k.o. time: 7:30 pm

4 December, 2004


Spectators: 11,795

Cardiff Blues
Donal Courtney
worth annoying the wife factor
our man of the match
Thomas Rhys Thomas
general comment

When you're luck is down then the last thing you need is the officials screwing things up. But with Homer Courtney, that's exactly what we got

Tom Shanklin (1)
Lee Thomas (1)
Lee Thomas (3)
Lee Thomas (1)

Cardiff came within a whistle of pulling off a famous victory in Gloucester at a fog bound Kingsholm, when the touch judge missed an obvious knock on prior to the home side securing the match winning try. Gloucester had never been beaten at Kingsholm in the European Cup, but they came up against a tenacious and determined Cardiff side who put their miserable Celtic League form behind them to turn in their best performance of the season.

The game started with match official Donal Courtney gifting the home side a penalty for an alleged off side, when the real problem was the total lack of pace in the home team back line. With players taking the ball standing still, it was virtually impossible for Gloucester to get any go-forward from the back line. The tackles were raining in well before the home side could cross the gain line.

Paul shunned a pop at goal and with Yapp sleeping the home side attacked down the blind side. With the whole back line standing still, Gloucester looked about as potent as a Scottish XV behind the scrum with the two Thomas` making a series of thumping tackles. But then some truly school boy defence with Yapp "stood up" from a standing start by Fanolua. Rhys Thomas missed the tackle and he sauntered under the posts. Quite why one, two and three were defending centre field only the defensive coach can answer. Oh, hang on a minute, we haven`t got one.

Some pretty dreadful kicking from Rhys Williams gifted Gloucester a throw on the Cardiff 22 following a missed touch by Henry Paul. Despite fielding a novice hooker, Young failed to prepare his troops to put pressure on at the lineout, and unopposed, Gloucester were winning good ball off the top. Cardiff had barely touched the ball.

With Gommersall all over the place at scrum half, and the back line still yielding territory every time they had the ball, Cardiff were well in the hunt. Then came another Courtney special. With the ball clearly in Gommersall`s hands as he dithered midfield, Schubert swooped to make the tackle, only for the ref to gift the home side a crack at three points.

Gloucester were already weakening in the physical challenge of the Welsh bois, and Gommersall was soon taking treatment.

Then came New Zealander Paul`s kick from 22m centre pitch and he fluffed it. Simply dreadful. Is this man a professional? My grandmother in her sheepskin slippers would have kicked that!

Fanolua was still a thorn in Cardiff`s defensive line, and if only he was given the ball running at pace surely more tries would have come. Instead, he was restructured to a standing start (if only Dan Baugh was fit!).

First scrum. Despite winning a free kick for the early shove, Gethin Jenkins was seriously creaking at tight head. Great interplay between Morgan, Martyn Williams and Shanklin showed the home side how to attack through the backs, but at the ensuing ruck Cardiff turned over possession. Dewdney went stamping and gifted another penalty to the home side.

A clever kick from Goodridge exposed Tuilagi (again) as the winger once more looked extremely vulnerable in defence. By now Rhys Thomas and Sidoli were working well in tandem, a safe bet at every lineout to such an extent that Gloucester`s only retort was to pull Sidoli down mid jump. Hazell was penalised and Lee Thomas effortless slotted the 45m penalty on the angle. Amazing what practice can do, eh Henry?

But just as Cardiff started to get back into the game, Schubert spilled the kick off. As bad as Schubert was playing, Paul was able to match him and fired a bullet pass at Fanolua`s shoulder. Some dreadful following up from that man Tuilagi and also Rhys Williams saw Simpson-Daniel glide effortlessly between the two of them before getting thoroughly hammered by Dewdney. Then it was Garvey getting muldooned by Yapp and Sean James as Gloucester were struggling to make any impact in loose play.

