Reports that local hospitals are at bursting point after a spate of winter illnesses had obviously not reached Cardiff Arms Park. Showing a fine disregard for the faint-hearted and those of a nervous disposition, Cardiff bided their time until the eighth minute of injury time before scoring a third try that set up a do or die attempted conversion from the touchline to win the match.
The spotlight fell on Nick Macleod, playing on permit at fly-half. He had started the game erratically, badly missing two kickable penalty goals in the fourth and sixth minutes. Now, in its dying moments, he was lining up the kick that might yet define the Blue & Blacks’ season. Showing nerves of steel he ignored the frantic attempted charge-down of his kick by half the Llanelli team and the ball left his boot like a guided missile and flew between the distant uprights.
The victory was sweet and the reaction of his team mates, coaches, and indeed the hardy souls in the stands and terraces, who had stayed to what seemed certain to be another bitter ending, said it all. Macleod had made the headlines, in itself a welcome accolade for a young player who has suffered more than the usual slings and arrows of conflicting fortunes in the inconsistent Cardiff Blues’ campaign this season. He deserved his moment in the spotlight, which completed five successful goal kicks, three from near touch and one from nigh on half-way, after his earlier mishaps.
But the real heroes were the Cardiff pack. Once again they stuck to their task manfully. When the attempts at fifteen-man rugby had failed spectacularly in the first 40 minutes - the visitors led 21-3 at the interval courtesy of three gifted tries - an obvious plan B was pulled out of the bottom drawer during the interval. Throw the ball around and when its dropped and the opposition pick it up don’t tackle them but wave them on their way was replaced by a hefty dose of stick it up your jumper. It worked a treat as the pack clawed the team back into the game.
Lineout catch and drives, one on the left corner, the other on the right, set up two tries for Ryan Price. Macleod converted both from wide out. Then he blasted his 48-metre penalty goal with less than 20 minutes left to play. The only problem was that Llanelli still seemed capable of snapping opportunist tries at will. They had done so from the start. In the second minute a regulation lineout set up the backs and blind-side wing Daniel Gravell popped up in midfield and ran straight through, past and around an apology of a defence for the softest of touchdowns. Then on the half-hour Darren Daniel on the other wing stood up his marker with embarrassing ease and danced over in the corner. Finally on the brink of the interval, it was Swansea, Cross Keys and Neath all over again as a Cardiff pass was intercepted and Gravell jogged 60 metres for his second try.
Ceiron Thomas converted all three tries, but crucially hit an upright with a penalty goal and also hit the woodwork when replacement scrum-half Rhidian McGuire scored the team’s fourth try, again exploiting powder-puff tackling, midway through the second half. But by then Cardiff were beavering away and getting closer and closer to the home win they so desperately needed.
But it looked like eluding them yet again. Then, as all hope was almost given up, Elgan Jones squeezed over in the corner after the last play of the match. Time left only for Nick Macleod to face the pressure kick. Pressure - what pressure? Over it went, and up went the arms. As Howard Stone said in his programme notes, “Stick with us - we can do it”.