Deja vu. Pure deja vu. For the third Premiership game in succession the Blue & Blacks let victory slip from their grasp in the dying embers of a game. Once again a match won after an hour was surrendered in the final quarter. This time, though, it wasn't a case of errant goal-kicking for Craig Evans finished with a 100 per cent record from five attempts. The new scenario was sloppy ball retention, poor options and generous turnovers: a dangerous cocktail.
They were not helped either by playing a quarter of the game with 14 men. Debutant Ben White was yellow carded two minutes before half-time and replacement scrum-half Llyr Lane followed him midway through the second half barely thee minutes after he had been called off the bench. There was nothing special about Neath as they appeared to be a fine championship winning side of six months ago now on the wane. But they were alert enough to pirate three second half tries against the run of play, giving Cardiff another lesson in how to win games in tight situations.
The Blue & Blacks started with Gareth Gravell on the replacements bench, Gavin Lucas leading the side and Blues' Australian import Ben White in the back row. Elgan Jones became the seventh Cardiff player to make 100 league appearances. Jamie Roberts had failed a fitness test and Leon Andrews played at full back with the two Richards, Jones and Davies, reversing their usual role at inside and outside centre.
Early Neath pressure came to nothing and Craig Evans kicked penalty goals from 25, 40 and 30 metres between the 23rd and 34th minutes to establish a comfortable 9-0 lead. But Arwel Thomas replied with two of his own, the second for White's binning, in the final five minutes of an undistinguished half for both teams.
Still with 14 men,Cardiff made a lively start to the second period with Evans kicking another goal to restore a 6-point lead.That should have stretched by another seven but a glorious try scoring opportunity from a scrum in the shadow of the home posts was wasted and the Blue & Blacks were soon ruing their sloppiness.
From a scrum on half-way Kevin James came off the blind-side wing to slash through midfield and scrum-half Gareth B James finished off the move for the first try of the game, easily converted by Thomas. Cardiff regained the lead five minutes later when Owen Ruttley showed great opportunism to dart over for the touchdown from a ruck and Evans converted.
Now we were in the final quarter and the bad habits of old re-emerged. Turnover from halfway served up a typical converted try for Arwel Thomas; Llyr Lane came and went; and then in the 78th minute another wayward clearance kick found its way to powerhouse wing Kevin James who again split the defence for ex- Blue & Black Dan McShane to score Neath's third try. Thomas converted yet again and the game was well and truly lost.