Instead of playing for the territory and working on their obvious advantage at the ruck (remember all those pick and drives against Northampton?), Fanolua - from his famous standing start - was the only attacking option. Sure enough, he spilled the ball in the tackle, and with Gloucester having absolutely zero width to their play (in fact, they were consistently playing in only half the width of the pitch) they were wide open in defence. What you don`t want in this situation is Rhys Williams running into space, but that`s what they had! Feeding Shanklin on his left, the centre broke through a rather feeble tackle from that man Paul and scored to the left of the posts.

Gloucester were struggling with the physical impact of the Welsh bois, and cherry and white jerseys were taking treatment at every tackle. Suddenly Cardiff were 10-7 up and looking good value for their lead. The kick off again was a bit of a mess, but with Deiniol Jones clearing up, some good pressure from Cardiff was worrying the home side. But an unforced error from the visitors gifted the initiate to Gloucester as Less Thomas fluffed the simplest of catches just on the halfway line.

Then with Freddy again struggling with his defensive lines, a forehead high effort on Goodridge further gifted the initiative to Gloucester. He was lucky to get away without a yellow card. And Cardiff were further fortunate to be facing another dreadful kick from Paul, as the Kiwi`s miserable kicking performance continued.

Next it was Deiniol Jones` turn to give away a totally pointless penalty by not rolling away from the tackle. There was no pressure from Gloucester, he wasn`t under his own posts desperately trying to stop a try, he was simply lazy and unprofessional. Centre field, 40m out, even Paul couldn`t miss that kick and the scores were level.

Once more Gloucester attacked Freddy`s wing with a long punt downfield, and the pressure that resulted saw some laboured defensive duties from Schubert fortunately winning a penalty for Cardiff as Boer charged in from the side.

Despite some serious pressure from the home side the Rhys Thomas-Sidoli partnership was further underlining to Dai Young the folly of keeping Gareth Williams on the pitch against Stade Francais.

However, with one of the worst scrum half passes you\`re likely to see, Dewdney put Lee Thomas under huge pressure and from the penalty that followed, Gloucester opted for the catch and drive. Some fiery defence from Gethin Jenkins (clearly driving before the catcher hit the ground) repelled any thoughts of a rolling maul, and with some excellent work from Shaun James and Martyn Williams, coupled with some lifeless and ineffectual Gloucester back play, Cardiff drove the attack backwards to the 22m line. Turnover. Excellent determined work from the pack in particular.

With Dewdney now clearly struggling, Craig Morgan did well to get the ball into touch,somehow.

More ill discipline from Cardiff in the following lineout as Sidoli tried to pull the jumper down mid-air (a traditional penalty from Mr Sidoli who now seems to do this every game). Quite why he should want to do this just outside his own 22m line is anyone`s guess. Why bother, Robert? Fortunately, Paul obliged and fluffed another kick, but against better kickers, Cardiff will suffer.

Then came yet another ridiculous piece of refereeing. Schubert made a good tackle on Powell from the kick off, and with Hazell lying on the American`s back, Courtney decided to yellow card the American for not rolling away. This was a classic case of “cumulative” penalties. There was no way that Schubert deserved a yellow, but the ref had been wound up by Cardiff with needless high tackles, arm pulling in the lineout, and Deiniol Jones` failure minutes earlier. A lack of professionalism amongst other players caused Schubert`s yellow card. Of course a typical Homer decision, but Cardiff hardly helped themselves.

Fortunately for the bois, a pretty average throw from the hooker spoiled any chance of setting up a driving lineout, and Gloucester were once more forced to use Fanolua who held on in the tackle and turned the ball over. Yellow card anyone? Nah! One rule for one and another for the away side.

Then came Cardiff`s best passage of play in the first half following Courtney\`s effort to try to even up the penalty count. More excellent lineout work and good charges by Lee Thomas and Shanklin set up Yapp to bitch slap Fanolua to the ground following a typical Yapp drive. Mauger was off side in the centre (three penalties in a row and no yellow card?). Another three points for Lee Thomas as he chipped over from 40m. 13-10 to Cardiff.

