Yet another Pontypridd ‘double’ over the Blue & Blacks and extending their impressive Premiership record of seven victories in eight outings since September 2003 suggests that this sequence is getting beyond a joke. It is, but no one in the Cardiff camp was seriously complaining after the game. The Festival of Nine Lessons may now be done and dusted for another Yuletide, but the biggest lesson of all for Gareth Gravell’s side was held back for this rain-soaked prequel to the turn of the old year. His team reaches it with a 50 per cent record of eight wins in 16 matches but regular Premiership watchers will testify that with a touch more street-savvy and cool heads that return could have been considerably better.
That lesson, then, is that if the team’s attack could be half as good in its vision and execution as the defence is resolute and commendable, then a top three finish would still be achievable next April. The evidence was plain for everyone in the 1,327 crowd on this occasion to see. After a pitch inspection that concluded that the game would go ahead if there were no further downpours before kick-off, the Blue & Blacks duly started with the howling wind at their backs. Within minutes of the kick-off the torrential rain returned. Now with everything in their favour, the conditions cried out for punts deep into Ponty territory. