Anscombe penalty ensures Blues’ spot in Euro playoff
CARDIFF Blues head coach Danny Wilson praised his players for a “mature” performance as they ground out a 26-24 win away to the Dragons in Caerphilly.
The Blues started poorly, but first half tries from Matthew Morgan and Willis Halaholo, plus 16 points from the boot of Gareth Anscombe were enough to overcome a competitive Dragons side.
Wilson’s side can now look forward to a competing in the Champions Cup playoffs, and the former Wales U20 boss said: “It’s job done. Coming to Caerphilly - a different and tough venue against a gritty Dragons team who came out of the blocks flying for the first 10 or 15 minutes, was difficult.
“We didn’t really get the pace we wanted in our game in the second half but we got the win. It was still nip and tuck until we won the penalty to get comfortably clear, but then we conceded straight from kick-off. I think we ground out the win in a mature way. It’s a good way to end the season.”
The Dragons had started the game well, crossing the line just two minutes in when fly-half Angus O’Brien calmly chipped the ball cross-field for Carl Meyer to score the game’s opening try.
A penalty from O’Brien gave the Dragons an 8-0 advantage, but it was a mistake from the fly-half that allowed the Blues back into the game on 18 minutes.
A hopeful punt through from Morgan should have been routinely collected by O’Brien, but he fumbled the ball at the feet of Alex Cuthbert, who hacked through for Morgan to score in the corner. Anscombe’s touchline conversion pulled things back to 8-7.
It was those mistakes which frustrated Dragons coach Kingsley Jones, who rued his team’s inability to hold on to their lead.
He said: “There’s a lot of
good in us, a lot of ambition at times, but a lot of mistakes and I’m talking about unforced errors. It’s the top two inches with us.”
Although O’Brien kicked another penalty, the Blues took a lead which they would never relinquish after half an hour when Willis Halaholo sensationally stepped around three players to give his side a 14-11 half-time advantage.
Halaholo said: “We knew coming here as a derby it was going to be tough encounter. I’m quite a fan of playing at clubs. I played quite a lot at venues like this before coming into the provinces. It was good to get the crowd out and it was something different for us.”
This game was played at the Constructaquote Stadium due to Rodney Parade hosting Newport County’s relegation decider with Notts County. It could also have been the last 80 minutes the Dragons played in their current guise.
Tuesday’s vote on whether or not to ratify a WRU takeover will decide the Dragon’s future, but this was their 18th league defeat of the season.
The second half was a tight affair, with the Blues kicking several penalties from scrum infringements.
But despite a sin bin for T Rhys Thomas for a neck roll, they still couldn’t shake the Dragons, who stayed in touch thanks to two monster penalties from Meyer.
A late try from Sam Beard, converted with a drop kick by O’Brien, gave the Dragons a losing bonus point, but defeat condemned them to 11th place in the PRO12 standings.
The Blues will now travel to France for a Champions Cup play-off in two weeks.