Yachvili's decisive miss adds to sense of reprieve for Cardiff

Cardiff Blues 21 Biarritz 20
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The Independent Online

No sooner had one rumour about the fate of Cardiff Blues been consigned to history than another was flying around the Arms Park, swirling among the "No To Merger" leaflets after a thrilling and dramatic match which had ended two years of European misery for the Welsh club.

For the last fortnight the talk had been of a proposed union between Cardiff and the Bridgend-based Celtic Warriors. Peter Thomas, Cardiff's millionaire owner, had made the suggestion to the Warriors' chief executive, Leighton Samuel.

It caused an immediate outcry throughout the Welsh capital that was to be capped with with a pre-match demonstration. Then, late on Friday, Samuel declared such a deal "dead in the water", for practical and historical, as well as financial reasons.

For one thing Cardiff Athletic Club, who own the Arms Park and have a 28 per cent stake in the rugby club, would not let the hybrid team play on their hallowed turf. Furthermore, supporters from both sides had made it clear that they would not travel to the other's ground to watch the new team play.

To top it all, no one in the Welsh capital would accept the name of Cardiff disappearing from any merged side, which Samuel insisted would be the case in the event of the proposal going ahead.

But although Samuel's statement came as something of a relief, anxious fans were still seeking signatures for a petition condemning any idea of a merger before kick-off on Saturday. "We still fear for Cardiff's future," said Alan Corcoran, who for more than 20 years, sat on the supporters' club committee and had come out of "retirement" to help with the resistance movement. "OK, so the merger is off," he admitted, "but what is going to happen to help this club? Something still needs to be done."

One possible answer was circulating the panelled Trophy Room in the Cardiff Athletic clubhouse later that afternoon. Before the euphoria of their slender Heineken Cup Pool Three victory over Biarritz - which ended a run of 10 consecutive European defeats dating from the end of the season before last - had subsided, the whispers of a possible takeover were starting to do the rounds.

The name on everyone's lips was that of John Smart, a millionaire builder, who, according to Ian Robinson, a serving member of the Cardiff Athletic Club committee, is just biding his time. "He is waiting in the background to see what Peter Thomas can come up with," said Robinson. The expectation is nothing, at which point, he added: "John is ready to take over if Peter Thomas goes."

Whether that solution would please the supporters and solve the club's cash problems is not known, but on the pitch and in the stands there was renewed optimism as Cardiff, finalists in the inaugural European Cup, dug in and recorded their first victory in any competition since the beginning of November, a run of seven defeats.

They did so courtesy of some courageous work by the forwards, who early on had looked ineffectual against the superior driving skills and power of the French team's pack, and through some inventive and exhilarating back-play.

Their first try was one home fans will savour far into the future. The centre Tom Shanklin popped up a perfect pass in the tackle for full-back Rhys Williams, who scythed through the cover before finding Martyn Williams. His footballing brain and vision directed him to sling a long pass out right, where Gareth Williams latched on to the ball, bullocked around the defence and over the line to prompt near-hysterical cheers from a success-starved crowd.

True, Biarritz could have won. They got over the Cardiff line a further four times after their two initial catch-and-drive efforts, but on each occasion the benefit of the doubt went to the defence. Then, when David Couzinet finally went over and the try stood, the luckless France scrum-half, Dimitri Yachvili, confronted by the simplest of conversions for a one-point victory in the fourth minute of added time, fluffed the kick.

Cardiff: Tries G Williams, J Robinson; Conversion N Robinson; Penalties N Robinson 3. Biarritz: Tries Tonita, Couzinet 2; Conversion Yachvili; Penalty Yachvili.

Cardiff: R Williams; N Walne, J Robinson, T Shanklin, C Morgan; N Robinson, R Powell; J Yapp (K Fourie, 80), G Williams, B Evans (D Crompton, 74), C Quinnell, A Moore (R Appleyard, 61-66), J Brownrigg, N Thomas, M Williams (capt).

Biarritz: N Brusque; P Bernat-Salles, G Bousses (M Gaitan, 80), M Stcherbina, P Bidabe; J Peyrelongue, D Yachvili; P Balan, J-M Gonzalez, D Avril, H Manent (S Puleoto, 80), D Couzinet, S Betsen (D Chouchan, 64), T Lievremont (capt), O Tonita.

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).