkins, W Davison, L Cabannes (Llewellyn, 69).

Referee: D Mene (France).

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