But when you support Cardiff, you just know that after some good play, sure as eggs is eggs, somebody will make a dreadful unforced error and once more gift the initiative to the opposition. This time it was Dewdney hoofing the ball straight to touch after good work by Gethin Jenkins.

There was always a chance of a turnover with Gloucester`s shambolic back line passing the bad ball, and this time it was Simpson-Daniel firing a pass at his team mate\`s boot laces. Another dreadful pass from Gommersall and it really was unbelievable how badly the home side were playing. Fanolua fired a forward pass straight into touch and Gloucester were all over the place.

Despite being a man down in the scrum, good work from Nathan Thomas released the ball and Shanklin danced through some weak tackles only for that man Hazell to pull off a crucial stop. Tuilagi took the ball up, finally looking for some work,and Lee Thomas slotted over a simple drop goal from 40m. 16-10 up and looking effortless.

Courtney somehow missed Dewdney`s arm being pulled from the kick off, but great defensive tackling by Nathan Thomas once more forced the ball carrier back over the gain line. A poor pass from Gommersall and Fanolua knocked on. Dreadful. Frustrated by his own steady stream of errors, the Samoan started eyeballing Lee Thomas,not wise, Terry. He\`s from Barry, you know.

Half time, and Cardiff were 16-10 up having scored six points when down to fourteen men.

Before the game, it was always going to be the half backs that dictated the result, and in the first half, for all Dewdney`s wayward passing, it was the Cardiff half backs who were outperforming Gommersall and Paul.

After half time, Gloucester lost their second wing, with Simpson-Daniel crying off with a shoulder injury. Cardiff`s physical, in-your-face approach was proving a real handful for the home team.

Good lineout work from Sid and Rhys Thomas was spoiled as Yapp fumbled. Then, Courtney was at it again as Powell dived inwards collapsing the scrum only for the Irishman to mysteriously penalise Cardiff, despite standing on the opposite side of the scrum. Good work from Nathan Thomas won the turnover and with Gloucester holding on at the ensuing ruck, Courtney extended his right arm heavenwards. Still more penalties, but no yellow cards. In the first half, the penalty count was 7-8 against Cardiff, but it was they who lost a player for ten minutes.

Another unforced error from the visitors with Thomas far too quick on his throw and Gloucester attacked in the midfield. Immediately, with Paul at inside centre and a new fly half on the pitch (Davies), the home side had far more of a pattern to their attacking line. Nathan Thomas was next to be penalized, again incredibly harshly as he had the whole of the Gloucester pack piling over the top of him, but Donal loves his penalties.

Tuilagi came rushing up to tackle Paul and fluffed it completely and Gloucester were attacking the Cardiff 22. Fortunately, Rhys Thomas was on hand with another excellent cover tackle, but Gloucester were finally running onto passes in the back line. Now the home side were recycling well and using Eustace and Buxton to batter midfield. But Balding spilled the ball in contact and Cardiff had a scrum on their 22.

Gloucester completely destroyed the ensuing scrum and with Cardiff`s defence in disarray from the turnover, a simple pass along the line was enough to work the overlap for the substitute wing James Bailey to score in the right corner. Still, Paul missed the kick and Cardiff were still one point ahead.

From the kick off, the loose head needlessly stamped on Rhys Thomas,right in front of the ref and touch judge, but collective blindness set in and somehow they missed something that they`d seen Dewdney do first half.

Some pretty dreadful kicking from Rhys Williams and then,yes, you`ve guessed it,another unforced error with the full back dropping a simple pass from Dewdney without a Gloucester player in sight on his 22. Fortunately Terry tried another static dance and got thumped by both Shanklin and Shaun James and Cardiff could clear their lines. Rhys Williams then made a good catch at full back and Lee Thomas thumped the ball down field.

Gloucester tried the catch and drive but Powell got in front of the ball carrier and Lee Thomas effortlessly bisected the posts from over 50m out wide on the right. Then, from a great box kick by Dewdney, Morgan and Shanklin tackled the Gloucester wing 10 yards into touch, right in front of the shed.

