Rhys Priestland rolled back the years to steer Cardiff Rugby to a thrilling 30-34 (15-17) win over Zebre Parma at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma on Friday night.
Zebre started the better of the two sides and scored twice in the first half through Simone Gesi and Leonard Krumov.
However, Cardiff were disciplined after a shaky first 20 minutes and pulled well ahead thanks to tries from Mason Grady, Liam Belcher, and a brace from James Botham.
Matt Kvesic and Jacopo Trulla’s superb scores made things tight on the scoreboard, but the Welsh side were able to see out an important win despite the late.
NAIL BITING finish! @Cardiff_Rugby defeat @ZebreParma and take the 5 points! ?? #BKTURC #URC | #ZEBvCAR pic.twitter.com/DBCL6v1xCt— BKT United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial) March 24, 2023
The home side started the brighter of the two and went ahead after just four minutes thanks to a wonderful try by Simone Gesi.
A deft crosskick by Geronimo Prisciantelli unleashed Kobus van Wyk down the right wing and into the 22.
On the next phase, Zebre put the ball through the hands of the midfield, finding fullback Richard Kriel to break line and feed the recently capped Italy international to score his seventh URC try of the season.
It's @ZebreParma who strike first! ??
What a week for Simone Gesi! First Italy Cap on Saturday, #BKTURC try scorer on Friday! ?? #BKTURC #URC | #ZEBvCAR pic.twitter.com/SDlWSgiMM8— BKT United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial) March 24, 2023
Cardiff rallied, but were sloppy with ball in hand for a while. Their only passage of note in the opening 20 minutes brought 19 phases and only three points.
The Welsh region went back to basics and relied on Rhys Priestland and Lloyd Williams’s kicking game to take them up to 5m out where an excellent maul brough their first try, scored by James Botham.
Suddenly, Zebre were making regular errors. A scrum penalty lead to another dominant Cardiff maul, before James Botham powered over for a second after a period of pick-and-drive rugby.
MORE HEARTBREAK FOR WINLESS ITALIANS
Just as the game looked to have gotten away from Zebre, they conjured up a wonderful piece of phase play orchestrated by the excellent Prisciantelli.
The ball found itself in the hands of Leonard Krumov who sped down the wing before handing off Cardiff defenders like a seasoned winger, rather than a long-locked second row, scoring a first try for his club.
Zebre re-took the lead early in the second half thanks to the boot of Prisciantelli. The Argentinian flyhalf was excellent, varying his kicks and often giving his side big net gains from the aerial battle with Priestland and Ben Thomas.
The home side were not ahead for long, however. Priestland’s quick thinking and excellent boot gave Mason Grady – another newly capped international – a simple score, despite Zebre protestations.
A few minutes later, Cardiff extended their lead with a bonus-point try from Liam Belcher with the Welsh hooker getting in on the action with his third score of the season.
Cardiff should have had another as Zebre’s intent to play from everywhere almost let them down.
Jacopo Trulla’s kick inside the 22 was charged down by Jason Harries who, without knowing how much time and space he had to score, tried to volley the ball, succeeding only in kicking it straight out of play.
Trulla was back into the action mere seconds later and his wonderful score, coming off the back of some quick phases and hard carrying from Enrico Lucchin in particular, closed the gap and put some late pressure on Cardiff.
At the wrong time, Cardiff’s discipline illuded them. Shane Lewis-Hughes was sent to the bin for a tip tackle and Matt Kvesic scored the bonus point try from the resultant rolling maul.
Ultimately though, it was more heartbreak for the winless Italians who only have two points to console thems, knowing that was their best chance to pick up a win this season.