McRae guides Gloucester through the mayhem

Cardiff Blues 16 - Gloucester 23
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The Independent Online

It is not unknown for an Anglo-Welsh scrap to kick off with some fisticuffs to settle the nerves, but this one went down in a blaze of goriness, with a player from each side sent to the sin-bin after a series of fights in the dying minutes.

It is not unknown for an Anglo-Welsh scrap to kick off with some fisticuffs to settle the nerves, but this one went down in a blaze of goriness, with a player from each side sent to the sin-bin after a series of fights in the dying minutes.

It was not enough to deflect Gloucester from a deserved victory which, with the defeat of Stade Français by Ulster in Belfast, keeps Pool Six wide open, though not wide enough for the Blues.

Gloucester were 20-9 in front with 68 minutes gone when they ran in what appeared to be their third try, only for play to be brought back at a touch-judge's behest. After a flurry of fists off the ball, the visiting tight-head prop, Gary Powell - a Cardiff player a couple of years back - was singled out for a yellow card, and the "try" chalked off. But John Yapp and Adam Eus-tace could count themselves lucky not to go as well.

Almost from the restart, another all-in bout was sparked by Deiniol Jones's late tackle on Jake Boer - although Boer appeared to reply with a blatant right-hander, amazingly Jones alone went to the touchline. On this occasion the Blues paid the forfeit, with a penalty reversed in Gloucester's favour. Henry Paul converted the kick - the centre's third penalty goal of the final quarter - and a Blues try in response from Craig Morgan converted by Lee Thomas was of only academic interest.

"We went in front and played a bit of rugby, and there's no better way [for the opposition] to knock you out of stride than to get some niggle going," said Adam Balding, the Gloucester No 8 and man of the match. The Blues' head coach, Dai Young, said he would not be scouring the videotape for possible citings.

We'll see. Anyway, Young would be better concentrating on his side's defence, which allowed Marcel Garvey to score from a long way out in the 34th minute, and parted again nine minutes into the second half to let Jon Goodridge through.

The result apart, it was a rare good afternoon for the Blues, whose recent accounts showed what is thought to be a stabilising "soft loan" of £1.5m from the Cardiff RFC chairman, Peter Thomas. More than a few quid was spent by the Gloucester fans, who filled most of the North Terrace along one touchline and contributed mightily to a tingling atmosphere.

The locals could hardly have been enticed by the record of the Blues and their Cardiff predecessors of two wins in the last 16 Heineken Cup matches before yesterday. Yet with Paul off-target twice with penalties in the first quarter, and Lee Thomas putting two out of three over for the Blues, there was the initial fillip of a 6-0 lead for the home side. Then Garvey took Terry Fanolua's long pass on the right wing, and burned off Craig Morgan and a couple of other Blues besides with a 30-metre finish. Paul converted off a post and Gloucester nosed ahead 7-6 at half-time.

It seems to be jobs for the boys in these parts, with Young already joined by Neil Jenkins, assisting the kickers, and Rob Howley due soon as defence and skills coach. Lee Thomas could have done with Jenkins's legendary accuracy when he put a presentable chance wide soon after Goodridge had maximised a superbly weighted grubber by Duncan McRae. Though Thomas recovered his poise with a third successful penalty, McRae - making a return from six weeks out with a neck injury - was the star turn at fly-half.

Gloucester were consistently in difficulty at the breakdown, with Martyn Williams foraging excellently for the Blues; otherwise, the cries of "seconds out" not-withstanding, their European campaign rolls on.

Cardiff Blues: R Williams (N Macleod, 72); F Tuilagi, S James, T Shanklin, C Morgan; L Thomas, R Powell; G Jenkins, R Thomas (G Williams, 76), M Jones (J Yapp, 53), D Jones, R Sidoli, N Thomas (R Sowden-Taylor, 66), K Schubert, M Williams (capt).

Gloucester: J Goodridge; M Garvey, T Fanolua (N Mauger, 61), H Paul, J Bailey; D McRae, A Gomarsall; C Bezuidenhout, J Parkes, G Powell, A Eustace, M Cornwell (A Brown, 44), J Forrester (P Buxton, 73), A Balding, J Boer (capt).

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).

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