By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor
IT WAS hardly a vintage performance by Cardiff Blues in Reading but they head into the final round of the Heineken Cup pool stages with quarter-final qualification in their hands. Level on points with Edinburgh, they just have to match the Scots’ performance next weekend to make the last eight.
As for this match against Irish, a Sam Warburton try and Leigh Halfpenny’s steady boot were enough to give the Blues the win. So what stood out in the game?
1. Much talk was about Gavin Henson’s return to midfield in the build-up, but it was his centre partner Casey Laulala who provided the moment of true class in this game. The Kiwi’s great run out wide and offload to Warburton set up the only try.
2. Defences ruled. The only chink Irish showed was when Laulala worked his magic while the Blues were solid throughout the 80 minutes and their resilience in the last ten really stood out. Special mention must go to wing Alex Cuthbert, whose defensive work prevented an Irish try towards the end.
3. Darren Allinson, a former Cardiff Blue playing in the No 9 shirt for Irish, was outstanding. He gave a real spark to the Exiles’ running game, managed the game well and showed great awareness to charge down Dan Parks’s attempted drop-goal.
1. Bradley Davies was yellow-carded for a silly piece of indiscipline in the closing minutes and that put his side under unnecessary pressure right at the end.
2. The number of knock-ons by both sides prevented any flowing rugby. Unforced handling errors led to stilted phase play and a lot of scrappy ball.
The amount of kicking in the first half made it feel like a journey back in time to a few seasons ago. Of course kicking has a place in the game, but there were too many aimless punts and coupled with poor chases from both sides it resulted in a few spells of ping-pong.
As for a prediction for Pool Two: Cardiff Blues to top the pool with Edinburgh going through as one of the best runners-up after both clubs win next weekend.