Pau 34 Cardiff Blues 29 | European Rugby Challenge Cup | Saturday 14th December 2019
Cardiff Blues earned two potentially crucial bonus points thanks to a second half comeback in a postponed game against Pau.
The tie at the Stade du Hameau was supposed to happen on Friday night, but inclement weather in the area caused the game to be delayed until Saturday afternoon, and there was further disruption for the away team when Corey Domachowski dropped off the bench before kick-off with Brad Thyer taking his place.
Despite that it was Cardiff Blues who got out of the blocks first in France as a hanging box kick from Tomos Williams was claimed by Josh Turnbull and Owen Lane popped up on his shoulder to open the scoring, Jarrod Evans converted successfully with the held of the upright.
Unfortunately beyond that it was all Pau, as the home side dealt better with a heavy pitch and used the advantage of a strong wind at their backs to win the kicking game and take a commanding lead in at half-time.
Territory came with the kicking game and as they built pressure through possession Cardiff Blues infringements went up until the home side were able to kick into the corner and flex their muscle up front, Mohamed Boughanmi pushing over.
Five minutes later it was a similar story as Pau were back in the corner and this time direct from the driving maul it was Geoffrey Moise who was in possession to get on the scoresheet.
Cardiff Blues attempted to get back into the game as Filo Paulo, on his second debut, forced a turnover from a midfield maul and Matthew Morgan kicked well to earn us a lineout in the corner, but possession was spilled as the away side made too many handling errors to be competitive.
Pau on the other hand were more clinical, and when a kicking battle saw them creep up field they were able to take advantage of some tired legs in the Welsh side and Ben Smith, the debutant with 84 All Blacks caps, sped through a gap in midfield with Pierre Nueno on his shoulder despite some suspicion of a knock on.
There was just time for the hosts to secure the try bonus point before the break, this time through their scrum power as they created the platform for Bastien Pourailly to get on the end of a kick through. Tom Taylor kicked two conversions for a 24-7 half-time lead.
That advantage was stretched further just after half-time when another Cardiff Blues error gave Pau field position and the forward power was on show once more as Baptiste Pesenti was the man to shove over, Taylor adding the extras.
However, two moments seemed to change the swing of the game towards the visitors. Firstly, John Mulvihill changed four of the tight five, as Brad Thyer, Liam Belcher, Keiron Assiratti and James Ratti were introduced.
Secondly, shortly after coming on, Assiratti was struck in the face either by the fist or the head of Pau loosehead Moise right in front of the assistant referee, and although he was spoken to no proper disciplinary action was made.
The fresh legs and injustice sparked something in the Cardiff Blues as we moved away from the kicking game to back ourselves with ball in hand, and as the pressure built so did the home infringements.
Two yellow cards created the space required out wide, with Hallam Amos on the end of one move before becoming creator as he broke down the left, found Lloyd Williams on his inside and Owen Lane was on hand once again to score.
Jason Tovey kicked one of the two conversions before Cardiff Blues got properly back into the game when a Matthew Morgan kick through was collected by Lane to bag his hat-trick, a further Tovey conversion cutting the Pau lead to just five points with 10 minutes to go.
Unfortunately a further attack did not produce any points and the hosts headed downfield for the first time in 30 minutes to earn a penalty and extend the lead by three points
However, there was just time for Cardiff Blues to mount one last attack when Alun Lawrence made a powerful 20 metre carry and burst into the Pau 22, causing them to infringe right in front of the posts and Jason Tovey took the chance to earn two losing bonus points with the last kick of the game.
In the end John Mulvihill's men will probably be disappointed not to have earned the win after a brave second half comeback, but will be more disappointed with falling so far behind in the first half, and the way in which they did it.
Of course the pitch and the delay will have played it's part, but it feels as if they just need the confidence to go out and play our game in situations other than on dry nights at the Arms Park.
Still, the confidence gained in the second half against Pau should stand the squad in good stead as Cardiff Blues head into the festive derbies with a trip to the Ospreys next weekend.Back to Terrace Talk