First-half dominance wins it for Cardiff
MATCH REPORT: Cardiff scored five first-half tries on their way to a 42-14 bonus-point victory over Zebre Parma at the Arms Park.
James Ratti, Lloyd Williams and Owen Lane (2) all touched down in an opening 40 minutes that also saw the hosts awarded a penalty try.
Cardiff struggled to add to their total in the second half, with tries from Erich Cronje and Maxime Mbanda reducing Zebre’s 35-0 half-time deficit, but Max Llewellyn went over in the closing stages to add some gloss, with Rhys Priestland kicking eight points and Ben Thomas two.
Tim O’Malley and Carlo Canna contributed a combined four points to the Zebre cause from the kicking tee.
This victory pushed Cardiff up to 13th in the United Rugby Championship table, but the end-of-season play-offs and Heineken Champions Cup qualification were already out of reach.
Cardiff started strongly as they applied pressure in the Zebre 22, with number eight Ratti powering over from close range.
Priestland added the extras and the home side were soon celebrating their second try when impressive loosehead Rhys Carre charged through the Zebre defence before offloading to Lloyd Williams, who ran in for the score.
Cardiff were then awarded a penalty try when Theo Cabango was tackled high in the act of scoring. As if the outcome was not bad enough for Zebre, culprit Junior Laloifi was also sent to the sin bin.
Cardiff had the bonus point in the bag after 21 minutes, with Lane running in unopposed from 40 metres out.
Lane claimed his second on the stroke of half-time as he hacked on a loose ball to touch down, and Priestland added the extras to give the hosts a 35-0 lead at the interval.
Zebre scored their first try just after the break, with South African Cronje showing his power to score.
The quality of the game deteriorated somewhat in the second half and Cardiff were temporarily reduced to 14 men when replacement hooker Kirby Myhill got sent to the sin bin for a late shoulder charge.
Zebre made the most of their numerical advantage with a powerful carry from Gabriele Venditti, who offloaded to Mbanda for the Italian side’s second try.
Despite remaining pointless in the second half up to that point, Cardiff had the last laugh late on when explosive centre Llewellyn sliced open the Zebre defence to run in a try from 35 metres out, with Thomas adding the extras.
Tries: Ratti, L Williams, Penalty try, Lane 2, Llewellyn.
Cons: Priestland 4, Thomas
Tries: Cronje, Mbanda
Cons: O’Malley, Canna
Cardiff: 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Max Llewellyn, 11 Theo Cabango, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 James Ratti, 7 Josh Navidi (captain), 6 James Botham, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Liam Belcher, 1 Rhys Carré.
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.
Zebre: 15 Michelangelo Biondelli, 14 Junior Laloifi, 13 Erich Cronjé, 12 Franco Smith Jr, 11 Simone Gesi, 10 Timothy O’Malley, 9 Chris Cook, 8 Jimmy Tuivaiti, 7 Maxime Mbandà, 6 Luca Andreani, 5 Andrea Zambonin, 4 David Sisi (captain), 3 Ion Neculai, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Paolo Buonfiglio.
Replacements: 16 Massimo Ceciliani, 17 Juan Pitinari, 18 Eduardo Bello, 19 Gabriele Venditti, 20 Ross Vincent, 21 Nicolò Casilio, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Lorenzo Pani.
Referee: Ben Blain (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Simon Rees (Wales), Carwyn Williams (Wales)
TMO: Ian Davies (Wales)