Ellis Jenkins goes over for a late try at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park
Huw Evans Picture Agency
Cardiff Blues 17 Exeter Chiefs 24
15 August 2014, 10:00 pm ::
Match Report By Ben Mottram
George Watkins opened his try account with a debut score but it was powerful Exeter Chiefs that ran out 24-17 winners in an entertaining pre-season opener at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park.
With new Director of Rugby Mark Hammett watching from the stands, new wing Watkins darted over for a well worked first half score in front of a crowd of 5,466.
And late tries from Chris Dicomidis and Ellis Jenkins saw Blues stage a dramatic fight-back that threatened to snatch a draw from the friendly encounter.
But it was the English side, who had ruthlessly built up a commanding first half advantage after first half scores from Jack Arnott, Will Chudley and Sam Simmonds, that deservedly took the spoils on a night that would have given the coaching staff at Blues plenty to ponder.
Spirted Blues showed plenty of endeavour and desire in the second half as any cobwebs from the close season were firmly blown away in the Welsh capital.
However, the first half show and a lack of physicality according to Defence Coach Dale McIntosh left him promising an unforgiving two week build-up to the final pre-season clash with Leicester Tigers at Welford Road on Friday, August 29.
Exeter made a dream start - reminiscent of the European game between the two last season - as they scored after less than two minutes after switching the ball left and right with real pace and direction.
The Chiefs quickly exploited a gap for young wing Jack Arnott to score under the posts, with Gareth Steenson adding the extras for a quick-fire 7-0 lead to the English side.
Blues looked to respond with Lou Reed smashing down the middle and Richard Smith and Gavin Evans combing down the right wing only to meet a defensive wall of defiance.
Good work by back row dynamo Macauley Cook at the breakdown won a penalty for holding on and Dan Fish booted deep into the Exeter half to set up a first real attack of note for Blues.
Hewitt and Evans immediately linked in midfield, after a powerful driving lineout, and a quick tap penalty from Knoyle caught Exeter napping. New boy Watkins worked the overlap and stepped back past the final man to dot down. Patchell added a superb conversion.
The game was being played in true pre-season fashion as Exeter turned down a kickable penalty and instead opted to tap and go while Patchell showed his invention with a grubber kick in behind collected by a galloping Watkins.
Visiting fly half Steenson did point to the posts after 20 minutes and slotted the penalty to nudge Exeter 10-7 ahead. Opposite number Patchell continued to produce some pearlers with a sublime kick to the corner.
Midfield duo Evans and Hewitt joined forces once more to create a turnover after Exeter lost control of the ball in the tackle as the game continued to be played at a lightning fast pace.
Alert work from scrum half Chudley, as he nipped down the blindside of a ruck, saw Exeter grab a second try and control of the fixture before the half hour.
Number Eight Ieuan Jones looked to counter attack and Watkins showed his pace out wide to try and work an overlap. But Exeter continued to dominate territory and more of the ball.
One last attack before half-time saw Exeter kick to the corner and they shunted the lineout over with Simmonds scoring the try for a commanding 24-7 lead at the break.
Blues rang the changes at half-time with 11 changes including the introduction of Manoa Vosawai who immediately introduced himself with a powerful bulldozing run into contact.
The home side looked to inject more pace into the game after the break against an Exeter side who also made multiple changes to use their entire squad.
Lewis Jones disrupted Dave Lewis at the back of the scrum and Ellis Jenkins pounced on the loose ball. Blues immediately looked to strike with Gareth Davies kicking in behind, but the bounce of the ball beat Fish as he looked to strike.
Twice Miles Normandale stole lineout ball as Blues looked to disrupt set piece and build up a head of steam in the final 20 minutes in Cardiff.
Blues dug deep to defend a five-metre scrum and repel Exeter as they looked to build the lead while Wales international Cory Allen was introduced after his summer exploits in South Africa.
Allen rolled out of a tackle and fed Geraint Walsh while the hard-working Evans showed plenty of work-rate as he bounced a tackle and then raced into more contact in the final ten.
Quick handling and offloads from Blues looked like they would find no way through in the dying embers of the game.
But with time almost up, Allen opened up Exeter and kicked ahead for Ellis Jenkins to latch onto. Quick ball saw Rhys Williams thump up close before the ball was worked wide for Dicomidis to race over.
And seconds later more quick handling down the line from Davies, Allen and Walsh released Fish. He kicked ahead and the supporting Jenkins took his time to collect and dive over under pressure as Exeter struggled against the late rally.
02m Arnott t Steenson c 0-7
07m Watkins t Patchell c 7-7
20m Steenson p 7-10
29m Chudley t Steenson c 7-17
40m Simmonds t Steenson 7-24
79m Dicomidis t 12-24
80m Jenkins t 17-24
Cardiff Blues: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Richard Smith, 13 Gavin Evans (Smith 40, Evans 63), 12 Dafydd Hewitt (Allen 63), 11 George Watkins (Walsh 40), 10 Rhys Patchell (Davies 40), 9 Tavis Knoyle (Jones 40); 1 Thomas Davies (Hobbs 40), 2 Rhys Williams (E Lewis 40, Williams 63), 3 Craig Mitchell (Andrews 40), 4 Lou Reed (Normandale 40, Cook 67), 5 Chris Dicomidis, 6 Macauley Cook (Watts-Jones 40), 7 Josh Navidi (Jenkins 40), 8 Ieuan Jones (Vosawai 40)
Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Sam Hobbs, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Miles Normandale, 20 Rory Watts-Jones, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Gareth Davies, 23 Cory Allen, 24 Ellis Jenkins, 25 Manoa Vosawai, 26 Garyn Smith, 27 Geraint Walsh, 28 Dillon Lewis