Cardiff keep URC play-off hopes alive by surviving furious Zebre comeback
Cardiff held off a furious fightback from Zebre Parma to keep their United Rugby Championship play-off hopes alive with a 34-30 victory at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.
Cardiff moved level on points with Connacht, who play on Saturday, for the final play-off place but they had to cling on in Italy following the sin-binning of flanker Shane Lewis-Hughes.
A pair of tries from James Botham as well as scores from Mason Grady and Liam Belcher put them in control at 31-18 but late scores from replacements Jacopo Trulla and Matt Kvesic saw the Italians get right back into it but the visitors managed to hold out for a vital five-point haul.
Zebre took just three minutes to break the deadlock when full-back Richard Kriel joined the line at pace before bursting through a tackle and flipping the ball outside where Simone Gesi was given an easy run in to the line. Geronimo Prisciantelli converted from wide on the left to make it 7-0.
Rhys Priestland converted an easy penalty for the visitors, who turned it around to go ahead midway through the first half.
Priestland kicked to the corner from a penalty and a clean lineout win saw Botham peel off the back of a driving maul to power over the Zebre line.
It was the driving maul that again proved to be fruitful for Cardiff when, from another lineout deep in Zebre territory, the Cardiff pack burst through the home defence and after several pick and drives Botham barged over for his second try to leave Priestland with an easy conversion and a 17-7 lead.
But Zebre would not lie down and powerful lock forward Leonardo Krumov finished superbly after a delightful behind the back pass inside from Kobus van Wyk set him on a path to the line.
Prisciantelli’s late penalty made it a two-point game at the break and another penalty from the Argentinian after the break put the hosts back ahead.
But again Cardiff hit back quickly as a fortuitous bounce enabled Grady to coast in for the simplest of tries and the driving maul again proved decisive as hooker Belcher crashed over to secure the bonus point.
Zebre were still not done though and went over for a third try when Trulla cut inside to finish off an expansive period of play with Cardiff defending on their own line.
The hosts sensed victory when Lewis-Hughes was sin-binned in the final 10 minutes and Kvesic made the extra man count, but despite intense pressure Zebre could not find another way through.
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