A couple of Christmas cards of the yellow variety almost ruined Cardiff’s festive spirit at the Arms Park. Quite why referee Phil Fear despatched Adam Powell and Gavin Lucas to the sin-bin in the 52nd and 54th minutes when the vast majority of penalty offences up to then had been committed by Aberavon remains a mystery. Suffice to say that the summary dismissals will be added to the growing collection of memories about card-happy officials who regularly put their hands in their pockets to Cardiff’s cost.
Playing with 13 men against the Wizards for eight minutes could have been literally costly, especially after all the hard and good work by the team in the first half. The side went off at breakneck speed, the first try after 29 seconds courtesy of a defence splitting run by Jamie Roberts from the visitors’ kick-off, a vital link role by Gareth Gunter, and a simple touchdown by Josh Freeman.
Five minutes later, Gunter brought the house down with a second try that featured nimble footwork and a dainty pirouette that should see him short-listed for celebrity status in next year’s Strictly Come Dancing. Less satisfying was the wayward goal kicking that has bedevilled too many of the Blue & Blacks’ matches this season. Both tries went unconverted from comfortable positions though Chris Anderson could be forgiven for also failing with a penalty attempted from halfway when the Wizards had infringed after Freeman’s touchdown. No yellow cards were evidenced then or again in the 14th minute when the visitors were whistled up for killing the ball under their own posts. Anderson had no problem with that kick, cancelling out a fifth minute dropped goal by opposite number Jamie Davies.
The Aberavon fly-half had amassed a remarkable 75 points in six previous matches against Cardiff so there was no room for complacency. To their credit, the Blue & Blacks played most of the half in opposition territory. Anderson manufactured a delightful try for Dafydd Hewitt with a grubber kick behind the flat defence for a simple touchdown, but awarded only after an unconvinced Mr Fear had consulted his touch judge.
Anderson converted that but was again at fault with a fluffed penalty from 30-metre range.
Wizards’ player coach Dan Hawkins, a thorn in Cardiff’s side too often for comfort over the years, kept his side in the game with a dart from a tapped penalty and a try under the posts. A score of 20-10 was a poor reflection on Cardiff’s domination up to that point but with the last play of the half a third consecutive lineout peel at last produced the fourth try, claimed by Ryan Price, but again minus the extras.
The second half had a totally different script as the Wizards camped in Cardiff’s half. Number 8 Robbie Morgan bulldozed over for a converted try in the 46th minute and suddenly what looked like a comfortable victory was taking a turn for the worse. To Anderson’s credit he pounced on loose ball at halfway and kicked and chased into Aberavon’s 22 and gained a penalty for the visitors killing the ball (and again no sign of the yellow card). The simple conversion restored a 28-17 but then we had the outbreak of yellow fever. Jamie Davies slotted an easy penalty goal from the first of the sin-binnings but when the second followed almost immediately Aberavon elected to go for the corner and the proverbial jugular.
Cue eight minutes of heroics by the six-man Cardiff pack as they repelled several catch-and-drives and close range attacking scrums by a distinctly unimaginative opposition. It was five minutes from full-time before Davies added another penalty goal against a by then full-strength home team.
The last word went, appropriately, to Jamie Roberts as he positively buried Aberavon wing James Pike in a one-on-one situation as the Wizard scented try-scoring glory. Moments later Pike had another chance in a similar situation. He took one look at what (and who) was waiting for him and dropped the ball - one of the most sensible decisions by anyone all afternoon.