As if lifted by this double tackle, Cardiff upped it a gear and with ball carriers aplenty struck deep into the home side`s 22. First Yapp, then Lee Thomas linking well with Martyn Williams took the attack from left to right. Shanklin almost burst through, and then Dewdney flung out a wild pass behind Rhys Williams. Turnover,penalty to Gloucester for holding on.

Mysteriously, Gloucester then decided to try and run the ball from their own 22, but then - just how many times can this happen in one game,an unforced error from Cardiff (this time Craig Morgan kicked the ball directly to touch) handed the momentum to the Cherry and Whites and relieved any pressure that Cardiff were trying to exert.

A forward pass from Davies and an excellent chip kick over winger Bailey and Cardiff were back in the Gloucester 22. Cardiff mauled their way towards the Gloucester try line, but criminally turned the ball over. Nathan Thomas charged down a kick by the slow paced Gommersall. Suddenly Tuilagi was in space charging across the 22, but then inexplicably threw a forward pass to Shaun James. Oh dear,absolutely dire.

Then Courtney once again saved Gloucester`s bacon. Paul attempted a suicidal run out of defence and was immediately tackled by Nathan Thomas. Clearly holding on in the tackle and with Rhys Thomas trying to rip the ball away, Courtney penalised the hooker for not rolling away after the tackle! Hang on Donal! If you`d have got there more quickly, you`d have seen he wasn`t the tackler! Paul was clearly holding on and into the final quarter, Lee Thomas would almost definitely have put Cardiff 22-15 ahead. An extremely poor decision.

Gloucester mauled at Cardiff from the ensuing lineout without too much success, and were forced to move the ball. Now, with Paul in his rightful position at centre, he slipped a wild tackle from Lee Thomas and fed Jake Boer. As the South African headed towards the Cardiff 22, a ponderous Gommersall took an age to move the ball. As he did so, Rhys Williams rushed to the tackle, and somehow Courtney awarded a penalty. Now the ref hadn`t even been looking at what was going on,he was warning the Cardiff back line.

In the space of two minutes, Courtney`s rash decision making,listening to the crowd instead of trusting his own eyes swung the game the home sides way. What should have been 22-15 to Cardiff, resulted in a kick even Henry Paul couldn`t miss and Gloucester were back to within a point. This proved to be a turning point as the game entered the final quarter.

But Courtney wasn`t finished. From the kick off a loose kick by Gommersall bounced from the knee of Schubert and somehow the referee decided it was a knock on. It wasn`t even marginal, the number 8 had his hands raised in the air well away from touching the ball. The American greeted the decision with a big grin on his face, but in a tight game, away from home, in the final quarter, it was decisions like these that were handing the initiative to Gloucester. Fair play to the ref though, he knew he was wrong and at the next scrum penalised Gommersall for a crooked put int. Yeh! Right Donald! Sure the put in wasn`t straight!

Somehow Cardiff won the ball from a poor Lee Thomas up and under, and then the fly half flung an unnecessary miss-pass forward. The shed now refereeing the game and Courtney way out of his depth, penalising Shaun James for coming in at the wrong side of a ruck that had barely formed. The indiscriminate penalising of Cardiff players were turning the evening into a farce. All we can ask for is for the same rules to be applied to both side and this clearly wasn`t happening. With Eustace busy assaulting Lee Thomas on the floor, and Martyn Williams shouting `Look at that!` Courtney did his best to ensure a home victory with a ridiculous yellow card for Shaun James.

Gloucester spilled the ball from a rolling maul, but instead of blowing up, Courtney mysteriously allowed the game to continue.

The ball came out to Paul and with a deft kick he lofted the ball over Lee Thomas and into space. The young fly half was covering far too slowing (expecting Rhys Williams to field the ball) and suddenly Fanolua was into space. Brushing off a half-hearted attempt at a tackle, the Samoan raced clear for his second try of the game. 23-19 with the inevitable miss from Paul.

