The Blues did not make the greatest of contributions to environmental sustainability yesterday, given that the Arms Park floodlights were on before 2pm despite the pitch being bathed in late autumn sunshine. But whatever carbon footprint the Welsh club left behind them in this opening Heineken Cup fixture, it was nowhere near as evident as the fingerprints that identified three players – the full-back Ben Blair, the centre Tom Shanklin and the flanker Martyn Wiliams – as the men at the heart of a decisive bonus-point victory.
If Blair and Shanklin, opposites in style but identical in impact, were terrific in their broken-field running, Williams was better still. Bristol made the short trip across the Severn Bridge in excellent heart, having recently sharpened up their Premiership act, but they had no one with the skill set, the know-how or the pedigree of the Lions open-side, who ran rings round his opponents. Williams called time on his 11-year international career after the World Cup but the new Wales coach, Warren Gatland, will be on the phone soon enough, especially as there is no obvious successor among the ranks of the breakaways.
"There will be no change of mind," Williams said yesterday after scoring two of his side's four tries. "I'm not the biggest bloke in the game and playing Test rugby for that amount of time is very demanding. It was in the back of my mind when I made the decision that it would prolong my career at club level and I'm happy with what I'm doing here. I won't be going back on my word."
In which case, Wales's loss is Cardiff's gain. Once the game freed itself up in the second half, partly because the Blues upped the pace after a lumpen opening period that played straight into the hands of the powerful Bristol pack and partly because Darren Crompton, the visiting loose-head prop, was sent to the sin-bin for a fairly innocent high tackle on Shanklin, there was no stopping Williams. His first try, on 70 minutes, was a shoo-in – it is doubtful whether he has ever messed up a two-on-one overlap, let alone the four-on-one opportunity with which he was presented here. The second, eight minutes later, was well worth watching, not only for the flanker's intelligent finish but also for the approach work of Blair and Shanklin, together with the young wing Tom James.
Those scores opened up a 21-point lead that rendered Tom Arscott's late reply in the left corner entirely irrelevant, but for 50 minutes or so the contest was very much alive. Indeed, the visitors were so comfortable in the heavy congestion that slowed the first half to a standstill that there was every prospect of the Blues suffocating in the exhaust fumes. Ten points ahead in first-half stoppage time, Bristol would have turned round with a healthy advantage but for a couple of costly faux pas in their own 22.
First, Mark Regan was pulled up for a crooked throw. From the scrum, Xavier Rush drove off the back before the inexperienced outside-half Dai Flanagan, stiff and ungainly until that point, chipped cleverly over an out-of-sync defensive line for Jamie Robinson to score at the posts. Following Crompton's indiscretion, Maama Molitika scored the most dubious of tries in the left corner – Peter Fitzgibbon, the Irish referee, had not inspired much in the way of confidence, so it was no great surprise that he declined to consult the television match official. From there on in, it was one-way traffic.
Cardiff Blues: Tries M Williams 2, Robinson, Molitika; Conversions Blair 4; Penalties Blair 2. Bristol: Tries Hill, Arscott; Conversion Strange; Penalties Strange 2.
Cardiff Blues: B Blair; T James, J Robinson (T Selley, 80), T Shanklin, G Thomas; D Flanagan, J Spice (R Rees, 76; S Morgan 79); J Yapp (G Jenkins, 56), G Williams (T Rhys Thomas, 68), T Filise, D Jones (R Sidoli, 76), P Tito (Sidoli 34-40), M Molitika, M Williams, X Rush (capt).
Bristol: D Hill (J Taumalolo, 68); T Arscott, R Higgitt, S Cox, L Robinson; J Strange (B O'Riordan, 80), S Perry; D Crompton (A Clarke, 63), M Regan (D Blaney, 74), J Hobson (Crompton, 72), N Budgett (R Winters, 57), S Hohneck, M Salter (capt, D Ward-Smith, 57), J El Abd (A To'oala, 40), A Blowers.
Referee: P Fitzgibbon (Ireland).Reuse content