It was quite like old times at Rodney Parade as Cardiff and Newport launched into one another with a rare gusto. No prisoners were taken by either side as, on several occasions, there were minor skirmishes before, in the 70th minute, a full blown bust-up on halfway settled matters as an honourable draw. Which is exactly what the match itself ended at after seven minutes of added time.
Whether or not either side would settle for the stalemate is a moot point. The Black & Ambers can only reflect on their failure to convert their overwhelming territorial superiority into points while the Blue & Blacks missed two glorious opportunities to win the game with penalty goals in the closing stages.
There was also a familiar tone to the opening exchanges. In the fourth minute a speculative clearance kick by Craig Evans failed to find touch but as Newport’s full back and right wing dithered over the bouncing ball on half way up raced the arch predator, Thomas James to collect it and glide 50 metres to the posts for the opening try, converted by Evans.
Whatever his shortcomings in defence, the home wing Ryan Howells was a threat in attack as he twice raced through the middle only for the final pass to be spilled. In all fairness, there is no denying that for half an hour Cardiff were hanging on by the skin of their teeth, at the same time displaying admirable defensive qualities. James Dixon and Evans (from 49 metres) exchanged penalty goals before, in the 25th minute, Scott Williams scored a clever try for the home side. Spotting Josh Freeman trapped at the bottom of a ruck, he raced around the narrow side to the unguarded touchline to cross unopposed.
With Dixon failing to convert, Cardiff were still in the lead at 10-8 and then went further ahead as James again caused panic in the home defence and when he was stopped just short of the corner, skipper Gavin Lucas, again outstanding in all facets of play, finished off the job. Now the lead was a very satisfactory 15-8 and was almost further extended when an Evans attempt at a close range dropped goal ricocheted off an upright. Then the game turned sour in first half injury time.
Rhys Gill and Dai Pattison were warned for an off the ball incident and when, two minutes later Gill was again embroiled, this time with home hooker Andrew Brown, both were yellow carded. To add to Cardiff’s discomfort, from the resulting penalty Newport set up a lineout catch-and-drive that trundled all over 22 metres before Pattison was credited with the touchdown. The missed conversion left Cardiff ahead at the interval.
In an increasingly physical second half, Evans missed with a 38-metre penalty goal then succeeded with an excellent dropped goal from slightly closer. Newport were still taking out leasing rights in Cardiff’s 22 and, crucially, failed to capitalise on four consecutive lineouts in the left corner. When Owen Ruttley hacked a loose ball clear from the fourth, the siege seemed to have been lifted. Moments later the pugilist phase kicked off in front of the main stand, but without a penalty against either side.
In a tumultuous conclusion, Evans missed with a 38-metre penalty, Matthew Amos was carded in the 79th minute for bringing down the maul, and Newport immediately took advantage with another driving try claimed by Brown only for Dixon to miss the conversion from just right of the posts.
At 18-all, the result seemed just about fair but then Cardiff sighted victory. Newport were blown up for crossing on their own 22 but from midfield Evans pushed the penalty wide. So a draw it was, and quite an afternoon’s entertainment for the 2,000-plus crowd and the watching stars of yesteryear among the former players associations of both great clubs.