Bourgoin 5 Cardiff Blues 13: Blair flair turns grey day Blue

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The Independent Online

Come Twickenham next May and the Heineken Cup final, before a possible 83,000 crowd, matches like this will be long forgotten. A good thing, too.

Bourgoin had only brute force as a tactic, which rendered much of the game depressingly tedious. They had enough possession to win any match, but not a shred of inspiration with which to unlock a Blues defence which was consistently organised and determined. The visitors tackled mightily, infringed consistently and slowed the game down cleverly in the second half.

Amid a sea of mediocrity, one man stood out. The Blues' full-back, Ben Blair, looked in a different class, displaying some clever running and technical excellence, especially in taking the ball at pace, and some sound reading of the game. The four-times capped All Black also had to withstand a physical battering on occasions, notably when Bourgoin's former Llanelli and Bath wing, Salesi Finau, hit him a fearsome blow with a legal tackle. Even Blair needed a few moments to recover from that.

A first half of much industry and effort was undone by many mistakes on both sides. At one point the English referee, Chris White, handed out seven consecutive penalties against the Blues, several for joining the wrong side of the maul. The lock Robert Sidoli was eventually warned for the offence, and the Blues were undermining their own hard work.

They found themselves tested severely around the fringes as Bourgoin plumped for the principle of keeping it simple, but the visitors' fly-half, Nicky Robinson, made the best break of the half. With only the Bourgoin full-back to beat, however, he passed straight to the home scrum-half, Mike Prendergast, who gratefully cleared the danger.

Bourgoin's kicking was lamentable, and their fly-half, Benjamin Boyet, missed two first-half penalties and a drop-goal chance. The Blues wing Chris Czekaj got over the line, but he was hit hard as he dived and the video referee confirmed that the ball had been lost forward.Blair, however, ended the half with a 42-metre penalty to add to a 47-metre effort in the eighth minute of the match.

Bourgoin hammered away for much of the second half, but the only try they managed was a crash-over from close range near the end, from the flanker Brice Monzeglio. By then the Blues had wrapped up the game, thanks to a 75-metre breakaway try.

Their captain, the flanker Martyn Williams, intercepted Finau's pass and booted the ball downfield, where the centre Marc Stcherbina flipped it up and back into the arms of the move's originator, who ran in unopposed. Blair converted.

Bourgoin: F Denos (M Nicolas, 75); D Janin, G Bousses, I Giorgadze, S Finau; B Boyet (S Laloo, 68), M Prendergast; D Khinchagishvili, B Cabello (R Vigneaux, 40), O Sourgens (P Paryon, 40), J Pierre (B Williams, 72), D Fevre, A Petrilli (J Frier, 61), J Bonnaire (capt), B Monzeglio.

Cardiff: B Blair (N McLeod, 69); C Czekaj, T Shanklin, M Stcherbina, M Luveitasau; N Robinson, M Phillips; G Jenkins, R Thomas, G Powell (T Filise, 59), D Jones, R Sidoli, S Morgan, M Lewis, M Williams (capt).

Referee: C White (England).