Cardiff leave Ryan's men facing uphill struggle

Cardiff Blues 37 Gloucester 24
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The Independent Online

The Millennium Stadium has witnessed more meaningful matches, and doubtless those of a far higher quality, but in terms of excitement and entertainment the 27,000 who gathered in the capital were treated to a thrilling encounter boasting seven tries. And the fact that they just happened to be rivals from over the border going home empty-handed cast an inevitable glow on the Cardiff dusk.

The bonus-point victory gave the Blues a healthy advantage at the top of Pool Six with what Dai Young confessed to be the "dream total" of 10 points from a possible 10. Meanwhile, Gloucester, have left themselves a battle to qualify that has a decidedly uphill feel.

"It's a big task now," admitted their coach, Dean Ryan. "This has put us on the back foot. I am disappointed we didn't win the game."

Indeed, Ryan will long wonder how they managed to emerge from a game which they, for spells, dominated with absolutely zilch to show for their phenomenally physical efforts. The very least they should have taken back over the bridge were two bonus points.

That they did not was partly down to James Simpson-Daniel's inability to touch the ball down in the closing stages (although the borderline intervention of the lock Pau Tito had plenty to do with that), but mostly to do with a sluggish start and 90 horrendous seconds just before half-time. "The game was in effect decided there and then," agreed Ryan. "We then had a game to chase that we had no need to chase." Indeed, when Gloucester had clawed back a 13-3 deficit – produced by Ben Blair's unerring right boot and an early try from the flying teenager Leigh Halfpenny – to take their own 17-13 lead courtesy of scores from Olly Morgan and Iain Balshaw, it seemed they might well lengthen clear. But then they lost their fly-half, Ryan Lamb, to a hip injury and then the man who stepped into his boots had an aberration. Olly Barkley attempted an audacious bump pass to his wings, the ball knocked forward and as the rest of the Gloucester backs waited for the whistle Halfpenny, as quick as brain as of foot, picked up and darted the 50 yards to go between the posts.

The tide was so turned and within a minute the waves crashed over the visitors. They might have believed the restart was knocked on by a Blue but there was still no excuse for them to be napping when Blair broke through to trigger a 70-yard movement which resulted in Gareth Thomas going over.

Gloucester did manage to reduce the arrears to three points straight after the break with another Balshaw try but in a game this open and with the Cherry and White error-count this high, the Blues were always going to get their chances.

And when Nicky Robinson found the gap with 20 minutes remaining and when the hooker Olivier Azam was somewhat unfairly shown the yellow card soon after, Gloucester were left to chase the consolation. There was none to be had.

Cardiff Blues: Tries Halfpenny 2, G Thomas, N Robinson; Conversions Blair 4; Penalties Blair 3. Gloucester: Tries Morgan, Balshaw 2; Conversions Barkley 3; Penalty Barkley.

Cardiff Blues: Blair; Halfpenny, J Robinson, Shanklin (J Roberts, 53), G Thomas; N Robinson, Spice (Rees, 67); Jenkins (Morgan, 76), T Thomas (G Williams, 57), G Powell (Filise, 53), Jones, Tito, Molitika, M Williams (Sowden-Taylor, 74), A Powell, J Roberts (Sweeney, 78).

Gloucester: Morgan (Walker, 44); Balshaw, Tindall, Barkley, Simpson-Daniel; Lamb (Vainikolo, 36), Cooper (R Lawson, 72); Dickinson, Azam, Nieto, Bortolami, Brown, Buxton (Hazell, 53, S Lawson, 72), Strokosch, Narraway (Eustace, 78).

Referee: A Rolland (Irl).

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