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Zebre stun Cardiff Blues to claim first RaboDirect PRO12 victory

Zebre finally claimed their maiden RaboDirect PRO12 victory at the 25th time of asking with a 30-25 victory over the Cardiff Blues at Arms Park, surviving a late onslaught from the home side.

Mauro Bergamasco, David Odiete and Brendan Leonard were the heroes for the Italian outfit, with Luciano Orquera orchestrating proceedings with the boot.

All the talk pre-game was of the returning Leigh Halfpenny after his British & Irish Lions heroics but it was Dafydd Hewitt who made the early impact for the Cardiff Blues, crossing after a brilliant break from Rhys Patchell after just two minutes.

That was the Blues’ first try of the season and Halfpenny stepped up and made no mistake with the conversion, immediately picking up where he left off this summer Down Under.

Cardiff dominated the opening ten minutes as the visitors from Italy struggled to get into the game, but gradually they worked their way into proceedings and on 15 minutes got back on level terms.

Bergamasco crossed the whitewash from a driving maul and fly-half Orquera evened things up from the tee. And the Italy fly-half put Zebre ahead for the first time with a penalty on 20 minutes from wide on the right.

Cardiff enjoyed a period of pressure in the Zebre 22 thereafter but came away with nothing to show for it, Halfpenny missing with a regulation penalty the likes of which he would usually gobble up.

Nine minutes before the break he made amends with another penalty attempt to make it 10-10, only for Cardiff to attract the wrath of referee Leighton Hodges at scrum-time and give Orquera the chance to slot his third successful kick of the night to give Zebre back the lead five minutes from the break.

The lead didn’t last long, however, Halfpenny making it 13-13 with virtually his first kick of the second half from long range.

Orquera missed from the tee but then landed a drop goal, Halfpenny replying in kind as both sides struggled to stay within the laws giving the two experienced internationals plenty of kicking practice.

Cardiff rung the changes as they looked to break the deadlock with Matthew Rees, Robin Copeland, James Down and Sam Hobbs taking to the field as former Cardiff Blues centre Jamie Roberts watched on from the stands.

Yet another Halfpenny penalty after Zebre were penalised at the scrum gave Cardiff a three-point advantage as the game entered the final quarter with the home fans’ nerves starting to fray.

But their hearts looked to have been broken when David Odiete touched down for Zebre to put the Italians in touching distance of their first ever RaboDirect PRO12 victory.

Orquera kicked the extras to put Zebre 23-19 ahead with 14 minutes to go, only for Halfpenny’s metronomic boot to drag the Blues back within a point two minutes later.

But Kiwi scrum-half Brendan Leonard then zoomed over the line to cap an impressive personal performance and Orquera’s conversion made it an eight-point game with eight minutes remaining.

With five minutes to go Zebre prop Luca Redolfini saw yellow as Cardiff ratcheted up the pressure and Halfpenny kicked the penalty to bring the Blues within five points.

With Redolfini watching from the sidelines, Dario Chistolini was called onto the field to complete the front row for a scrum, without any player appearing to leave the pitch for him until the scrum was over ensuring a controversial end to the game.

But heroic defence on their own line as the clock ticked down helped keep the Blues out, sparking wild celebrations among the Zebre players as Mr Hodges blew his whistle for full time.

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