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Cardiff Blues stay perfect after edging past Zebre

Cardiff Blues maintained their 100 per cent Guinness PRO12 record as they clung on to beat Zebre 23-21 in an enthralling encounter at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.

The Blues had won just one of their last eight matches in Italy and while they couldn’t relax until the final whistle, Danny Wilson’s men did just enough to leave Parma with the four points.

A lively first half saw Guglielmo Palazzani’s close-range try give Zebre the lead before Blaine Scully and Matthew Morgan got the Blues on top at the break.

Tom James’ score early in the second half looked to have sealed the contest but when Giulio Bisegni and Giovanbattista Venditti dotted down, the visitors were forced to hold on for the final five minutes.

But hold on they did and now sit second in the Guinness PRO12 table, level on points with leaders Ulster and yet to taste defeat this term.

Zebre were leading Connacht 22-10 at half-time last week before the match was abandoned due to bad weather and they picked up where they left off in Parma.

Carlo Canna and Steve Shingler had already traded three-pointers when the hosts booted an 11th-minute penalty to touch and, from the resulting five-metre line-out, scrum-half Palazzani burrowed over from close-range.

Canna failed to add the conversion but Blues kicker Shingler was also errant from the tee as he pushed two penalty chances wide before finally finding his mark on 22 minutes to narrow the deficit to 8-6.

And when Oliviero Fabiani was sentenced to ten minutes in the sin-bin, the visitors capitalised as Scully crossed the whitewash after strong work from the forwards following a line-out.

Shingler duly slotted the conversion and despite Josh Turnbull seeing yellow, the 14 men of Cardiff got a second try five minutes before the break.

They showed great patience to go through a number of phases before Cory Allen deftly grubbered the ball through and Morgan pounced to dot down.

Edoardo Padovani did slot a penalty on the stroke of half-time to reduce Zebre’s deficit but the Blues came out firing after the break and flying winger James stripped the ball in contact before racing into the corner unopposed for a 23-11 lead.

But the Italian outfit are nothing if not resilient and a long Canna pass put Bisegni over in the corner to narrow the gap to seven points.

Rey Lee-Lo wasted a golden opportunity to put the game to bed with 12 minutes remaining as his pass failed to find the waiting Scully and Zebre capitalised on 75 minutes.

Nick Williams knocked on close to his own line and, despite a desperate scramble, Venditti was released to go over in the corner – although Padovani failed to add the tying conversion.

And Blues did enough to see out the final few minutes as they beat Zebre for the sixth time in nine Guinness PRO12 meetings.

Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final

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