Sterner tests lie in wait for Bristol Rugby after Cardiff are swept aside in British & Irish Cup
Bristol Rugby 61 Cardiff 12
SO, were Bristol brilliant or Cardiff calamitous in this British & Irish Cup landslide? When such emphatic scorelines as this occur, the truth generally tends to lie somewhere in the middle.
From a Bristol perspective, this was a stunning showcase of attacking rugby, with nine tries being scored and holes regularly being ripped in a Cardiff defence that became increasingly ragged and frantic.
It was a record margin of victory for Bristol over Cardiff – a fixture that began in the 19th century – yet this was a Cardiff team in name only. With Wales playing the following day, and Cardiff Blues in action on the same evening, the knock-on effect filtered down to the Blue & Blacks, who are now a semi-professional side and looked every inch that.
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Cardiff had no answer to Bristol’s physicality, their pace, their power, their fitness or their game intelligence, falling 35-0 down at half-time as Bristol banked a bonus point inside the opening 34 minutes.
Feeling sympathy for a team during a competitive rugby match is never a good sign – yet Cardiff were so poor and seemed so out of place that it was difficult not to feel a little sorry for them. This was one-way traffic from the opening exchanges until Bristol took off their foot off the gas in the final ten minutes.
Bristol head coach Liam Middleton, even with his team leading 35-0 at the break, urged them to continue to go for the jugular in the second half – and it paid off, with Bristol stretching their lead to 61-5 before their understandable late switch-off.
“We just said to do the same in the second half as we had done in the first half,” said Middleton. “Games like this can sometimes fizzle out: they can become scrappy and loose.
“We just said, ‘Stay on the page and let’s keep pushing our performance’. I didn’t want this performance to die off and the guys kept it going in the second half.
“If you’re looking for a negative, I thought we died off in the last ten minutes, where they scored a try, which was quite disappointing. But on the whole there was very good, positive intent in the game.
“All-round, I thought the work-rate of the players was excellent, the commitment in defence was very good, the attack was fantastic, we had great shape, great accuracy and scored good tries.”
Bristol have been making all kinds of statements of intent off the field in the past few weeks, from the imminent arrival of Andy Robinson as director of rugby to the flurry of Premiership signings for next season.
But they have not lost sight of the shorter-term goals, or of the need to produce the goods on the field between now and the end of the season. Two titles – the British & Irish Cup and the Championship – remain up for grabs in the next three months, and Bristol have now won ten of their last 11 games in all competitions.
They went into Friday’s Pool One final needing one point to reach the last eight and a victory of any kind to book a home quarter-final. The matter was effectively settled in the first half, with Ben Mosses, Tristan Roberts, Rhys Lawrence and Wayne Thompson all scoring tries, before George Watkins went over on the stroke of half-time to ensure a 35-0 interval lead.
Cardiff responded shortly after half-time through former Bristol academy player Will Thomas, but the hosts again pulled away, with Ruki Tipuna, Fautua Otto, Watkins and Mosses doing the damage.
Only when the game became loose in the final minutes did Joe Griffin find room to score a second Cardiff try on a night where even damage limitation was beyond the disorganised visitors.
Aside from the late try they conceded, the only other blemish for Bristol – as this is to really scrape the barrel in search of negatives – is that Roberts missed his final conversion of the evening, which would have given him a perfect tally of nine from nine.
Middleton singled out the two tries scored by Watkins for special praise – not necessarily for the winger’s smart finishing but for the build-up play involved. In the first, Bristol perfectly executed a slick backs move, with Otto and Jack Tovey combining to send Watkins to the line. In the second, Mosses delivered a perfect, clever inside pass with pace to the supporting Watkins, who picked a wonderful line to score.
At times, the patterns of play resembled a high-intensity training session for Bristol, who were able to dip into their full attacking repertoire to cause Cardiff all kinds of problems. More difficult challenges await – but the basic ingredients on show suggested an exciting end to the season lies in wait.
Bristol: J Tovey; G Watkins, F Otto (J Goodridge 64), B Mosses, R Edwards; T Roberts, R Tipuna (capt); B Douglas, R Lawrence (T Channon 76), W Thompson (M Lilley 57), B Glynn, G Townson, A Faosiliva (G Biagi 57), J Merriman, M Mama. Reps not used: R Pennycook, J Grindal, A Jarvis.
Scorers: Tries – Mosses (2), Roberts, Lawrence, Thompson, Watkins (2), Tipuna, Otto. Cons – Roberts (8).
Cardiff: J Griffin; J Phillips, M Woodward, W Thomas, I Evans (S Powell 57); J Thomas (J Davies 57), A Walker; C Ma’afu, A Fowler (capt; J Dunleavy 69), R James (L Smout 59), D Partridge (D Apsee 57), M Screech, N White, J Murphy (R Luckwell 6-19), A Lee (R Luckwell 41). Rep not used: G Lucas.
Scorers: Tries – W Thomas, Griffin. Con – Griffin.
Sin-binned: Murphy (48-59).
Referee: G Conway. Att: 2,013.