By Richard Early
Date: February 23rd, 2020
Venue: Cardiff Arms Park
Referee: Frank Murphy
CARDIFF Blues battled from behind to defeat Benetton 34-24 and secure five points in the Pro14.
Tries from Jason Harries, Garyn Smith, Ryan Edwards, Sebb Davies and Lewis Jones helped seal the bonus-point victory.
John Mulvihill made five changes from the Blues’ defeat at Connacht last time out, while Kieran Crowley made nine alterations from the Treviso-based side’s loss to Leinster.
Benetton got off to a strong start by opening the scoring with a try after 11 minutes. Monty Ioane broke along the left flank, before offloading to Ian Keatley who finished, but his conversion from a tight angle hit the post.
The visiting side went on to extend their lead from another try with 22 minutes played. Off a ruck metres away from the try-line, Irné Herbst battled through the defence and carried over – fly-half Keatley converting.
The Blues responded determinedly and gained their first try of the encounter two minutes later. Winger Harries collected Hallam Amos’ pass right and crossed the line, before Jason Tovey superbly converted, inches away from the side-line.
Benetton were awarded a penalty at a narrow angle on the edge of the 22-metre line with 12 minutes of the opening 40 remaining. 32-year-old Keatley stepped up and struck his effort off the post for a second time.
Another try was added by the away team seven minutes later. Toa Halafihi wrestled the ball over the whitewash in the left corner following Charly Trussardi’s expert long pass from a ruck and No.10 Keatley added the extras.
After the interval, it took six minutes for Cardiff Blues to score their second try. Outside centre Smith fought off three defenders before placing the ball over the line and fly-half Tovey missed the conversion.
Ireland international Keatley was sinbinned after 52 minutes and the home side crossed the line for their third try a minute later. Creative Tovey’s cross-field kick towards the left wing was gathered by winger Edwards, who finished, before 30-year-old Tovey’s conversion levelled the scoring.
The Blues were awarded a penalty and a chance to take the lead with 58 minutes played. From distance, Newport-born Tovey hammered the ball wide.
Benetton took advantage of their opposition’s missed opportunity and scored a bonus-point try four minutes later. No.8 Halafihi stormed past four defenders to secure a brace, but Ian McKinley missed the conversion.
The home side scored a bonus-point try with 10 minutes of the 80 remaining. Lock Davies utilised his long arm to touch down following substitute Jones’ pass left from the ruck and composed Tovey converted to send his team ahead.
Another penalty was awarded to Cardiff Blues after 76 minutes. No.10 Tovey did well to slot through posts from long range and extend the home side’s advantage to five points.
Mulvihill’s men looked to add to their lead and scored a fifth try two minutes later. Scrum-half Jones picked and went from the ruck, produced a dummy and dived over the try-line, but outside-half Tovey failed to convert.
That proved to be the final score of the match and the Blues’ hard-fought comeback kept them in fifth place in Conference B.
Final score: Cardiff Blues 34-24 Benetton
Player of the match: Josh Turnbull
John Mulvihill: “The boys really wanted it, you have to win your home games and you’ve definitely got to win the games when you play the same teams in the same Conference.”
Cardiff Blues: Amos; Harries, Smith, Thomas, Edwards; Tovey, Williams (C); Gill, Belcher, Andrews, Ratti, Davies, Lewis-Hughes, Robinson, Turnbull. Replacements: Dacey, Thyer, Arhip, Thornton, Boyde, Jones, Llewellyn, Fish.
Benetton: Sperandio; Esposito, Brex, Zanon, Ioane; Keatley (C), Trussardi; Quaglio, Baravalle, Pasquali, Herbst, Snyman, Lamaro, Ruzza, Halafihi. Replacements: Faiva, Traore, Ferrari, Fuser, Manu, Petrozzi, McKinley, Benvenuti.