RaboDirect Pro12: Three talking points as Blues edge past Scarlets
RaboDirect Pro12: Three talking points as Cardiff Blues are 17-13 winners against Scarlets on Sunday
Rees inspires Blues
Club captain and hooker Matthew Rees inspired the Blues to a third successive win as they produced another impressive performance to come out on top 17-13 against the Scarlets on Judgement Day II at the Millennium Stadium. The former long-serving Scarlets man lasted 62 minutes in his first start for the Cardiff side since returning to rugby after his battle with testicular cancer. Rees’s return has coincided with a surprising run of form for the Blues with unlikely wins over Ulster and Edinburgh after a dismal run of five successive league defeats. As all teams in the bottom half of the Pro12 table take points off each other, the rise under the stewardship of coaches Dale McIntosh and Paul John has seen them rise to seventh in the table and mathematically still in the hunt for the final Rugby Champions Cup place with two rounds to go – one of which is the reverse fixture against the Scarlets—who still occupy sixth place—on the final day of the season.
Options aplenty for Wales
There has been a lot of talk in Wales about the injury crisis facing ahead of the summer, but the first segment of the Judgement Day double header showed that Warren Gatland isn’t short of options in key positions. Rees, and his former understudy Ken Owens—who rampaged forward for the Scarlets’ second try—both impressed and, while Owens has deputised for Richard Hibbard in the Wales jersey this season, Rees could move into contention as one of three hookers to make the plane to South Africa if he continues to get game time for the Blues in the final two games. Blues centre Cory Allen – also recently back from a long spell out – impressed with his attacking game and could make his way back into the Wales squad as cover for Jamie Roberts and Jon Davies, who was again impressive for the Scarlets. Samson Lee continues to show he’s one of the best tightheads in Wales under the new scrum laws, despite being overlooked for team-mate Rhodri Jones in the recent Six Nations campaign, while the Blues’ flanker Josh Navidi would have been pleased with his outing in the back row in front of the national coaches and could yet get a call with Wales likely to be without Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric on the openisde. Liam Williams and Jordan Williams both showed their attacking prowess for the Scarlets with the latter coming close to being a contender and the potential loss of Liam Williams will boost his chances of providing cover at full-back or on the wing.
Red mist descends
Welsh derbies are notoriously feisty affairs, even more so towards the end of the season in the home of Welsh rugby and with the knowledge that the Wales coaching staff have their eyes on players to take on this summer’s tour of South Africa. With referees being told to clamp down on collisions in the air, Scarlets full-back Liam Williams can count himself lucky not to have been sent off after six minutes for a clumsy challenge on Alex Cuthbert. The officials, led by Ian Davies, conspired to issue a yellow card to the Wales international just weeks after Ulster’s Jared Payne was red carded for a similar offence, but Williams was guilty of more poor discipline in the second half when he deliberately slowed the ball down at a ruck and received a second yellow with 25 minutes remaining. A boot to the head from Munster-bound Blues number 8 Robin Copeland at the same ruck didn’t make it a great day for Williams whose aggression, at times, was a problem for the Llanelli side. Copeland can expect a ban which will see his career with the Blues end early ahead of his return to Ireland and Williams could also be banned for the final two matches if a disciplinary panel take a dim view of his transgressions and it could impact on his hopes of playing for Wales in South Africa in June.