Cardiff 31 London Irish 7: Czekaj leads Cardiff into semi-finals

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The Independent Online

Cardiff Blues booked the first semi-final berth in the EDF Energy Cup without expending too much gas of their own with a comfortable win over London Irish last night.

The Welsh region side had too much strength and craft for the Exiles who turned in a stuttering display, strewn with errors.

Chris Czekaj scored twice after Martyn Williams broke the seal as the Blues cruised into the semi-finals to be staged next door at the Millennium Stadium. With the Ospreys and Llanelli Scarlets also in contention today, this Anglo-Welsh competition could have a distinctly red tinge come the final in Twickenham next April.

This was a commanding performance from Cardiff, following victories over Saracens and Wasps, as the Blues punished their opponents' lineout frailty despite the return of several forwards from Test duty to the Exiles' pack.

Irish hooker David Paice will have nightmares over his first 40 minutes during which he gifted Cardiff possession with his erratic throwing and the Blues duly ran riot.

Despite their dominance, it took Cardiff more than half an hour to breach a resilient Irish defence that pushed referee Nigel Owens to the limit as the pressure mounted.

Three penalties from the unerring boot of Ben Blair put Cardiff in front after they had been caught cold by Richard Rees on 13 minutes and they rarely looked like relinquishing their grip from then on.

Welshman Rees sent Justin Bishop over for a try for the visitors against the run of play on 13 minutes but it was one-way traffic from then on. Former All Black No8 Xavier Rush led from the front in robust style, Williams snapped away at the fringes and young lock James Goode bossed the lineouts from which Cardiff scored twice. Rush, Mike Phillips and Gethin Jenkins went close before Williams picked his angle and waited for the dogleg to appear in the Irish defence before sliding over.

Czekaj followed before the break after Sailosi Tagicakibau was caught ball watching and sealed victory from Nick Robinson's well-aimed cross-field kick.

Cardiff: Tries Czekaj (2), M Williams. Conversions Blair (2); Penalties Blair (4)

London Irish: Try Bishop; Con Geraghty.

Cardiff: B Blair; M Luveitasau, J Robinson (N MacLeod, 73), M Stcherbina (T Shanklin, 64), C Czekaj; N Robinson, M Phillips (W Evans, 78); G Jenkins (J Yapp, 75), R Thomas, T Filise, D Jones, J Goode (B Davies, 70), S Morgan, X Rush (capt), M Williams (M Lewis, 78).

London Irish: D Armitage; J Bishop (M Horak, 80), D Feaunati, S Mapusua, S Tagicakibau; S Geraghty (B Everitt, 60), R Rees (P Hodgson, 69); M Collins (D Fitter, h-t), D Paice, T Lea'aetoa, J Hudson (N Kennedy, 45), B Casey (capt), A McCullen, J Leguizamon (P Murphy, 64), S Armitage.

Referee: N Owens (WRU).

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