Cardiff Rugby celebrated their supporters’ Arms Park homecoming with an impressive 25-14 victory over Bath Rugby on Friday night.
More than 5,000 tickets were issued for the long-awaited pre-season derby as the Cardiff faithful were finally permitted to return to their iconic home following a 565 day absence.
The Covid-19 pandemic had kept the gates to Cardiff Arms Park closed since February 2020, and just as supporters were back so too were the Blue and Blacks following the club’s name change and realignment.
While the fans had undoubtedly been missed, it was as if they had never been away as chants of Cardiff reverberated around the ground in anticipation of kick-off.
And they were given plenty of reasons to cheer as Cardiff signed off their pre-season with a fine win.
James Ratti’s first-half try helped Dai Young’s side into a 10-7 lead at half-time with Priestland’s boot proving the difference.
Bath took the lead early in the second-half but Cardiff soon turned on the style with tries for Lloyd Williams and Owen Lane.
They now have a full two-week build up to their United Rugby Championship opener against Connacht, at the Arms Park on September 24.
The Blue and Blacks dominated much of the opening exchanges and pinned Bath into their own 22.
They hammered away at the West Country outfit and claimed the opening try as James Ratti, pulling on the number eight jersey, powered over from close range.
Priestland added the extras, his first home points in a Cardiff jersey, but the lead did not last long as Bath quickly responded.
It took just two minutes for them to hit back as mistakes and penalties led to easy territory and Beno Obano bulldozed through. Cipriani drew level.
While Cardiff attempted to play with speed and tempo, Bath brought a real physical edge with a giant pack and the encounter struggled to really get going. It was often disjointed in nature with typical pre-season rust and a number of injury stoppages.
Priestland booted Cardiff back into the lead with a long-range penalty with half-time approaching.
Bath returned for the second-half with an all-changed XV while Cardiff made two changes that saw Kirby Myhill and Rhys Carré come on for Liam Belcher and Corey Domachowski.
It took Bath just minutes to claim their second try as again they turned to a power game that set up Richard de Carpentier to cross from close range.
Orlando Bailey added the extras to give the visitors the lead for the first time but Priestland, his former mentor at the Rec, quickly replied to cut the deficit to one.
Cardiff also soon called Dillon Lewis and Willis Halaholo into action with the latter quickly making his presence felt with his electric feet and explosive power.
After the Wales centre had made some in roads right, play flashed back to the left and to Priestland. The fly-half pulled the ball back to Rey Lee-Lo on an arcing run, who then put Hallam Amos into space.
Amos raced to the corner but ran out of space and offloaded back inside to Lee-Lo. It was a simple finish for the Samoan centre but never one for attention, he stopped and handed the ball to scrum-half Williams to dot down.
Priestland slotted the conversion and within minutes the crowd were elated once more thanks to a third fine try finished by Lane. The hard yards were made by Ellis Jenkins and Ratti before Halaholo fired a long pass to Lane, who raced clear.
The conversion sailed wide but the quick-fire tries saw Cardiff surge into a 25-14 lead as the hour mark passed.