Cardiff returned to winning ways with a comfortable bonus-point win over United Rugby Championship strugglers Zebre at the Cardiff Arms Park.
The hosts, who came into this game on the back of a miserable five-match losing streak, took full control of this contest during a devastating first half blitz, which saw them rack up 35 unanswered points against a Zebre side that showed little sign of repeating their recent heroics against the Dragons.
A first-half brace from Owen Lane, as well as touchdowns from James Ratti and Lloyd Williams set Cardiff on their way, with a visibly shaken Zebre losing Junior Laloifi to a yellow card after he gave away a penalty try.
Erich Cronje and Maxime Mbanda did go over to give the Italians something to shout about in the second half, but Cardiff never looked in any real danger of blowing their lead, with Max Llewellyn striking in the final minute.
While the loss of momentum in the second half will perhaps be a cause for disappointment, this will nevertheless be seen as a welcome victory for Dai Young’s men, particularly ahead of an upcoming East Wales Derby against the Dragons at Rodney Parade next week.
Cardiff raced out the blocks and secured their first try after just five minutes. The typically effervescent Theo Cabango halted just inches inches away from the line after Llewellyn’s charge, before Ratti bulldozed his way over the line, with Priestland adding the extras.
Five minutes later, Cardiff were over again, the power of Rhys Carre enough to ride two or three challenges, before laying off for Lloyd Williams, who raced over the whitewash for his third try in as many outings.
Zebre tried to respond, but looked blunt with ball in hand, and their evening worsened when Lailofi was binned on 17 minutes for a high tackle on Cabango just a few inches from the Zebre line. TMO Ian Davies believed it had also denied Cardiff clear scoring opportunity, and referee Ben Blain had little choice but to award the hosts a penalty try.
Cardiff secured the bonus point barely five minutes later, using their numerical advantage to exploit a gaping hole out wide, with Lane shaking off a tackle with a deft change of direction before hitting the gas to motor over the line for another converted score.
Zebre rattled through the phases, but their impotence in attack showed little sign of improving as the contest headed towards the break, although Cardiff’s own momentum noticeably started to slow as wet and breezy conditions started to take a toll.
But a piece of good fortune, and indeed some real perseverance yielded a second try for Lane. A hopeful chip from Lloyd Williams bounced kindly for the winger, who dribbled the ball beyond the despairing Zebre defense before smothering to complete his brace.
Mason Grady was introduced to Cardiff’s midfield to make his first senior bow for 12 months, but his arrival coincided with some signs of life from the visitors, who finally got off the mark shortly after the break as Cronje crashed over following a neatly worked set piece .
But a sensational comeback never really seemed on the cards. Indeed, a host of changes for both sides coincided with a deterioration in quality. One of those replacements, Kirby Myhill was sent to the bin 20 minutes from time for a late tackle. Then again, even with a man down, Cardiff’s defense will likely be unhappy at how Mbanda crashed over 10 minutes from time.
However, Cardiff finished on a high when Llewellyn darted over for a final converted try after a fine carry opened up a gap in the Zebre defence, securing a reasonably pleasing, and thoroughly welcome, victory.
CardiffRugby: 15. Matthew Morgan; 14. Owen Lane, 13. King Lee-Lo (Grady 40), 12. Max Llewellyn, 11. Theo Cabango; 10. Rhys Priestland (Thomas 64), 9. Lloyd Williams (Bevan 61); 1. Rhys Carré (Domachowski 53), 2. Liam Belcher (Myhill 53), 3. Dmitri Arhip (Lewis 53), 4. Seb Davies, 5. Matthew Screech, 6. James Botham, 7. Josh Navidi (capt), 8. James Ratti (Belcher 64).
Replacements: 16. Kirby Myhill, 17. Corey Domachowski, 18. Dillon Lewis, 19. Teddy Williams, 20. Ellis Jenkins, 21. Ellis Bevan, 22. Ben Thomas, 23. Mason Grady.
Tries: Ratti, Williams, Lane 2, Penalty, Llewellyn
Cons: Priestland 4, Thomas
Yellow Card: Myhill 61
Zebre Parma : 15. Michelangelo Biondelli, 14. Junior Laloifi, 13. Erich Cronjé, 12. Franco Smith Jr, 11. Simone Gesi (Pani 64), 10. Timothy O’Malley, 9. Chris Cook (Casilio 54), 1. Paolo Buonfiglio (Pittinari 52), 2. Luca Bigi, 3. Ion Neculai (Bello 52), 4. David Sisi (capt) (Venditti 54), 5. Andrea Zambonin, 6. Luca Andreani, 7. Maxime Mbandà, 8. Jimmy Tuivaiti.
replacements : 16. Massimo Ceciliani, 17. Juan Pitinari, 18. Eduardo Bello, 19. Gabriele Venditti, 20. Ross Vintcent, 21. Nicolò Casilio, 22. Carlo Canna, 23. Lorenzo Pani.
Tries: Cronje, Mbanda
Cons: O’Malley, Canna
Yellow Card:Laloifi 17
Referee: Ben Blain (SRU)
Assistant referees Simon Rees and Carwyn Williams (WRU)
OMT: Ian Davies (WRU)