Some critics said Harlequins should never have been here; that the punishment for "Bloodgate" should have included chucking them out of the Heineken Cup. You wondered at the London club's own commitment to the competition when they rested their England senior squad members, Ugo Monye, Danny Care and Nick Easter, for this match, although the relevant rules stipulate a club is obliged to go short, somehow, somewhere, at this stage of the season. The Cardiff Blues had, like Quins, begun with one win in five league matches. Second-half tries by Tom James and Leigh Halfpenny provided a welcome lift for last year's European semi-finalists.
Regulations, regulations, regulations. First, the missing Quins trio. They could have taken the weekend's rest prescribed for them under the elite player scheme for either of the past fortnight's Premiership fixtures, against Newcastle and Bath, or next week's home match with Toulouse. The club chose yesterday, and also to leave them out en bloc. John Kingston, the head coach, explained that a return of one point from the first three Premiership matches had forced him to concentrate on the league, for the time being. "Put yourself in my shoes," pleaded Kingston. There were not many takers.
As for Quins in Europe, the tournament organisers decided in July not to seek their expulsion over the fake-blood scam in last season's quarter-final, citing the "logistics" of re- drawing the pool fixtures. There was sportingly warm applause when the English side took to the pitch for the first Heineken tie at this stadium. It is very blue, as you might expect of a ground rented by the Blues for rugby from the owners, Cardiff City FC (nickname the Bluebirds). Even the basins in the loos are blue. Otherwise it looks a bit like those of the Ospreys in Swansea and the Scarlets in Llanelli, all giant window panes and blocks of seating when it ought to be feral and beastly. This is south Wales rugby, for goodness' sake. The Arms Park has been deemed out of date, but surely a clever architect could have worked in some peeling paint and a smell of fags and stale best bitter.
Kingston was understandably frustrated that 20 minutes of almost constant pressure which began just before the final quarter yielded just one penalty for Quins and a breakaway, clinching try for the Blues, by Halfpenny. Perhaps if Easter had been there to marshal resources as he had done last week against Bath... And so the circular debate went on.
There was a counter-balance, with the Blues missing two top forwards, Martyn Williams and Gethin Jenkins, who had done so much to get them to the semi-final and final of the Heineken and Anglo-Welsh Cups respectively last season. Things were tipping in Quins' favour just before half-time when the Blues captain, Paul Tito, was knocked cold in an accidental clash of heads with Gonzalo Tiesi and became the fourth Cardiffian to go off injured. That included Gareth Thomas, who pulled up in agony with a torn groin during a rare threequarter move.
At that stage the Blues led 6-3 with two penalties by Ben Blair to one from Nick Evans, who had also missed from 35 and 40 metres. Halfpenny came on for Thomas, and he and Blair missed with three kicks in the third quarter. But though Quins had an advantage in the scrum, the opening try went to the Blues after 42 minutes. Jamie Roberts, the star of the summer's Lions tour, made a typical half-break, getting the ball outside his tackler's grasp to Tom Shanklin, and Sam Norton-Knight, despite a momentary stutter, sent James over.
Blair converted for 13-3, Evans kicked a second penalty after 63 minutes and, in the modern surroundings, there were echoes of age-old Anglo-Welsh divides. Yeomen English forwards driving hard – Chris Robshaw, Will Skinner and Chris Brooker among them – and a jittery fumble by a full-back, Mike Brown, when the defences were momentarily ajar. Poor Brown spilled Tosh Masson's pass with Dave Strettle outside him on 69 minutes, and also had the ignominious task of giving chase to Halfpenny as he ran on to Deiniol Jones's hefty punt.
There was one other notable absentee, of course: the suspended Harlequins wing Tom Williams, who was once lined up to be a Blue when he represented Welsh Schools, before coming down on the English side of the border. Kingston is heartily fed up with answering questions about Bloodgate. He will not have to once Quins get around to appointing a director of rugby, with names such as Nick Mallett and John Connolly having been tossed into the speculative mix, with Ian McGeechan's. The Blues' head honcho, Dai Young, would have been a contrasting picture of serenity – the young Wales flanker Sam Warburton's gutsy display was one reason for cheer – were it not for all the injuries. John Yapp is out for four months with torn biceps; Bradley Davies joined Tito in hospital for a neck scan.
"This squad works their socks off for each other," said Young, and the same was true of Harlequins. What a shame they were not all there.
Cardiff Blues B Blair; G Thomas (L Halfpenny, 23), T Shanklin, J Roberts, T James; S Norton-Knight, R Rees (G Cooper, 79); J Yapp (G Powell, 29-38; S Hobbs, 73), G Williams, T Filise (G Powell, 66), B Davies (D Jones, 32), P Tito (capt), A Powell, X Rush (R Sowden-Taylor, 38), S Warburton.
Harlequins M Brown; D Strettle, G Tiesi, T Masson, G Camacho (G Lowe, 37); N Evans, S So'oialo; C Jones, T Fuga (C Brooker, 60), M Lambert (A Croall, 60), L Stevenson, J Evans (S O'Connor, 60), C Robshaw, T Guest, W Skinner (capt).
Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).Reuse content