A clever chip into the 22 from Dewdney pushed Gloucester back to their own line. But Cardiff were tiring, there were no forward runners for Dewdney to feed and as a result the Gloucester team were strung out across the pitch in defence. At the lineout, Cardiff weren`t contesting opposition throw-ins and therefore weren`t exerting the pressure they needed to. And most of all, thanks to Donal, they were down to 14 again.

Then Donal`s double standards came to the fore again, ruling foul play is nowhere near as bad as offside. Eustace came into the maul elbows flying rocking Deiniol Jones` head back. Result? Yellow card? Nah! Just a penalty. We all remember Scott Quinnell getting yellow carded for a short arm jab, but in front of the shed with Donald around, that just wasn`t going to happen.

For some unbelievable reason, with Lee Thomas kicking everything in sight, instead of opting for the three points (there was still 10 minutes to go,for heavens sake!), Martyn Williams chose the kick to the corner. Lee Thomas put a clever kick through and Gommersall was forced to carry the ball over his own goal line.

Then, it was Dai Young`s turn to make a mistake. It`s a golden rule in rugby that you never change your prop either at a defensive scrum near your line, or at an attacking scrum on the opposition`s line. You need to give your prop some game time before he hits his first scrum cold. But Young broke this rule, and replaced Yapp with Martyn Jones. Surprise, surprise, Gloucester took the next scrum against the head.

But Young was saved. With Terry knocking on, Cardiff had the ball back in their hands, virtually under the Gloucester goal post, with under two minutes of normal time left. Drop goal? But with a man down in the backs, and Craig Morgan at outside half, Lee Thomas stood on the wing beckoning for the cross kick. Sadly, if the roles had been reversed, we may have had some hope, but Morgan`s skill level wasn`t up to it, and he didn`t even get close.

Where control and precision was needed, Cardiff were now in full panic mode, flinging the ball wildly with Dewdney the biggest culprit. In the first half, the game plan was clear and the control was good, but now it was the same old Cardiff,panic everywhere and trying to win a rugby match playing off their collective whits.

Time was up on the clock, but with so many Gloucester injuries during the game, it was obvious we would see at least another five minutes,plenty of time!

Some frantic Cardiff passing was ultimately fruitless, and with six minutes of injury time on the clock the ref blew up for the end of the game.

Overall, Cardiff were extremely unlucky to come away with yet another defeat in Europe. As at Sale last season, they were denied a win with the last score of the game. Their opponents could boast no superiority in any facet of the game, despite their pedigree and shed load of money to import high quality foreigners.

Gloucester`s tactics were a complete mystery. Once their driving lineout got them nowhere, the back line was a shambles. Melville and Ryan`s selections were baffling, Davies was clearly a much better stand off than the static Paul, Simpson-Daniel wasn`t fit and thankfully Forrester didn`t get on until far too late in the game.

As for Cardiff, this was the performance we`d been hoping for. The pack was solid, even with Gethin Jenkins at tight head, and resolute and if anything were the better eight. At the lineout, Rhys Thomas and Sidoli were excellent, ensuring a steady stream of ball. Sadly, the way that ball was used was very one dimensional, and Young must work some variety into the forward play.

At the scrum, Jenkins was much more effective when he moved to loose head, but in the absence of Fester, Yapp was the only ball carrying Cardiff forward. Nathan Thomas` defensive performance was immense and his work rate excellent, though with Schubert at eight, Cardiff lack a back row ball carrier.

In the back line, Dewdney struggled, but did his best given that he was sick all week. Lee Thomas proved once more that he has the big match temperament, but there was little evidence that Cardiff had a plan for how to use possession. Kick and pressurise was about it.

