Alex Mann of Cardiff Rugby looks dejected as Fin Baxter of Harlequins (not pictured) scores their team's sixth try. Pic: Getty Images.

Champions Cup Lights Go Out On Welsh Rugby As Cardiff Are Subdued, Then Smashed

By David Williams

Former Cardiff coach Danny Wilson was polite and complimentary about his old club but stressed his current Harlequins team can “strangle” any game after Wales’ only representatives in Europe’s top tournament were throttled on their own patch.

The Investec Champions Cup tie at the Arms Park could be significant for more than just the 54-15 scoreline and the eight tries scored by Quins.

It could well mark the last match in the tournament played in Wales for some time.

With a straight meritocracy now operating in the United Rugby Championship as the route to qualification, it must be hoped the Ospreys – currently in eighth – can cling on, otherwise there may well be no Welsh side in the tournament next season.

After that, it could be anyone’s guess as to when one of the four Welsh sides is able to secure a finish in the top half of the 16-club table.

The concern for Cardiff – and maybe for the other three Welsh sides – is that Matt Sherratt’s men probably played at, or near, the top of their ability for long spells in this game. Yet, they were still over-powered, over-run and out-thought.

It’s a sad reflection of where the game is in Wales that a 50-point hammering at home to an English club can be greeted with such a sanguine reaction across the board – from players, coaches and fans.

Sherratt – who team have one away fixture left in the competition, away to Racing 92 in Paris – said: “We were beaten by a better side in most areas tonight so we have no complaints.

“We had energy for the first 30 minutes, were really competitive and scored some nice tries.

“But we gave them a few easy returns straight after our scores through some naivety and the score just before half-time seemed to take the legs from us.

“When that happens against the likes of Danny Care and Marcus Smith and the firepower they have around them, they’re going to hurt you.”

Quins took a giant stride towards progressing to the knockout stages at a sold-out Arms Park.

Cardiff competed fiercely in the first half hour but were then out-gunned by some exhilarating play from the visitors.

Jack Walker, Will Evans, Andre Esterhuizen, Will Beard, Dillon Lewis, Fin Baxter, Tyrone Green and Marcus Smith all touched down for Quins.

England fly-half Smith converted seven of the tries in a personal points tally of 19.

Thomas Young scored two tries for Cardiff, with Tinus de Beer adding a penalty and a conversion.

Wilson said: “I am really pleased, the boys played well tonight. We had huge respect for this Cardiff team the way they have been playing recently.

“Matt (Sherratt) and the staff are doing a superb job considering the cards they were dealt at the beginning of the season.

“What was pleasing was we showed we can play different ways. The high-speed attractive rugby with X-factor players we have got that is associated with Quins but we can go to a strangle game with a set-piece dominance.

“More than 50 points is a good nights work.”

Smith led out Quins on his 150th appearance for the club, but they were soon behind when De Beer kicked a fourth-minute penalty.

Early ferocity from Cardiff rattled their opponents and it resulted in a try for the Welsh region. Quins failed to deal with a well-judged cross-field kick from De Beer, with lock Seb Davies knocking the ball into the path of Young who raced 40 metres to the line.

Quins soon responded with a try from Walker after an unstoppable line-out drive, before Cardiff made two mistakes in quick succession to give the Londoners another attacking platform.

Willis Halaholo knocked on before De Beer lost substantial ground by kicking straight into touch. As a result, the visitors were able to win a penalty but they turned down a simple kick at goal in favour of more attacking options, however, it proved the wrong call.

The hosts suffered an injury blow when young full-back Cam Winnett was led off and failed an HIA, but they still led 8-7 at the end of a compelling first quarter.

Cardiff then produced a stunning second try. On the halfway line, they cleverly created for Harri Millard to make ground down the right flank before Tomos Williams was on hand to provide Young with his second try.

The English outfit reacted swiftly to score a try of equal merit. Quick hands and excellent ball-retention sucked in the defence leaving Esterhuizen with a 30 metre run-in.

The entertainment was now breathtaking as Quins looked in desperate trouble on their own line, but somehow Smith conjured up a gap to send Will Evans racing to near halfway. With men in support, Evans choice to kick as Tomos Williams was able to dash back and save the day.

However, Quins were not to be denied as a strong from Nick David set up a try for Evans before more incredible handling saw Beard just hold off a cover tackle from Mason Grady for the bonus point and a 28-15 half-time lead.

Within four minutes of the restart, Quins had another when Care gave Smith a walk-in try after the Cardiff defence was torn to shreds.

With Quins firmly in control, the action slowed but the visitors were still able to emphasise their superiority with late tries from front-rowers Lewis and Baxter before Green took his side past the 50-point mark.


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