Sometimes you simply couldn’t make it up. If six converted tries against seven penalty goals immediately conjures up images of a crazy afternoon of Premiership rugby at the Arms Park, then the subplot was even more bizarre.
It began as it was to continue. Within three minutes Llandovery were reduced to 14 men as skipper Arwel Davies was sin-binned. After nine, Cardiff were 14 points ahead; ten minutes later it was 21-3. In the 35th minute a Cardiff player was sin-binned for a late tackle. Early in the second half another Cardiff player was penalised for an identical offence but with no sign of a yellow card. Shortly after that the same Blue & Black had a penalty in his favour reversed for an apparent comment made to the referee. Cardiff played all but a few seconds of the second half with 14 men after Dafydd Rosser was sent-off for what appeared to be a stamping incident spotted by a touch-judge. The match ended with the penalty count two to one in favour of Llandovery.
Welcome to the madcap world of Welsh refereeing, where the original match appointee was reportedly struck down with illness only to be replaced by another possibly in a feverish condition himself. No blame can be attached to any official who commendably attempts to lay down the law so early in the game. Others might copy his good intentions to cancel out ball-killing skulduggery at rucks and mauls as witnessed by the peremptory despatching of Arwel Davies. But such worthy causes need to be followed through. By half-time Cardiff had been whistled up 13 times, often for what appeared to be similar offences. Dafydd Hewitt’s ten minutes in the bin, however, arrived courtesy of that late-tackle, rather than any of the several judgements of slowing the game down in the contact areas.
Not that it was in Cardiff’s interests to employ such tactics. Amidst all the whistle-blowing and tut-tutting, a feature of their game was their willingness to off-load the ball in tackles and to create umpteen gaps in midfield or overlaps out wide. Remarkably, they might have taken their try count into double figures with more clinical finishing. As it was, they began well, were reined back by a succession of penalty goals by Jon Elrick, who finished with a perfect seven for the Drovers, and then had another purple patch of three tries in the final quarter.
With Davies still making his way to the dug-out, the first try came from a five-metre scrum from which Chris Jones, at the start of another impressive performance, scored with alarming ease. Craig Evans easily added what was to be the first of six out of six conversions. Five minutes later Rhys Gill, momentarily confused for the iconic Gareth Gunter by a PA announcer having a sadly senior moment, spun through the final tackle for a joyous race to the posts for the second try. Elrick then opened his goal-kicking account before Elgan Jones finished off a lovely move straight off the training ground. A lineout catch and drive took the ball up the left touchline from halfway. When the ball was spun out Jamie Roberts flew into the line and provided the pass for Jones to score his 48th try for the club. 21-3 became 21-12 by the interval as Elrick struck three more times.
Rosser’s dismissal threatened to make it a long second half for the Blue & Blacks but the pack in particular rose to the challenge magnificently. With Ross Johnston and Scott Roberts adding fresh legs to the front row, some of their mobility and ball handling was exceptional. Though the lead was reduced to 21-18 after 44 minutes, no one panicked. Instead, Scott Roberts finished off another combined mood at the posts, Nick Gill was at the end of an overlap for a touchdown near the corner, and Chris Jones began as he finished, getting his second try after Gavin Lucas had made all the hard yards and the front rowers were again in the movement.
In the end, superior fitness told. But six converted tries against seven penalty goals still takes some believing.