Zebre 30 - 34 Cardiff Rugby
HT 15-17
Fri 24 March 19:10 Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi United Rugby Championship

Zebre Parma 30 Cardiff 34

Fri 24 Mar 2023 20:00 Zebre Parma 30 Cardiff 34

A James Botham brace put Cardiff on course for a deserved bonus-point win over Zebre Parma in the BKT United Rugby Championship.

The Blue and Blacks travelled to Northern Italy knowing they had to win to keep their ambitions of winning the Welsh Shield in their own hands. 

They made a nervy start as Zebre crossed inside the first three minutes of the encounter but Cardiff were soon in the ascent thanks to a pair of quick-fire tries from Botham and the boot of Rhys Priestland. 

Zebre rallied and briefly took the lead early in the second-half but tries from Mason Grady and Liam Belcher put Cardiff in the driving seat.

Dai Young’s men looked cut and dry but Zebre refused to surrender and claimed two late tries thanks to Jacopo Trulla and Matt Kvesic tries. 

It set up a thrilling finale for the neutral but Cardiff kept it tight and managed the final minutes to secure all five points.

Cardiff now turn attention to the European Challenge Cup and a home Round of 16 clash with Sale Sharks on Saturday night (April 1, 8pm).

The team ran out at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi wearing an assortment of rainbow laces, tape and arm bands as part of the URC’s Unity Round in support of the Rainbow Laces campaign. 

Zebre, fired up for their final home game of the season, came flying out of the blocks in Parma and claimed the opening try inside three minutes. 

They threatened with their counter attack from the off and slick hands on the left sent Simone Gesi over the whitewash just a week after his Italy debut. Geronimo Prisciantelli slotted the difficult conversion to give his side an early 7-0 lead. 

Cardiff however, grew into the encounter and threatened a quick-fire response. The went through more than 20 phases as they hammered at the Zebre line, launching attacks the full width of the pitch as they looked for an opening. 

But Zebre defended heroically and Cardiff could not find the try-scoring pass, eventually settling for a Rhys Priestland penalty, which took the fly-half past 150 points for the club. 

A fine Priestland penalty kicked right into the corner laid the foundations for the Blue and Blacks’ opening try. They won the ball in the middle of the line out and Belcher, Ratti and Botham peeled off the back, with the latter powering over. 

Priestland added the extras to give Cardiff a three-point lead shortly after the 20 minute mark and he was soon back at the tee as his side continued to flex their forward muscle.

It was a penalty kicked to the corner by the fly-half that again gave Cardiff attacking position and following a succession of forward pick and goes, Botham showed the explosive power and agility to claim a second from close range. 

Priestland was again on target to make it 7-17 but Zebre soon responded thanks to their fast-paced off-loading game. 

They attacked from deep with the ball spread to Kobus van Wyk, who offloaded on the switch to the onrushing Leonard Krumov. The second-row then galloped home thanks to some clever blocking lines. 

Prisciantelli was unable to add the extras but he soon slotted a penalty to cut Cardiff’s lead to two. 

The Blue and Blacks, wearing their alternate red and black strip, had one final opportunity to attack and they looked to launch a third try off the back of a five-metre line out but they were penalised by Mike Adamson and Zebre knocked the ball out for half-time. 

Zebre booted themselves back in front, just minutes into the second-half, thanks to a simple Prisciantelli penalty, but Cardiff quickly regained control with an opportunist try. 

With Richard Kriel down receiving treatment following a monstrous Mason Grady tackle, Priestland sniffed blood after a Liam Belcher turnover penalty. 

He sent a long cross kick to the left, with the bounce defying both Jason Harries and Kobus van Wyk but falling into the hands of a casual Grady, who cruised home. 

Priestland kicked the conversion to bring the scores to 18-24 and minutes later Cardiff wrapped up the bonus-point thanks to another driving line out with Belcher burrowing over and the fly-half maintaining his 100 per cent strike rate.

A strong Harries carry, followed by Grady almost led to a fifth try as the centre powered through four players but he was held up over the line. 

Cardiff were soon reduced to 14 men as Shane Lewis-Hughes was sent to the sin bin for a tip tackle.

Jarrod Evans kept the scoreboard ticking over before Zebre hit back and gave themselves hope of a late comeback thanks to a Jacopo Trulla try.

That became a very real prospect when the Italians powered over with six minutes to go, with replacement back row Kvesic on the back of a driving maul.

It set up a nervy finale in Parma but Cardiff managed the final moments to see out the game and claim all five points.

Cardiff's next task is the Challenge Cup Round of 16 clash against Sale Sharks, which sees knockout rugby returning to the Arms Park for the first time since 2018.