Bourgoin

k.o. time: 4:30 pm

21 October, 2006

Stade Pierre Rajon

Spectators: 7,000

Cardiff Blues
referee
Chris White
7
/10
Used his whistle very early in the game and was not intimidated by the home crowd (not that it was very intimidating, mind you). Given the poor standard of play, he did his best to keep the game moving. With set piece play dominating, this made his life a lot easier. OK, so he could have yellow'd Finau for the early tug on Moses, but that was never going to happen. Didn't get a lot wrong and was probably pretty bored.
worth annoying the wife factor
3
/10
our man of the match
Martyn Williams
general comment

10/10 for the result.

scorers
Martyn Williams (1)
Ben Blair (1)
Ben Blair (2)
our choice for next week

vs Leicester

k.o. time: 3:00 pm

29 October, 2006

Principality Stadium

15
Ben Blair
14
Tom Shanklin
13
Jamie Robinson
12
Marc Stcherbina
11
Mosese Luvetasau
10
Nicky Robinson
9
Mike Phillips
8
Xavier Rush
7
Martyn Williams
6
Scott Morgan
5
Robert Sidoli
4
Deiniol Jones
3
Gary Powell
2
Thomas Rhys Thomas
1
Gethin Jenkins

Cardiff won in France for the first time on their 11th attempt in the Heineken Cup with a scrappy victory against a poor Bourgoin side who's only real attacking option was a powerful rolling maul. With the Cardiff front five stepping up to the mark and putting in an excellent performances - the front row (all four) in particular were outstanding - the home side's tactics were nullified, and despite the Cardiff back line having a miserable afternoon, the victory was fairly comfortable in the end.

Four seasons ago, Philips St Andre was coaching the Forest brothers and Bonnaire to a five try slaughter of Sale whilst Cardiff were getting one almighty stuffing in Biarritz. Since then, St Andre has gone on to coach Sale, and it seems that Bourgoin's demise is matched Cardiff's phoenix like transformation. Shorn of eight first team regulars, the home side looked devoid of ideas, pace and invention and turned in a miserable display. As for Cardiff, Young has finally assembled a pack that competes and doesn't take a step backwards.

When playing away in Europe, a stable start is a must, and Sidoli and his fellow front five took an excellent kick off. Lewis set off on one of his trademark charges and the omens looked good. That was until Robinson missed his first touch kick and then followed it up with another. When the team needed Robinson to take the sting out of the game, he instead set up a charge for Bonnaire to speed into the Cardiff 22.

The sloppiness continued with an unforced knock on at the lineout and the pack charging in at the scrum. Lewis and Melon then combined to win a turnover tackle as the physical stuff started in earnest. The error count continued to balloon, with Lewis and Phillips at sixes and sevens. Predictably, the pressure points in the team were breaking down already. Any back line with Finau on the wing tells you all you need to know about speed, and it soon became apparent that it was all pretty lateral stuff from the home side. In contrast, when the Cardiff backs got hold of possession there was far more pace about their approach work and Mike Phillips won a penalty with Bourgoin messing about on the floor. Blair stepped up and slotted a 50m goal outside his usual range. A real boost to a team that needed the were clearly lacking that self belief.

The forward battle continued, with Melon making a particularly frightening impression on Prendergast in a clear sign that he was definitely up for this one. Scrum pressure was on as the home side started to push before the ball was put in, and then Khinchagishvili collapsed under the pressure. When his pack needed a minute's break and a safe kick to touch, Phillips set off on a suicidal chase from his own 22m line and promptly turned the ball over. Fortunately, Boyet fluffed a drop goal attempt.

With Cardiff's half backs creaking, Boyet was equally struggling with second choice Prendergast and passes went AWOL. More good work from Lewis turned the ball over midfield and Williams cleverly chipped into space. Shanklin was first onto the ball, but instead of booting it on, he tried to pick it up and knocked it on with the line at his mercy.

