A week before this highly significant Heineken Cup fixture at the Arms Park, the Cardiff Blues coach David Young could be heard telling all and sundry that even if the Welsh province contrived to find a route into the quarter-finals, they would be guilty of self-delusion on a grand scale if they imagined themselves to be among the top eight sides in Europe. Anyone suspecting Young of false modesty should have been in town on Saturday afternoon to watch Perpignan, very definitely one of the leading octet, authenticate every syllable expressed by the old Lions prop.
The Catalans were better in every department, and miles better in most. They prevailed at scrum and line-out, they were kings of the castle in the driving mauls, they were more ruthless at the breakdown, they had a monopoly on ideas at half-back and they attacked from greater depth, running angles their opponents would have struggled to find on a protractor. If Perpignan's 21 points were scant reward for their supremacy, the Blues were lucky to score the three they did. Teams have lost by 40 in this tournament and been more competitive.
Restricted to occasional individual flurries from Andy Powell, who started brightly with ball in hand before being swept away on a flood tide of defensive chores, and Xavier Rush, who worked his All Black fingers to the bone with little hope of a decent return, the Blues were dead meat long before half time, even though they reached the interval only a couple of points adrift. The fact that they had Jonah Lomu lurking on the left wing was utterly irrelevant. The big bloke can still break a tackle, but when it comes to shifting his carcass he is more millstone than Mill Reef.
There remains a remote chance that the Welshmen will qualify for the knock-out stages as one of the two best runners-up, but Perpignan are the really interesting ones. If they secure a home quarter-final, they intend to play it in Barcelona, where upwards of 50,000 spectators will participate in a frenzy of Catalonian sporting nationalism. As Manny Edmonds, the former New South Wales outside-half who now revels in making things happen from the full-back position, confirmed, this bold experiment is one of the principal driving forces behind the team's European campaign.
Rather like Scott Robertson, the ex-All Black back-rower, and Nathan Hines, the Australian-born lock who played for Scotland in the last World Cup, Edmonds is revelling in the fury and fluidity of the top end of club rugby in France. "When I played for the Waratahs in Sydney, things were a little too structured for my liking," he said.
"Here, there is a line-out call and a back-line call and that's your lot. There are so many superb athletes in the French game and they can all beat a man one on one. You need some structure, obviously, and discipline is important, but I love the idea of a team playing it as they see it."
There were moments in the opening period when Perpignan looked capable of producing the stuff of dreams. As it turned out, both their tries owed something to the defensive hesitancy of the Blues' captain Rhys Williams, although the first of them did feature a blinding run from the powerful Romanian hooker Marius Tincu and a resourceful finish at the left flag from Jean-Philippe Grandclaude.
The centre did not last much longer - he was away with the fairies when he was led from the field at the end of the half - but his replacement David Marty followed him on to the scoresheet by beating Williams to Nicolas Laharrague's sly little prod into the in-goal area midway through the final quarter.
"We were not out-passioned, but we were certainly outplayed," said Young. There was a time when Perpignan brought too much passion to these big Heineken Cup ties. Now they prefer to concentrate on the playing. It suits them.
Cardiff Blues: Penalty MacLeod. Perpignan: Tries Grandclaude, Marty; Conversion Laharrague; Penalties Laharrague 3.
Cardiff Blues: R Williams (capt); C Morgan (R Warren, 32-40; L Thomas 70), J Robinson, M Stcherbina, J Lomu; N MacLeod (Warren, 61), M Phillips; G Jenkins (J Yapp, 61), R Thomas (D Goodfield, 64), M Jones, D Jones (C Quinnell, 65), R Sidoli, A Powell (R Sowden-Taylor, 77), M Williams, X Rush.
Perpignan: M Edmonds; C Manas, G Hume, J-P Grandclaude (D Marty, 40), S Naulu; N Laharrague, N Durand; P Freshwater (V Debaty, 28-32; 76), M Tincu (M Konieck, 67), N Mas, C Gaston, N Hines, G Le Courvec (V Vaki, 67), B Goutta (capt, O Tonita, 76-80), S Robertson (R Alvarez Kairelis, 76).
Referee: A Spreadbury (England).Reuse content