Cardiff Blues 17 Newport Gwent Dragons 23: Three talking points
Men of Gwent power to just a second win in Cardiff at a packed Arms Park as questions mount over Blues selection policy
Dragons pack power to rare Cardiff win
Known as Ligtoring (Lighthouse) by his former team-mates in South Africa, Rynard Landman was head and shoulders above for Newport Gwent Dragons as they won in Cardiff for the first time since 2003. The tough-tackling lock was everywhere in the loose and influential along with fellow second-rower Andrew Coombs in leading a Dragons pack that has grown immeasurably from the shambles it was last season. There were also notable contributions from James Evans and Lewis Evans, the latter playing with Wales number 8 Taulupe Faletau out injured. Against a heavier and more experienced Blues eight, they weren’t totally destroyed at every scrum, despite a few early wobbles as Sam Hobbs as well as Matthew Rees and Adam Jones, the Wales and British Lions veteran duo, succeeded in winning the early contest. But it was the Dragons lineout and driving maul that was deadly once it got going. And it did for two tries as hooker Elliot Dee went over and referee Leighton Hodges awarded a penalty try after the Dragons juggernaut rumbled almost 25 metres only for the Blues to bring it down short of the tryline. The Blues defence was all over the place trying to deal with it on several occasions, somewhat reminiscent of how the Dragons looked against Connacht at Rodney Parade last season, when they were steamrollered by the Irish province on several try-scoring occasions and the front row was axed before 30 minutes had ticked over. It wasn’t quite that bad for the Blues, but the Dragons are quietly improving with every round of the PRO12.
Anscombe’s cameo in the rain
With Rhys Patchell out injured, the arrival of Gareth Anscombe from Auckland couldn’t have come soon enough for the Blues. He may still be acclimatising to life in Wales, but he is quickly showing why Wales head coach Warren Gatland was keen to secure his services. The Wales-qualified New Zealander started on the bench, but was a catalyst when he came off the bench in the second half after a disappointing performance from Gareth Davies, who missed two penalty goal attempts and failed to create anything meaningful. Anscombe’s kicking off the tee looked assured despite the wind and rain battering the Arms Park and his direct running set up the chance for replacement scrum-half Tavis Knoyle to score the Blues’ second try. Not everything he tried came off – there a few chip kicks and passes that took support runners out of the attack at crucial periods, but he has made a solid start to his career in Cardiff and had the nerve to kick deep for touch when the chance presented. Perhaps Mark Hammett was hoping to keep him fresh for the reverse fixture at Rodney Parade next week, but it was clear that Anscombe gave the Blues a lot more options in attack than Davies, and he should be certain to start next week.
Blues selection questions continue
Another match that brought more questions about the Blues selection policy. The bench was packed with ball-carrying talent: Anscombe, Knoyle, Manoa Vosawai, Kristian Dacey and Gethin Jenkins all had to make do with cameo appearances, but the Blues were markedly improved when they deployed the replacements after going 17 points down to the Dragons. There were a lot of new recruits to the region this summer, with a few recent additions to the backline since the season started, and it is Hammett’s first season in charge, but surely he knows his best combinations by now. Sam Warburton was absent through injury, but Anscombe and Jenkins should have started. While hooker Matthew Rees offers accuracy at the set-piece and leadership, Dacey offers more of a running threat which is better suited to the plastic fantastic pitch the Blues have whatever the weather. Playing three openside flankers in the back row should have been more profitable than it did. As it turned out, the Dragons won twice as many turnovers (12) than the Blues, in part down to the usual glut of handling errors that has blighted their season. The Blues were dangerous in the second half as they chased down the Dragons and played arguably their best rugby of the season in the first half against the Scarlets last week. If they can overcome the inconsistencies and play for 80 minutes with real intensity, they could be top six contenders in the PRO12, but they’re still some way off doing that half-way through the season.