Then Robinson found a huge gap in the Bourgoin defence as their back row disappeared. Streaking through into acres of space he ran straight up to the 22m line unopposed. But, when a dummy and swerve to the left would have seen him score in the corner he tried to feed Stcherbina with an impossible pass. Jeez! Even a grubber kick to the try line would have been better. Why didn't he back his pace? The pass was intercepted and the chance missed. Two opportunities in as many minutes and Cardiff really should have been 17-0 ahead.

As a rather slow Bourgoin build up concentrated on the muscle-bound stuff close the breakdown, Robinson compounded his error by carelessly going off side. Once more Cardiff were fortunate that Boyet was kicking like a drain. But here's the rub. Robinson's clearance kick was a monstrous 60m special. Just how frustrating is it to watch Robinson play? Powell and Sidoli went off side and then Boyet fluffed another kick - slicing the penalty to touch.

Bourgoin's attacking prowess continued to be pretty blunt - the scrum and rolling maul were the extent of their ambition. When forced to move the ball, the back line looked slow and laboured. Cardiff - in contrast - were keen to move the ball wide at every opportunity. You have to ask though, why no one tested the 19 year old full back who was playing into a high sun. Surely a couple of bombs with Shanklin and Stcherbina baring down on him would have yielded something?

Meanwhile, Phillips made an impressive charge to just short of the home try line, and Stcherbina and Williams almost worked something midfield to break through. Then Denzil gave a meaningless penalty away under the Bourgoin posts and the home side were able to clear. Anything Denzil can do, Sidoli can match and seconds later he too gave away a penalty. Such indiscipline not only robs your team of the chance of pressurizing the opposition, but also set up an attack in the Cardiff 22. However, Scott Morgan was on hand to save the day with a lineout steal and Robinson put in another monster of a kick.

Could Cardiff maintain the pressure without another penalty? No. Sidoli again infringed. But there wasn't much on show from the home side and as long as the pack stood up to the charges and made the necessary tackles, Cardiff were able to clear their lines with ease.

Bourgoin's best chance of a score was through an unforced error - and the shear number of unforced errors meant that boy did they have a lot of opportunities! Phillips was next up with a crazy pass to Martyn Williams who somehow managed to kick the ball away - just. Phillips simply isn't fit and can't put a kick into the box. As a result, Robinson found himself under serious pressure all game.

But when Bourgoin did manage to get the rolling maul rumbling, instead of the expected kick to the corner and continuing pressure, Boyet again aimed for the post. Again he missed. Was Bonnaire making the right tactical decisions?

Czekaj looked confident under the high ball, Lewis charged from the base of the scrum and Robinson cleared with ease. Watching the game, one could feel that the bois were 80% there - they just needed to believe a little more and take their chances.

Phillips fumbled at the base of the ruck and Robinson's Arthur Emyresque's attempt at a drop goal wouldn't have counted from the free kick.

More loose passing in mid-field, but a nice jig from Blair set up the attack on the Bourgoin 22m line. Sidoli ran hard and straight and then Powell took the ball flat. Shanklin shook off Finau and the visitors were going through the phases well - no panic, keep control of the ball, eat up the yards. Robinson and Moses got within 5m and Morgan charged mid-field. Stcherbina and Lewis fell yards short and then just as Czekaj crossed the line he lost the ball. At last some good rugby (from both sides). The defence was well organised and the attacks patient. Only Czekaj's panic and fumble at the end robbed Cardiff of their first try of the game.

The in-goal areas at the Stade Pierre Rajon were very deep, but neither side used this space effectively. Blair was first to try and he followed this up with a wonderful side step mid-field. Racing through on a counter attack he had Moses on his outside but all it took was a push in the back from Finau and the chance was lost. Yellow card? Well, for the away side - no chance. Should Moses have taken the pass? It wasn't a good one (up around his neck), but at this level these are the passes that win games. Yet again, a lack of composure in the back line. Blair stepped up to hit the three points. 0-6.

