Another one slips away. Having already looked gift horses in the mouth twice this campaign at Pontypridd and Newport, defeat was again snatched from the jaws of victory as kickable penalties drifted wide of the mark and an hour’s hard slog when the side fought back from six points down to deservedly lead by two scores only to abjectly surrender in the final ten minutes.
Ebbw Vale’s joy at the end was uncontained and justifiably so as, trailing 9-19 with less than ten minutes left on a rain-sodden pitch, they really should have been sunk without trace. Instead, the Blue & Blacks lapsed into a display of naivety that was hard to fathom.
The final denouement went something like this. Two penalty goals (at last) and a converted try scored by Mike Leaman after the sweetest of dummies when he peeled away from a driving maul between the 60th and 67th minutes seemed to have settled the match in Cardiff‘s favour. But in the 71st minute poor tactical kicking, which had been a recurring bugbear all evening, opened the door for the visitors. An unnecessary grubber kick on halfway (and with an overlap out wide) was gratefully blocked by Vale centre Kristian Owen. A couple of kicks and chases and he was touching down for a try to the right of the posts. Sam Mills, who had earlier kicked three penalties that had put his side up 6-0 after eleven minutes and 9-6 after 50, converted nervelessly.
At 19-16 Cardiff should still have closed the game out. Once again they paid for poor decision making. Another unnecessary kick ahead from fly-half was whistled up because the centres were in front of the ball. Still there was no danger as Mills, kicking into the cross-wind, was deep in his own half. But his kick to the far touchline was allowed to bounce into touch inside Cardiff’s 22.
Everyone knew what was coming. Another catch and drive. Much earlier in the half, in a build-up to Mills’ third penalty, the visitors had executed one expertly from near their own 22 to Cardiff’s, with Gareth Gravell’s pack generously waiting until their opponents were in kicking range before pulling the maul down. Now they found another brand of gift wrapping. Apparently half-asleep, they failed to line-up in blocking mode at the lineout. Unchallenged, the Vale secured the ball and drove 20 metres to the line for a try credited to prop Ian George. Mills, for once, missed the conversion, but from the edge of touch.
It didn’t matter. With the game already in injury time Christmas had come early for Ebbw Vale. Cardiff, generous to a fault, will hopefully have learnt a few harsh lessons.