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Cardiff defeat Benetton and boost URC play-off bid

By PA
(Photo by Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images)

Wales international Owen Lane scored two early tries as Cardiff remained in United Rugby Championship play-off contention with a 30-13 victory over Benetton at the Arms Park.

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The powerful wing struck twice in the opening seven minutes to underpin Cardiff’s bonus-point win, while Benetton had fly-half Tomas Albornoz was sent off six minutes from time for making contact with the eye area of an opposition player.

Number eight James Ratti and full-back Ben Thomas also crossed for the hosts, while Thomas kicked two penalties and two conversions.

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Benetton trailed by just three points at half-time, but that was as close as they got despite tries by full-back Rhyno Smith and centre Marco Zanon, with Albornoz booting a penalty.

With Welsh rugby currently dominated by the possibility of a players’ strike over a freeze on professional contracts, there was an air of relief among the Arms Park crowd to see competitive action taking centre-stage.

Next Saturday’s Six Nations clash between Wales and England – to be played next door at the Principality Stadium – could be in doubt with a long-term agreement between the four professional regions and Welsh Rugby Union still to be signed off.

Players out of contact at the end of this season – believed to number between 70 and 100 in Wales – cannot be offered new deals in writing until agreement is reached.

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Against that back-drop, scrum-half Lloyd Williams led Cardiff out on his 256th appearance – a club record for the professional era – and the game got off to a blistering start with three tries during the opening seven minutes.

Lane scored the first after just 90 seconds following a Cardiff lineout drive, then Smith replied with a slick Benetton score before Cardiff centre Max Llewellyn’s break set up Lane for his second touchdown.

Cardiff saw fly-half Jarrod Evans go off following a heavy midfield collision, with Matthew Morgan replacing him and Thomas moving from full-back into the number 10 position.

Prop Dimitri Arhip then limped off as Cardiff lost two players through injury inside the opening quarter, but it did not unsettle them as two Thomas penalties put them 11 points clear.

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Benetton needed to cut the deficit before half-time, and Zanon obliged when he finished off patient build-up play before an Albornoz penalty meant Cardiff led 16-13 at the interval.

The visitors were temporarily reduced to 14 players just after the break, though, when referee Chris Busby yellow-carded Benetton prop Tiziano Pasquali for a scrummaging offence.

It gave Cardiff a chance to re-establish some momentum, and they claimed a third try after 50 minutes when Benetton struggled to contain sustained forward pressure.

Benetton were on the back foot, and Ratti went over, with Thomas’ conversion leaving the Italians 10 points adrift and Cardiff comfortably closed things out.

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