Crucially, and perhaps more pleasingly, the pack and half backs showed excellent control from the following kick off. It was essential that Bourgoin would not make an immediate come back and robbing the home side of the opportunity to do so was almost as crucial as Blair's kick. Robinson recovered from a poor pass from Phillips to thump a 70m kick down the line. Excellent rugby.

The second half started as the first had ended with Cardiff in possession testing and probing, using the width of the pitch to good effect. Players were clearly making "heads-up decisions" across the park - always on the look out for an overlap and moving the ball well before contact. Robinson made a half break but instead of taking the ball on further he flung a hospital pass to Blair who got Finau'd. This was the second time in the game that Robinson had made the break only to throw an unnecessary pass. Why not take the ball on further?

The scrum looked solid, and the front five were in control, but Lewis fumbled at the back of the scrum and failed to link with Phillips. Then a clever move bypassed the usual Lewis charge and Williams fed Blair in space. He in turn fed Czekaj who haired off down the touch line. The winger then looked for the return pass to Blair who was free with the line at his mercy. But yet again the chance was fluffed - this time with more than a suspicion of a deliberate knock on from Denos.

Now it was all Cardiff Blues as they camped in the Bourgoin half, dominating possession and territory. Surely a try would come? But once more Phillips flung a dreadful pass to no one in midfield and they turnover over possession under no pressure at all. The composure just wasn't there from the scrum half.

In response, Bourgoin suddenly started to show some tactical invention, and at last moved the ball across the pitch instead of the grunt and rumble of the first half. Only good work from Powell and Denzil robbed possession but once more the half backs failed to control the game and Robinson flung out another hospital special - this time to Martyn Williams - when he should have cleared his lines.

From a sliced Robinson touch finder, Bourgoin retained possession and the rumble punched its way up to the Cardiff 22m line. Even though the ball retention was good, there was little penetration in the back line. Everything was static and as long as Cardiff made the head-on, one-on-one tackles, Bourgoin were going nowhere. Robinson fell off a tackle, but there was too much cover behind with Williams again excelling.

When the Cardiff scrum stood up well to the home side's pressure and won a free kick, crucially Robinson missed his touch kick. It was turning into a miserable afternoon for the outside half. Czekaj succeeded where his outside half had failed, and Cardiff finally got hold of some decent possession centre field. Then the outside half danced away from defenders and made an excellent kick from his own 22m to find a 60m kick down field. Quite why Robinson had passed to Blair on his own 22m line, only he knows, but the clearance recovering job was excellent.

Now Cardiff were back on the attack again. The forwards' pick and drive worked well, but Denzil got himself isolated and Melon and Moses dived over the top to give the home side a chance to clear. Young replaced the excellent Powell with Filise and added fresh legs to the physical battle up front. And Filise made an immediate impact, knocking the ball from Khinchagishvili's hands. Lewis flung a wild pass to no-one, but the back line somehow recovered and Blair made a half break. A clever grubber kick to the corner was expertly fielded by Denos and the young full back started on the counter attack. A leaden-footed Phillips was made to look very ordinary in defence but a legitimate tackle from Robinson saved the day. Other refs (not mentioning any names) would have been intimidated by the crowd, but White stood firm. An excellent decision from White.

Next up was a good driving maul from the Cardiff lineout and when Bourgoin were forced to collapse, Phillips took a quick tap penalty and headed over the half way line. Streaking through came Shanklin on his outside, but tunnel-vision Mike could only see the player in front of him. He tried the shimmy without too much success when a grubber to the corner would have seen Shanklin score. Still, wonderful support from the pumped-up Filise meant the ball moved quickly to Stcherbina. Now the Bourgoin defence was in place and it was all a bit too lateral from Cardiff. With only Nick Robinson capable of trying a drop goal (how bad is that???), and with Robinson playing scrum half, the chance was lost. From the next phase, Robinson did try for the three points, but it was a pretty miserable effort that spent more time skirting the grass than soaring majestically through the posts. Another chance missed.

