Williams seals win for Blues

Cardiff Blues 18 - N-G Dragons 8
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The hard-working Cardiff captain Martyn Williams's 79th-minute try sealed victory in a hard-fought tussle at a windy Arms Park last night.

The hard-working Cardiff captain Martyn Williams's 79th-minute try sealed victory in a hard-fought tussle at a windy Arms Park last night.

The former Australian rugby league coach Chris Anderson's tactical machinations were in vain as the Blues ground out a crucial victory over his side, who had plenty of chances to win in front of 6,000 fans.

The Irish referee, Alain Rolland, dominated the early exchanges, whistling at every opportunity as the swirling wind made handling difficult. The Dragons kept the ball in the pack with some impressive driving mauls, but reaped a reward the first time they spun it wide. The centre Hal Luscombe made the break and gave the speedy winger Gareth Wyatt the space to dive over in the corner.

The Blues finally entered opposition territory in the 15th minute and their burly fly-half Lee Thomas kicked a 40-metre penalty goal that sneaked over the crossbar.

The Blues' defensive line held firm under pressure, inspired by the centre Tristan Davies' huge tackle that had the Dragons hooker, Steve Jones, wondering what day of the week it was.

In only their second stint in the Dragons' half, the home side took the lead. The scrum-half Richard Smith dived on a charged-down kick to score his side's first try of the season - and his first in 16 months - and Thomas made no mistake with the conversion to give the Blues a five-point lead despite having less than a third of the possession.

Smith went from hero to zero when his mistake allowed Ceri Sweeney to narrow the margin with a penalty goal from in front, but the Blues finished the half on the attack and leading 10-8.

In the second half, it was the Dragons' turn to play into a biting wind, and that is a type of game that suits the Rodney Parade side perfectly. Without the razzle-dazzle of the Springbok star Percy Montgomery at full-back, the Dragons keep the ball tight, and they seemed quite prepared to hold on to it for the whole 40 minutes, making a metre of territory with each phase.

But the Blues could smell a much-needed victory, and pressured the visitors into making mistakes. Thomas kicked a handy penalty goal, and Anderson sent on the Wales No 9 Gareth Cooper in his last throw of the dice.

It nearly worked, as the little scrum-half burst through a line-out close to the Blues line, but he was brought down short and the home side held on for a nail-biting victory.

Cardiff: R Williams; J Vaughton, T Shanklin, T Davies, C Morgan; L Thomas, R Smith; G Jenkins, G Williams, B Evans (M Jones, 65), C Quinnell (D Jones, 80), R Sidoli, N Thomas, K Schubert, M Williams (capt).

Dragons: K Morgan; G Wyatt, H Luscombe, J Bryant (S Tuipulotu, 65), N Brew; C Sweeney, G Baber (G Cooper, 60); R Snow (A Black, 52), S Jones, C Anthony, I Gough, M Owen (P Sidoli, 33), J Ringer, R Bryan, J Forster (capt).

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland)