Blues edge out Dragons
December 26, 2008
Ma'ama Molitika grabbed one of the Blues' two second half tries against the Dragons at Rodney Parade
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Cardiff Blues scored a crucial 21-19 victory over Newport Gwent Dragons in their Magners League clash at Rodney Parade.
A try from Richard Fussell and eight points from the boot of fly-half Shaun Connor gave the home side a 13-6 half-time advantage over the Blues who remained in touch thanks to two penalties from Ben Blair.
A second half try from Ma'ama Molitika, converted by Blair, levelled the scores but Connor edged the Dragons ahead once again with two penalties. The Blues responded with a second try from Ceri Sweeney and a third penalty from Blair a few minutes later proved to be the match-winning score.
A Boxing Day clash between Newport and Cardiff is traditionally a spicy encounter and a sell-out 10,000 crowd were in full voice as the match began. The Blues were desperate for a victory which would take them level with the Dragons just above them among the league's basement sides.
The 27-13 defeat last Saturday at the new Parc Y Scarlets was the Blues' fourth loss of the league season which belied their form in the Heineken Cup where they top their group with an impressive four wins out of four. But coach Paul Turner's Dragons, despite the loss of influential back row Joe Bearman, were coming off a surprise 30-24 bonus point victory over the Ospreys last Friday.
And Turner's outfit began as if they meant business again as Connor booted a third-minute penalty before Kiwi fullback Blair levelled matters just before the half-hour.
Between those two scores the Dragons came close to grabbing the opening try when Connor was held up over the line in the left corner, the final verdict on whether he had touched down or not going to television match official Huw F Lewis. Eight minutes from half-time, though, the Dragons eventually got their try when what seemed a harmless kick to the Blues 10-metre line saw the defence stutter and wing Fussell pick and run 40 metres to go under the posts and make Connor's conversion simple.
Blair and Connor swapped penalties before the break but within a minute of the re-start, it was all square.
Blues scrum-half Jason Spice put a lazy punt down touch just inside Dragons territory which caught the defence napping and let flanker Molitika pick up and go around the posts. Blair's conversion was straightforward. Yet, on 46 minutes, the home region went in front for a third time when Connor booted a 25-metre penalty which, unusually, saw referee James Jones call on the television match official's replay view before giving it.
Connor put his side 19-13 ahead with a fourth penalty from 25 metres but, when Blues centre Tom Shanklin burst to the Dragons line, Spice passed out of the ruck to put former Gwent outside half Sweeney over to the annoyance of the home fans.
The Blues kept up the pressure and took the lead for the first time with 11 minutes left when the Dragons midfield were caught offside in front of their posts for Blair to score. And the visitors played great containing rugby as the match wore down to its conclusion.
It took the Dragons until the last seconds to get within drop-goal range and clinch the match but twice their attempts were charged down and fullback Jason Tovey, who had an excellent game, held his head in his hands after his 30-metre attempt went way wide and the final whistle went to signal a Blues victory.
"The last two or three minutes were nerve-wracking, but I thought we showed our determination in holding them out," Blues boss Dai Young told BBC Sport. "Certainly in the last minute or so they looked odds on to edge over or drop a goal and I thought our boys snuffed it out and came away with that win at the end.
"It was always going to be a tight game wasn't it? And these games down here are normally quite tight and it was another case today. I thought that the tries that we scored were well-created tries. I thought the last try - Ceri Sweeney's try - there was something like 16 phases so we worked for our tries.
Dragons coach Paul Turner reflected, "As a spectacle it must have been pretty exciting. I felt we gave a soft try away, but they'll be thinking the same, just after half-time and then the game was in the balance. I think we went something like 38 phases at the end and played some great stuff and probably should have nailed it. There's occasions where [referee] James [Jones] wasn't going to give a penalty at that [late] stage. Whether they were on or offside, again, I couldn't see because I didn't see the monitor and we got charged down twice.
"And from the first one perhaps we could have scored again. We were near to the line coming around the corner and it's just not gone our way. But I've told the players how proud I was of them and we've come a long way and I thought there were certain little things that happened today that a year ago we were way off the mark with.
Newport-Gwent Dragons: Tovey, Wyatt, Gomer-Davies, Smith, Fussell, Connor, W. Evans, Black, Willis, R. Thomas, A. Jones, Charteris, MacDonald, L. Evans, Charvis.
Replacements: Arlidge for Connor (62), R. Lewis for W. Evans (62), Lydiate for MacDonald (62). Not Used: S. Jones, Corsi, Ringer, Sidey.
Cardiff Blues: Blair, Mustoe, J. Robinson, Shanklin, James, Sweeney, Spice, Yapp, T. Thomas, G. Powell, Davies, Morgan, Molitika, A. Powell, Sowden-Taylor.
Replacements: G. Thomas for Mustoe (15), G. Williams for T. Thomas (55), Tito for Davies (55). ot Used: Filise, White, Allinson, N. Robinson.
Referee: James Jones (WRU).