Cardiff Blues 33 Lyon Olympique Universitaire 14 (19th January 2019)
I’ve never had a particularly great impression of Cardiff. I’ve only really known it for the rather bleak walk from the station to Ninian Park in the 80s and 90s, and also for a rather depressing walk in the rain between the station and the Millennium Stadium for a play-off final in 2001. When Billie Piper’s character in an episode of Dr Who was told that of all the possible historic 19th century locations worldwide, they’d turned up in Cardiff, and reacted with underwhelmed disappointment I knew exactly what she meant.
However, having spent a little more time there, actually it’s not too bad. You’ll never be short of anywhere to stop for a bite to eat and drink, that for sure, and it has a fine old castle right in the city centre too, which was what swayed it for me when considering options for the day. That said, anyone who drives into the city centre, whatever they think of the centre itself, will leave unable to forget the forest of traffic lights, 95% of which seem to be on red at any time, which slow down departure from the city to an agonising crawl.
Handily, also in the centre was my venue for the day, Cardiff Arms Park, close enough to allow me to collect my ticket before picking one of those numerous pubs for a pub lunch. I opted for a quite swanky looking place called The Alchemist, which as far as I can tell didn’t actually offer any examples of everyday materials being turned into gold, but did feature some nice young waitresses, which I consider a better option. One of them, wearing a pair of very tight black leather trousers, even had me envying a door for the only time in my life, as she stood by the entrance door, pushing it open with her buttocks for everyone who entered or left.
The bulk of the Millennium Stadium, or the Principality stadium, as it is now known, is visible from large parts of the city centre. My only visit to the stadium had been for the previously mentioned 2001 play-off final, a miserable day all round, with it raining, the roof being shut making it gloomy, the terrible view from the lower tier behind the goal, and Reading losing 3-2 after leading twice, meaning it wasn’t my favourite venue in the world.
This time though, I’d be going to the considerably smaller stadium next door, home of Cardiff Blues Rugby Club. It’s construction was so integrated with the main stadium that the Principality Stadium replaced, that the concrete supports of the old stadium are still visible, where they form the one end of the Principality Stadium that doesn’t match the lines of the rest.
Both sides of the ground are similar, being two tier stands with seats at the back and a paddock of terracing at front. In the main south stand, the split is about 60/40 in favour of seats in terms of pure area taken up, while in the north stand, the split is reversed, being mainly terracing. Both have very similar 70s/80s flat roofs, with identical set of roof-mounted floodlight peeking over the top, like they are trying to sneak a view of the action without paying.
Both ends of the ground are taken up by multi-level hospitality suites, with scoreboards on top. The less advanced of these scoreboards, at the western end, resolutely insisted the score was still 0-0, even at full time.
Disappointingly, the 12000 capacity ground didn’t look even half-full, although that’s not surprising considering both teams were already eliminated from the Heineken Cup group stage even before this fixture was played, and a high degree of “squad rotation” was forecast. Full credit though to perhaps 100 fans who’d made the journey from Lyon, having lost all five group games so far, who’d only really get to properly enjoy one half of this game as well.
Lyon started well, and after a sustained spell of early pressure, it was no surprise to almost anybody, when they eventually forced their way over the line for the opening try. I say “almost anybody” as one fan chose this exact moment to walk up the aisle, oblivious to the action just metres behind him, and completely obscure my view of what happened as he dawdled up the steps. Cheers, mate.
Not knowing the Lyon line-up, I did wonder if they’d put out a stronger team than the Cardiff one that saw 11 changes, and were going to overpower their hosts. Their 17th minute opener was the result of nearly 10 minutes of constant pressure.
Cardiff hadn’t really done much beyond having an ambitious 45 metre penalty drop short. It would be the only attempted penalty in the entire game. There were few signs of what was to come, but they turned the game around with two tries in around 10 minutes to lead 12-7. Momentum seemed to have swung now completely if Cardiff’s favour, but maybe mentally Cardiff heads were already in the changing room for half time, as Lyon hit them with a break to get another try right in the corner, just before the break. 14-12 to Lyon now, and another half of the score see-sawing looked on the cards.
That’s not how it went though. Either Cardiff’s coach made a really stirring half time speech, or Lyon’s boss a really bad one, because there was only one team in it after that.
Three tries in the opening 20 minutes of the half saw off the visitors. The third was a curious affair, with very few in the ground seeming to think it was a try. It looked like an effort in vain to touch a bobbling ball down before it ran out of the back of the try area, and only a small knot of people seemed to really cheer. The ref went to the TMO though, and there was a much bigger cheer when it was clear from the first replay that Lewis Jones had got the touch just two minutes after coming on for his 100th Cardiff Blues appearance.
That was that for the scoring. Cardiff eased off, and Lyon couldn’t quite find enough to get another score of their own. Lyon’s second half was probably summed up by a penalty kick for touch, aimed for near the corner, but going a good few metres beyond instead, completely wasting a great chance to score, and losing possession. They were only five points behind at the time.
If only Lyon could have shown the spirit of their fans. Their ship may have been sinking, but the Lyon band played on. No spotty youths with a drum here, but a proper set of trumpets, trombones, and even a couple a saxophones played out an upbeat accompaniment to a considerably downbeat second half performance.
Overall, a bit of pride restored for the Cardiff fans, but for fans of “LOU”, as their flags proclaimed, the consolation was that while they may have seen their team lose all six group games, if need of a place to drown their sorrows, they’d have a pretty good choice.