2005/2006 Principality Premiership
Neath 41 v 20 Cardiff
21 January 2006 - The Gnoll, Neath

Match Report

Neath 41 Cardiff 21

Another Saturday, another defeat, but the Blue & Blacks showed great commitment and one hundred per cent effort before finally giving second-best to the reigning and prospective Premiership champions.

There was much to admire and learn from the Welsh All Blacks' play on the field and their operation off it. On a sunny winter's afternoon the environment and set-up at the Gnoll was testimony to what can be achieved when everyone focuses on the present rather than the past and vital energy is not wasted on fighting old battles (long since settled) and generating fruitless debates about identity and status.

The record books will show that the Welsh All Blacks (the traditional name of Neath Rugby) defeated the Blue & Blacks (the official nomenclature of Cardiff Rugby Football Club) by 41 points to 20. Neath remain top of the Premiership table; Cardiff slip to bottom place after their 14th defeat of the campaign.

Yet Owen Ruttley's side might take some consolation from the try count of 4-3 against them, a brave final total after conceding an admittedly soft seven-pointer in the opening minute. Within nine minutes the Blue & Blacks hit back when Wayne Murphy touched down from a lineout catch and drive.

There was, however, no disguising the home club's strength in depth. Star of the match was fly-half James Hook. He finished with 21 points from five penalty goals and three conversions but, more than that, displayed a fine appreciation of all the fly-half's arts. His understudy, not even required from the replacements' bench, was the mercurial Arwel Thomas.

Those who were called upon included try-hungry wing Neil Clapham, international number 8 Hywel Jenkins, and granite prop Andrew Howell.

In the circumstances, Cardiff did well to make a fist of a tough challenge. They trailed 5-23 at the interval after Gareth James and Paul Jones scored tries for Neath. Undeterred, they resumed with great resolve. Chris Anderson kicked a penalty goal to take him to 150 points for the season and 499 for his Cardiff career. Then Owen Ruttley raced away from a scrum on half way and Jamie Roberts glided up at his elbow to finish off the move.

At 13-23 the Blue & Blacks were far from disgraced and the game was far from over. Then Neath showed their class and slipped up a gear. Hooker Andrew Littlehales and his replacement Gerwyn Price scored tries and the immaculate goalkicking of Hook did the rest.

Cardiff never hoisted the white flag. They were still attacking at the end and gained some reward when Dafydd Hewitt put in a deft grubber-kick and beat everyone in the race for the touchdown.

This brave Cardiff side, seemingly following a lonesome trail that too few club members and officials have the bearings for, are far from finished in their fight from relegation. Next Saturday, though, all hands will need to be on deck when the Blue & Blacks travel to Llandovery for the classic relegation 'six pointer'. More than anything, Howard Stone and his coaching colleagues are entitled to expect a full complement of registered Premiership players to select their starting line-up from. Then the fans and everyone involved in the club will play their part in getting behind a young side that has been doing its level best in an often unlevel playing field.....

Official : Gary Davies (Wales)

Neath Cardiff