Saturday October 19 2013
Cardiff Blues (19) v Toulon (15) @ Cardiff Arms Park
Heineken Cup:Round 2
Watching this torrid,penalty-dominated affair, my thoughts wandered off to the West Ham team of the late sixties. They had three world cup winners in their line-up, but never remotely looked capable of being league champions.
Now here I was watching a Cardiff Blues side who,in their last match, had suffered a chastening 44 – 29 defeat at Exeter Chiefs,after being 41-3 down at one stage. Coach Phil Davies had apparently snapped at a reporter who had asked the not unreasonable question as to how a team with 13 internationals,including five Lions, could be so abject.
Hence,my sense of deja vu.
But Cardiff’s problems run far deeper. In Welsh regional rugby the bitter reality is that all four of the country’s professional teams have seen some of their star turns leave home in pursuit of a brighter,wealthier future – a hemorrhaging of talent that becomes more difficult to stem with every failed attempt to rescue the Heineken Cup or find an alternative acceptable to all.
The papers are full of stories of current Blues stars Leigh Halfpenny and Sam Warburton being courted by big-spending French clubs such as today’s visitors Toulon.
So no-one seriously expected the Blues to prevail over the reigning Heineken Cup holders. But they did – just.The heirs to Gareth Edwards and Gerald Davies were playing in a shocking pink strip , and on an artificial surface to boot. At least the latter could allow a pitch invasion, and on they came at the final whistle as if the cup itself had just been won.
The die-hard manner of the victory, with the crowd singing unbidden at the end,must have helped restore pride at one of the game’s most historic grounds. This was a day when many things were put to the test in a rugby country where a debate about the future of the regional game stretches far beyond the capital.
One final thought….There is regular condemnation of the “divers” that disfigure the round-ball game,but there was an incident in this match that showed how the egg-chasers have a similar problem.
Toulon’s Fijian winger, Josua Tuisova, was closing in on the try-line but over-cooked his chip ahead. So he went looking for a penalty. Leigh Halfpenny tried to back out of the way but Tuisova nevertheless crashed dramatically to the ground-before giving his colleagues a thumbs up when he thought nobody was watching. Johnny Wilkinson kicked the resulting penalty to put his side 15-12 ahead. But then back came Cardiff with the game’s only try, so arguably justice was done.