Morgan dropped the kick off, and only an excellent tackle from Thomas halted Boyet in a chip-and-chase effort. Now the game had opened up and Bourgoin were being forced to move the ball. Lewis turned the ball over from another of his increasingly predictable runs off the back of the scrum, but Blair was on hand to make the clearance. Czekaj made another good catch in defence before Phillips hurled out another laboured pass to Robinson. The charge down looked was inevitable, but what wasn't predictable was the slice of luck that followed. The ball could have gone anywhere but it somehow fell into space and Lewis was on hand to make the necessary tackle. Once more the pack stepped up to the mark with a steady scrum, but once more Robinson made a miserable attempt at a clearance kick. The ball barely reached head height and bounced comfortably into Denos' hands.

But you know it's good news when Finau is "running" in space and sure enough the pressure came on from the Cardiff back line. Shanklin made the tackles and Morgan and Williams were on hand to clear up. Spotting the space, the open side hoofed the ball down field and the foot race started. Somehow Stcherbina fell over his own foot, but retained the presence of mind to flick the ball up to that man Williams who sprinted under the Bourgoin posts. The try had everything - another poor clearance from Robinson, a farcical panic from Stcherbina and Mr Coolhead himself on hand to score the try that would surely win the game for the visitors. Blair made it 13. To be honest, the rugby on show was pretty poor, but we couldn't give a monkeys. Could it be that 12 years of misery were set to come to an end?

Rosie came on for a shaken Blair, but it was clearly at half back that the problems lay. Once more Robinson failed to bury the ball in the stand from the kick off and Bourgoin countered. Phillips made a dreadful pass to no one and fortunately Rosie was on hand to boot the ball to safety.

Denzil gave an unnecessary penalty away centre field and Bourgoin set up a 5m lineout. Then followed a series of pick and drives from the home side's pack hammered away at the Cardiff forwards. Lewis moaned that someone had "bit 'is 'and", but the pressure was relentless. That the front five held firm was in total contrast to recent seasons. Lewis again turned the ball over at the back of the scrum and the pressure continued. Melon collapsed the scrum, and the onslaught resumed. Finally Monzeglio broke through a loose "tackle" from Lewis and Bourgoin got their try. Crucially Laloo missed the conversion and the process of defending the try had sucked six minutes from the clock.

Macleod made an excellent catch, and Robinson rightly attacked the Finau wing with the cross kick. With Moses ahead of him, there was nothing the ex-Turk could do but hoof the ball to touch. Good tactics from the outside half.

Now we were in injury time and the chants of "Cardiff, Cardiff, Cardiff" rang around the stands. Phillips fluffed a grubber kick but recovered to hold onto the ball and Robinson set up only his second bomb of the game. The roll and rumble continued, but Cardiff's aggressive defence was always right in Bourgoin's faces.

That the final play of the game was a scrum somehow summed things up for the French. Pushing before the ball was in, Bourgoin were out-thought in this phase of the game. The euphoria that enveloped the small band of Cardiff supporters bemused the locals, but the spontaneous singing that followed brought smiles all round. Could it really be that Cardiff had won in France? Yep, they had!

Tactically, Young and his coaches got it spot on. The forwards were well drilled in competing with Bourgoin's famous rolling mauls and players showed great commitment in snuffing out the slightest chance. When things got tight, attacking Finau's wing was a no-brainer and all the ex-league prop could do was hoof the ball into touch. The scrum stood up to the task admirably, and the lineout continues to purr like a well-oiled machine.

Much of the credit for this performance should lie with the coaching staff. Right from the warm up, there was an intensity to the way Howley put the players through a series of routines. In contrast, Bourgoin went through a leisurely jog on an adjoining pitch in front of silent spectators. This was something not seen before. When watching rugby in France, ever home side is cheered to the rafters, but the Berjalliens watched on in silence.

