Rugby Union: Merciless Merceron cuts down Cardiff

Montferrand 46 Cardiff 31
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The Independent Online
MONTFERRAND, unsung even in their own country, gave Cardiff an object lesson in attacking rugby. Four of their six tries had the hallmark of class, and the way they dominated will send shock waves through a competition in which other teams have been much more strongly fancied.

For Cardiff, the capitulation may mean their campaign to reach the knock- out stages is already over barely a week after it began. In four previous sorties into Europe they have fought and battled with pride. They were rated as Wales's best chance of success this season, but this was their worst ever defeat in Europe, and will have huge repercussions within their native country.

Fielding 14 capped players, Cardiff had the experience and - on paper at least - the skill to worry Montferrand, who did not exactly set the world on fire when winning 21-15 at Treviso in their opening Pool match.

But in a torrid first half Cardiff were cut to ribbons by the audaciously skilled and above all speedier Frenchmen. Four tries, superbly manufactured and clinically carried out, left the Welshmen in a daze, completely beaten at half-time by a scoreline which read 32-6.

Gerald Merceron was the architect of the victory. A fly-half with beautiful deft hands and a killer kick, Merceron toyed with and teased the opposition, so that at times Cardiff looked second rate, which they were not.

But though the French had two players, Arnaud Costes and Emmanuel Menieu, warned for eye-gouging by the referee Chuck Muir, and were sometimes cynical in other areas, they contained their temperament for long enough to seal Cardiff's fate with two more second-half tries.

It was not that Cardiff didn't tackle. They simply were outpaced by the French, who in front of 15,000 spectators, clearly had set their stall on proving their quality up front and behind.

Two Neil Jenkins penalties were Cardiff's token resistance until near the end when Martyn Williams was put over by Jenkins. The fly-half had tried hard to muster earlier response, but in truth was under pressure because of an erratic, slow service from his skipper Rob Howley. Williams then got a yellow card for a push, rather than a punch, on Alessandro Troncon. It summed up a day of misery for the visitors.

Montferrand: N Nadau; S Viars, N Gaumo (C Larrue, 73), T Marsh, D Bory (J Marlu, 62); G Merceron (capt; E Nicol, 67), A Troncon; E Menieu, Y Pedrosa (O Azam, 62), P Burnell (F Heyer, 62), D Barrier (J Thion, 62), O Merle, A Costes, O Magne, D Gabin (E Lecomte, 62).

Cardiff: M Rayer (capt; J Robinson, 76); L Botham, L Davies, G Thomas (J Robinson, 51-54), S Hill; N Jenkins, R Howley; A Lewis, J Humphreys, S John (L Mustoe, 65), C Quinnell (J Tait, 50-56, 65), M Voyle, G Kacala, (D Baugh, 50), M Williams, S Williams.

Referee: C Muir (Sco).