Cardiff paid a heavy price for wayward goal kicking as they slipped to a narrow defeat at Sardis Road. Five attempts, one from bang in front of the posts and two more from just to their left and right, and all three from 20-metre range, were blasted wide in an extravagant waste of points-scoring opportunities that in the end literally equated to the difference between victory and defeat.
The game had been billed locally as ‘a clash of two rugby cultures’, rather sidestepping the modern reality that nearly two-thirds of the players on show from both sides were members or products of the Blues’ regional academy. Yet there was no disguising the fact that this latest instalment of the old rivalries was another fine advertisement for the ever-improving standards of Principality Premiership rugby. There was a passion and an intensity all over the pitch as both sides went about the game with unrelenting energy. Undeniably, Pontypridd did most of the attacking but Cardiff, in turn, delivered three sweet tries from clinical build-up and finishing.
In the early stages, Ponty set off as they meant to continue, pounding away deep inside the Cardiff 22 but without putting points on the board. For most of the first half the Blue & Blacks’ lineout struggled but the scrum was a different story altogether as, spearheaded by a young and hungry front row of Rhys Gill, Ross Johnston and Scott Roberts, a telling ascendancy was soon established.
Once again Darren Allinson was impressing at the heels of the pack and, appropriately, it was he who broke the deadlock in the 19th minute with a classic scrum-half’s try. From rare lineout ball on the right a ruck was established in midfield and quick recycling allowed the 18-year-old to break away and race 30 metres for the touchdown under the posts. No sooner had Cardiff’s celebrations died down that it was head-in-hands time as Craig Evans’ straightforward conversion attempt ended nearer the clubhouse than the goalposts.
The fly-half had already missed another goal-kick that was only marginally more difficult and the five wasted points took on a new significance as Ponty eventually hit a scoring mode of their own. In the 21st minute Jason Pocock kicked a 23-metre penalty goal awarded for off-side in midfield and four minutes later Dafydd Lockyer slipped past Matthew Amos’ attempted tackle for a try under the posts that Pocock easily converted.
Cardiff hit back immediately as the restart kick was regathered and the ball moved swiftly to Gareth Gravell and Elgan Jones provided the link in the passing chain before Leon Andrews flopped over near the right corner. Again the conversion attempt, admittedly more difficult, was missed. The score stayed at 10-all until the interval though Ponty missed a glorious opportunity of their own when Grant Harrington fell short of the line when clear of all the defence. Cardiff’s sighs of relief were short-lived as early in the second half replacement scrum-half Wayne Evans finished off a 70-metre move from turnover ball for a try half-way out on the left. The choral rendering of “We’ll never be a Blue” preferring to overlook their try-scorer’s ‘day job’…
As the half unfolded there had been a notable sea-change in the lineout. Now it was Ponty’s turn to struggle in that facet. Cardiff, secure on their own throw-ins, were now pinching opposition ball as well with Bradley Davies becoming increasingly influential.
But it was a back-of-the-scrum move that provided the Blue & Blacks’ third try as, from a set-piece on the right, Gavin Lucas and Gravell combined before Thomas James spun the ball wide for Nick Gill to cross in the corner. With Craig Evans off the field with a suspected ankle ligament injury, Andrews failed with the attempted conversion. More importantly, the full back missed again five minutes later, badly scuffing a penalty attempted from 25-metre range.
In an exciting final 10 minutes, Lockyer nosed his side ahead with a fine try in the corner and although Andrews reduced the arrears with a penalty awarded for blocking at the restart, the Blue & Blacks couldn’t quite complete the comeback.
It was not for the want of trying. In one frantic attack, the ball was recycled eight times without the side being able to reach Ponty territory. It finally broke down with a trademark tackle by Dale McIntosh - the ‘Chief’, Ponty icon and a vital cog in the development machine of regional rugby.
Shortly after the final whistle the heavens opened and a torrential downpour soaked the departing fans. But nothing could dampen the memory of a titanic struggle. It was quite like old times.