Predictably, it was the 8-9-10 axis that creaked under up the strain. The triumvirate of 24 year olds struggled to control a game that the front five was winning. Phillips clearly isn't fit and should be rested, but maybe it is just a case of "one more game". Lewis - for all his huff and puff and honest effort - made too many mistakes at the back of the scrum. As for Robinson, well, one wonders when he will have enough self-belief in his undoubted abilities. Perhaps this victory will help get the monkey off his back. Against Leicester, he'll need to play a much more open game, and maybe that will suit him better.

15
Ben Blair
7
/10
Hardly tested by the home side, his major contribution was the consistency of his goal kicking. In attack, he entered the line to good effect and made one luuuverly counter attacking break, almost setting up Moses for a try.
14
Chris Czekaj
5
/10
Seems to lack the self belief to "go for it", but came close with his pick up and drive. A big lump, he should be breaking more tackles than he does. Still, seems to be playing under orders to not lose the ball in contact and prioritize recycling.
13
Tom Shanklin
12
Marc Stcherbina
5
/10
Unspectacular - the glue in the sandwich. Needed to coach Robinson through the game more (given his frailties). Should have been used more on the crash ball to suck in the opposition back row.
11
Mosese Luvetasau
5
/10
Always gives 100%, but you can't help but wonder at the back line's inability to work more space in which to use his pace. He really should have taken that pass to score at the end of the first half. There's the same manic eagerness to his play that admirably encapsulates the lack of composure of the entire back line.
10
Nicky Robinson
2
/10
Made far too many mistakes in his kicking from hand and far too many hospital passes. He started the game with two missed touches, and followed them up with numerous other howlers. His two drop goal attempts were embarrassing. His pass to Blair set up a Finau special. Now having said that, Robinson was also around to make a couple of excellent clearances. But in tight games, his team needs him to do the simple things right - and he's still all-or-nothing. This was close to nothing.
9
Mike Phillips
3
/10
Made a couple of shuffling breaks, but the pace isn't what it used to be. Obviously still carrying an injury, he can't kick the ball from the base of the breakdown and so Bourgoin were able to pour through for the inevitable charge down. The groin/hip clearly isn't right, and he needs rest.
8
Mark Lewis
5
/10
The cojones are still there, but the charges from the base of the scrum were a little two predictable. At fault for the Bourgoin try, he was generally very physical in defence - top points for effort. But control is what was needed, and too often it was missing. Once more, his power seemed to wane in the last quarter and there are still serious questions over his fitness levels.
7
Martyn Williams
9
/10
Another - yet another - outstanding performance from Captain Williams. Whether in attack or defence, his contribution was immense. He has the vision that the 8-9-10 axis needs, and he was often directing the game from the open side position. A lot has been written about Blair and Rush, but Martyn Williams is often the biggest difference between the opposition and Cardiff's chances of victory.
6
Scott Morgan
7
/10
A much better performance than in recent weeks. Always a thorn in the side of Bourgoin, his physical presence added beef to the pack . His work rate was excellent and his tackle count high. Worked well in defence in tandem with Lewis.
5
Robert Sidoli
7
/10
The odd (typical) two penalties aside, another who showed up well with commitment in the tight. When the big matches come, then big players need to step up to the mark, and Sidoli put himself about well.
4
Deiniol Jones
6
/10
3
Gary Powell
8
/10
Another excellent performance from Powell who has firmly rid himself of the "sun-bed-king" tag. His work rate was top notch and he enjoyed his scrummaging against much vaunted opponents. In the tight, he was never far from the breakdown and was always physical in defence and attack. Young has an excellent problem on his hands, with two impressive tight heads at the club - both recruited by Young.
2
Thomas Rhys Thomas
7
/10
The usual faultless lineout went astray on two occasions during the game, but Thomas' work rate around the park was top notch. In the tight, he worked hard to foil the driving mauls and in the loose made one excellent tackle on Boyet.
1
Gethin Jenkins
8
/10
Finally a top notch performance from Melon away from home! In the scrum - one penalty aside - he didn't give an inch, and in the loose the work rate was outstanding. Although he still needs to be carrying the ball more often, the defensive tackles are excellent and his fitness is quite remarkable for such a big man.