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Cardiff Blues 24-13 Aironi

Cardiff Blues (15) 24
Tries: Halfpenny, Thomas Cons: Sweeney Pens: Sweeney 2, Parks Drop-goal: Sweeney
Aironi (7) 13
Tries: Krause Cons: Marshall Pens: Buso 2


Leigh Halfpenny
Leigh Halfpenny has been out with an ankle injury since October

Wales wing Leigh Halfpenny scored in his first start for three months to inspire the Cardiff Blues into third in the league with victory over Aironi.

Halfpenny scored in the eighth minute of his full comeback from ankle injury to give hosts a lead after a delicate Ceri Sweeney kick through on the left.

A try from Aironi flanker Gareth Krause gave the Blues a scare before Wales hooker Rhys Thomas touched-down.

And fly-half Ceri Sweeney kicked 11 points to seal back-to-back Blues wins.

The Welsh region continued their dominance over Italian opposition with their eighth triumph from eight encounters at the Cardiff City Stadium - although this was far from a dominant display.

But the Blues scoring started early as Sweeney slotted over a simple early penalty.

Then Halfpenny, eager to impress Wales coach Warren Gatland ahead of his Six Nations squad announcement, announced his return to top-class rugby with his second try of the season.

The 22-year-old pounced after Sweeney's nudge through wasn't collected by fellow wing Tom James - and the ball squirmed up into Halfpenny's stride for the wing to go over.

Sweeney missed the conversion, though he made a better attempt than Aironi's French full-back Julien Laharrague who blazed two penalties way off target.

Magners League new boys Aironi, still without a win this season, gave Blues something to think about as Krause was driven over and fly-half James Marshall, taking over with the boot, kicked the extras.

After referee Peter Allen had warned both skippers about repeated infringements, Aironi again attracted his wrath and international hooker Fabio Ongaro saw a yellow card.

Opposite number Rhys Thomas was the immediate beneficiary, goring over from close range for Sweeney to convert.

Marshall missed a kickable penalty for the visitors just before the break but Paolo Buso, who replaced the hapless Laharrague at half-time, cut the deficit when the Blues managed to concede a penalty against the seven-man scrum.

Buso added another three points while the Blues still concentrated on planting their penalties into the corner, only to squander the resultant openings.

Luckily Buso wasted a long-range chance to put the Italians in front and the Blues, having breathed a sigh of relief, decided to go for goal themselves next time only for Halfpenny to drag it wide.

Sweeney gave them a little breathing space with an easier effort and a drop-goal by the diminutive fly-half made the points secure.

Before an injury-time penalty by late replacement Dan Parks gave the scoreline a flattering look for the Blues as they move into the play-off places.


Blues: Chris Czekaj; Leigh Halfpenny, Tom Shanklin, Jamie Roberts, Tom James; Ceri Sweeney, Tom Slater; Gethin Jenkins, T Rhys Thomas, Jon Yapp, Bradley Davies, Paul Tito (capt), Andries Pretorius, Sam Warburton, Tom Brown.
Replacements: Martyn Williams for Sam Warburton (41), Scott Andrews for John Yapp (46), Dafydd Hewitt for Tom Shanklin (65), Deiniol Jones for Paul Tito (72), Dan Parks for Jamie Roberts (75), Rhys Downes for Tom Slater (79) Not used: Gareth Williams, Sam Hobbs,

Aironi: Julien Laharrague; Kaine Robertson, Rodd Penney, Gilberto Pavan, Matteo Pratichetti; James Marshall, Pablo Canavosio; Salvatore Perugini, Fabio Ongaro, Fabio Staibano, Joshua Furno, Carlo Del Fava (capt), Simone Favaro, Gareth Krause, Nick Williams.
Replacements:

Paulo Buso for Julien Laharrague (41), Luigi Ferraro for Simone Favaro (42), Simon Favaro for Luigi Ferraro (45), Matias Aguero for Salvatore Perugini (53), Josh Sole for Simone Favaro (65), Quintin Geldenhuys for Joshua Furno (65), Michael Wilson for Pablo Canavosio (65), Gabriel Pizarro for Gilberto Pavan Not used: Luca Redolfini

Referee: Peter Allan (SRU).

Attendance: 6,000



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