Next week, they`ll have to improve. It`d be foolish to think that we won`t see a much more organised performance from Gloucester next weekend. There needs to be more of an attack made on the Gloucester scrum and with Fester back than will happen. James looked lightweight at this level and Freddy is a disaster on the wing. Young must move things around, even if it is the simple plan of playing Freddy on the crash ball, with Rhys Williams coming up for second and third phase.

All in all, Cardiff`s best performance of the season against a desperately poor Gloucester side. No one can fault the bois for their effort and they should take heart (and hopefully gain a little confidence) from their considerable achievements.

Gethin Rhys Williams
A performance riddled with unforced errors and mediocre kicking. As a counter attacking force, he's collecting his pension. Picking Rhys Williams and telling him to kick all day is a bit like picking Gareth Williams for his lineout throwing skills.
Freddy Tuilagi
Carried the ball twice and almost took someone's head off. Dai, if you're going to pick Freddy, stick him in the centre. If not, just pick Nick Walne - he'll also stay on the wing and do nothing, but he won't give penalties away.
Tom Shanklin
Shaun James
Very frail in defence in the open and lacked the power to tackle the three Southern Hemisphereans. Barely got a pass in the open - struggling at this level and needs to "power up".
Craig Morgan
Told to kick and that's what he did. What a waste! Still, had one or two runs, but also had one or two howlers - one direct touch kick and then that cross kick to Lee Thomas - what was all that about?
Lee Thomas
Excellent kicking performance, putting to shame the New Zealander earning five times his salary playing opposite him. His place kicking was 100% accurate and he took his drop goal very well. Out of hand, even his mis-kicked touch kicks ate up the yards. In defence, his tackles can be on the high side, but he's more than up for the physical stuff. Desperately needs an inside centre who will actually do something for him.
Dean Dewdney
10/10 for commitment and bravery, but sadly way off the pace. All things considered, a credit to the club.
Kort Schubert
Extremely unfortunate with his yellow card, played to his limited best. Simply does not carry the ball enough (other than from the back of the scrum) and in the last quarter not one forward was offering himself to turn slow ball into fast.
Martyn Williams
Came up against the excellent Andy Hazell who's style was better suited for this "bum in the air" style of rugby. If Young won't play it fast and loose, he's wasting Williams' skills. His support play is excellent and it was his vision that lead to the Cardiff try. As for his captaincy, he made one huge howler in not opting to kick for goal with a full ten minutes of the game left. How does it go? "If you can keep your head when those around you ...."
Nathan Thomas
Outstanding defensive performance from Thomas. More than once harshly penalised during the game, his commitment was there to see. Sure he can't carry the ball into contact, but as a defensive bludgeon, this performance was just what a coach would have wanted from an "away from home" blind side.
Robert Sidoli
Needless penalty aside, as predicted, Sidoli raised his game for this encounter. He knows that over the next few weeks he has a chance to win his Welsh place back, and he played with athleticism and presence in the lineout to secure a steady stream of possession. Favouring the wing position, he's still too loose to act as a battering ram, but his work rate was excellent. Keep up the good work, Bob!
Deiniol Jones
Pretty anonymous other than to give away a needless penalty. Rarely used in the lineout, didn't carry the ball and won't be around next Saturday.
Gethin Jenkins
Unhappy at tight head, but a thunderingly good performance in the tight. Immense tackle count and fronted up well to all the physical stuff. Would prefer to play loose head, but Yapp actually carries the ball, Gethin.
Thomas Rhys Thomas
Marvellous performance from the young man who simply keeps getting better. In the lineout he is totally unfazed - just how did you pick Gareth Williams ahead of him, Dai? In defence, his tackle count is crucial and he's the one making those "number eight" tackles sweeping behind the centres. Now all he needs to do is carry the ball more ...
John Yapp
OK, so he went to sleep for the first try, but other than that a top class performance from the 21 year old who's going places (and don't get in his way). He carried the ball more than all the other Cardiff forwards put together. In the scrum, he's not as strong as Jenkins at loose head, but more than makes up for that with his work around the park. Great Stuff.