Heineken Cup: Cardiff Blues suffer a first-half horror show as Exeter go on rampage

Exeter 44 Cardiff Blues 29

A little over 48 minutes into one of European rugby’s “Looney Tunes” productions – a game in which a team boasting 13 full internationals and five Test Lions were being comprehensively marmalised by opponents nowhere near as blessed on either count – the French referee Jérôme Garces found himself in the middle of some loose-ball chaos and was duly dumped on his posterior. It was just about the first time the visitors had completed a tackle, such was the inadequacy of their defensive performance… and even then they nailed the wrong bloke.

At this point, the Blues were 36-3 down, having conceded five first-half tries to an Exeter side who operated with width, tempo and a clear sense of direction but were still some way short of playing the rugby of the gods. Or to put it another way, they were armed with Dave Ewers, Dave Lewis, Gareth Steenson and Fetu’u Vainikolo – not Mervyn Davies, Gareth Edwards, Barry John and JJ Williams.

Not long afterwards, they were another five points to the bad, having waved Steenson through on the dummy and seen Ian Whitten complete the kind of try that would have tempted the coach of Old Rubbishonians Extra 4ths to hang himself from one of the crossbars. “We were,” admitted the Blues boss Phil Davies, “disappointed with what happened before the interval.” Disappointed?  “Maybe I’m understating it a little,” he conceded on reflection.

If Davies had his critics in Wales before kick-off, there were a whole lot more of them on his case by the mid-point of the contest. The Blues would have had to go some to plumb the lowest depths of their Heineken Cup experience – a decade ago, they shipped 75 points and leaked 13 tries in Biarritz – but when Whitten ambled over without a care in the world, they seemed ready to give it their best shot. By all accounts, the response on social media was profoundly anti-social.

Yet by some strange twist of fate, the Welshmen spent the last half-hour of a horrible afternoon salvaging a collective reputation that had descended to somewhere near the earth’s core. They scored four tries of their own, thereby securing a bonus point that may count for something come the end of the pool phase, and almost put themselves in a position to win the game – or, at the very least, take a  second bonus back across the bridge.

Exeter, who had looked a million dollars in the opening stanza largely because the Blues were barely worth a groat, conceded soft tries to Lloyd Williams and Robin Copeland, both from poorly controlled rucks, and then contrived to commit two yellow-card offences in the space of 60 seconds. Whitten was the first to take up residence in the cooler after knocking-on deliberately, and he was quickly joined by Sireli Naqelevuki, who hit Harry Robinson hard and high. During their absence, the outstanding Lions wing Alex Cuthbert and a recuperating Robinson crossed for tries that closed the deficit to a mere dozen points.

Cue panic stations. One loose Exeter kick towards Cuthbert, who ran himself stupid in the most determined of attempts to salvage something of value from the debris, might have turned the game entirely on its head, but things did not quite fall for him. The final score fell to the Devonians instead: a 76th-minute penalty from the substitute outside-half Henry Slade. It says a good deal for the weirdness of the occasion that a side who had led 41-3 were relieved to knock over a kick with four minutes left on the clock.

So what the hell happened in that first half? Davies, suitably bemused, answered the question with a challenge of the “you tell me” variety. It didn’t wash with the travelling interrogators, who continued to track their prey like hunting dogs, peppering him with questions about his future – by which they meant the lack of it. The rugby director stood firm. “Pointing fingers is no good,” he said, finally. “Everything comes back to me, but we’re all in this together. I’m not the one out on the field.”

Which was true enough. It was equally true that Davies’ interval address hit the spot – and yes, it was he who did most of the talking, rather than the captain Matthew Rees or the Lions leader Sam Warburton or the hero of last summer’s long-awaited triumph in Wallaby land, Leigh Halfpenny. But he will have to be more inspirational still when the European champions Toulon visit the Arms Park this weekend if the worst of his side’s rugby here is to be forgotten by those unfortunate enough to witness it.

Injury problems had left the Blues light in midfield and Exeter took full advantage, largely through the strong-running Vainikolo and the centre Jason Shoemark, whose strong-pulling in midfield was worthy of a master puppeteer. The visitors also found the best of the home forwards, the fast-developing No 8 Ewers, too hot to handle.

But as Davies would readily acknowledge, tackling of the optional variety is the worst option of all. It was hard to believe that such luminaries as Rees, Warburton, Gethin Jenkins and Bradley Davies had ever been involved in a more limp-wristed, half-baked, wholly inadequate half of rugby in their careers.

Rob Baxter, the Exeter rugby director, said afterwards that in terms of “tempo, attitude, strength of carry and speed of thought in support, that was as good as anything I’ve seen us produce”. He should know. But being the hard-headed union man he is, he must also be aware that when his team meet Glasgow at Scotstoun in six days’ time, they will not find themselves facing such enthusiastic adherents to the free gift philosophy of rugby.

Not that he would consider swapping places with Davies right now. There are any number of issues that need tackling in the Welsh regional game, politically and economically as well as competitively. Where to begin? The odd tackle on the field might be as good a starting point as any.

Scorers: Exeter – Tries: Johnson, Mumm, Jess, Vainikolo, White, Whitten. Conversions: Steenson 4.Penalties: Steenson, Slade. Cardiff Blues – Tries: Williams, Copeland, Cuthbert, Robinson. Conversions: Halfpenny 3. Penalty: Halfpenny.

Exeter: P Dollman; M Jess, I Whitten, J Shoemark (S Naqelevuki 57), F Vainikolo; G Steenson (H Slade 55), D Lewis (H Thomas 47); B Sturgess, C Whitehead (J Yeandle 48), H Tui (C Rimmer 51-72), D Mumm (capt), D Welch (D Armand 62), T Johnson (K Horstmann 33), B White, D Ewers.

Cardiff Blues: L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, C Allen, D Hewitt, H Robinson (R Smith 76); R Patchell (G Davies 75), L Williams (L Jones 75); G Jenkins (S Hobbs 73), M Rees (capt, M Breeze 76), T Filise (S Andrews 51), B Davies, F Paulo (L Reed 51), J Navidi, S Warburton, A Pretorious (R Copeland 51).

Referee: J Garces (France).

News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album