by Dylan James and Ben Jones
CARDIFF Blues came out on top in a 29-20 win and in turn, ended the Scarlets’ perfect record against their neighbouring regions.
It took five minutes before the scoreboard operator had anything to worry about, and it would be the only time in the opening 40 that he would get any respite.
After some brilliant work from Blues front-rower Liam Belcher to win the penalty, Jarrod Evans slotted the opening points to make it 3-0.
The Scarlets replied nine minutes later through Jon Davies. After shifting the backs to the right side of the ruck, the ball found its way to Dan Jones who executed an exquisite delayed pass which gave Davies a simple run in for the score. Trusty as always, Leigh Halfpenny secured the extra two.
Dan Jones wasn’t the only instrumental 10 playing tonight, as Jarrod Evans showed his class by putting a returning Willis Halaholo in for the score. Halaholo will be pleased to get over the try line tonight, with Wales head coach Wayne Pivac watching closely from the stands.
Gareth Davies forced referee Craig Evans to reach into his pocket on 23 minutes, and it wouldn’t be the first time on the night.
The Blues were in a great position for a second score when Davies deliberately knocked on the ball whilst tackling Tomos Williams, and as a result he was given the pleasure of ten minutes in the sin bin.
Despite being under pressure with a man down, the Scarlets were awarded a penalty minutes later after some poor discipline from Josh Turnbull in the ruck. Dan Jones ensured the gap was cut, 11-10 to the Blues.
Jarrod Evans made it happen again for the Blues on 34 minutes with a glorious show and go, before shipping the ball out to Rey Lee-Lo who dove into the corner for the Blues’ second score.
The first half concluded quite dramatically with the second card of the game. Liam Williams was shown red after hitting the ruck in “reckless’ fashion, as stated by Craig Evans. Williams entered the ruck head first and clattered into Shane Lewis-Hughes’ forehead. Scarlets would have to play the next 40 with 14 men.
After the blockbuster end to the opening forty minutes, the second half began rather dull when comparing the two. The first bit of action came through the boot of Halfpenny who brought the visitors to within a try as he converted a penalty.
After a period of trading penalties, the Scarlets started to grow in confidence. A superb kick to the corner from fly half Dan Jones had the men in red five metres out and peppering the Blues defence. They would be unsuccessful as the staunch defence held strong whilst the forwards powered into them with each phase that passed.
The pressure eventually told however as the Scarlets’ scrum held strong to set up a great platform for Sione Kalamafomi picked up from the back of the scrum and bulldozed his way over. Halfpenny made no mistake with the conversion and the fourteen men in red were ahead for the first time.
The momentum carried and you could tell that the wind was truly in the sales of the visiting side. Christmas might’ve been a few weeks ago but referee Craig Evans wasn’t finished handing out cards. Rhys Carre was sin binned for a no arms tackle and it was back to even men on the field.
Blues fly half Jarrod Evans was controlling the midfield and was at the heart again as the home side retook the lead with fifteen minutes left. A cross field kick to James Botham whose pickup and step created the space for Tomos Williams to cross over in what would be his last act before being replaced.
Winger Steff Evans, who had been quiet compared to his usual self, had the chance to walk away with a try after a loose pass found his feet. His first kick had him clear of everyone but the second was less than impressive. A bobble over his foot and the chance had gone. His namesake, Jarrod, would add three more points for the Blues moments later to set up a frantic last five minutes.
As the final whistle approached, the Blues added three more points from the boot of Evans to keep the scoreboard ticking over and stretch their lead. That would be enough to secure the victory for the home side who stopped their West Walian counterparts from keeping their perfect record against their neighbour regions.