Local derbies are rarely things of beauty and this fractious encounter was no exception as tempers boiled over in the first half and then error followed error in an often dire second period.
Regrettably, refereeing interpretations contributed to the frustrations of what could have been an enjoyable occasion. If consistency is a factor in satisfactory performance then Gareth Simmonds failed the test by some margin. His summary sin-binning of Chris Jones in the ninth minute for a professional foul at a ruck would have been fair enough if, subsequently, he had been equally decisive in dealing with the myriad misdemeanours of the Wanderers. That he did not do so contributed significantly to a staccato match that petered out amidst a second half rainstorm.
Some of the match statistics were remarkable and underline just where the referee got things so wrong. Having penalised Cardiff three times in the opening nine minutes, culminating in Jones’ sin binning, 15 of the next 16 penalties (plus a penalty try) between the 14th and 70th minutes were all awarded to Cardiff, an almost unique sequence yet one that failed to produce a yellow card for any of the visiting serial offenders. Continuity became an unachievable commodity. A couple of late penalties to the Wanderers plus an earlier free kick, failed to disguise the overwhelming final penalty count of 18-6 in Cardiff’s favour.
It was a case of a niggle here a nudge there in the opening quarter before an inevitable bout of handbagging erupted in the 19th minute. Quite why a Wanderers’ forward was allowed to start pulling Dafydd Rosser away from the back of a Cardiff ruck will remain one of life’s mysteries and, left unpunished, the rumpus duly erupted with both sides heavily involved. After that, the game returned to a familiar pattern, often highlighted by a propensity for a couple of visiting forwards to lie prone on the ground on the wrong side of rucks before gingerly returning to their side of the gain-line.. It was an interesting sight but hardly one conducive to free-flowing rugby.
The Blue & Blacks were far from the sweet purring attacking machine themselves. The half-back combination creaked and stuttered and Chris Anderson had one of those days when the misfiring overlapped into his goal kicking. With his side trailing 8-0 after conceding a fifth minute catch-and-drive try to hooker Mike Bishop and a Gareth McCarthy penalty goal directly after Mr Simmonds’ solitary yellow card flourish, he could be forgiven for narrowly missing his opening attempt at a penalty goal from 38 metres.
Less understandable was his fluffed effort from 25 metres and bang in front of the posts in the 22nd minute. At that point a third successive victory for the Blue & Blacks was beginning to look a distant aspiration. Mercifully the prospects improved in the 36th minute when he succeeded with a point blank penalty as the Wanderers offended for the ninth consecutive time inside the space of 20 minutes. Three minutes later an attack down the left in which Josh Freeman and Tom James harried the defence set up the platform for rare swift and recycled ball to midfield where Richard Jones shrugged off a couple of half-hearted tackles for a try at the post, to which Anderson added the extras.
The lead was short-lived as, with the last kick of the half and in the sixth minute of injury time, McCarthy banged over a 42-metre penalty goal. Whatever was said at half-time worked as, on the restart, the Blue & Blacks began a long tenure in Wanderers’ territory. Craig Evans and Ross Johnston came off the replacements’ bench together in the 47th minute when there was already more urgency in the play. There was an early reward when Evans spotted Tom James out wide on the left touchline and cleverly chipped towards the corner for what seemed a certain try but as the young tyro came off the touchline to collect the ball he was cynically tackled by Jamie Henthorn and Mr Simmonds had no hesitation in awarding the penalty try. Evans converted and added three penalty goals in a 19-minute spell midway through the half but there were no further tries.
After the excitement of recent weeks, Cardiff’s 100th Premiership fixture turned out to be a rather flat occasion, but another win was fully deserved and retains the team in fourth spot in what is turning out to be a very competitive and close Premiership competition this season.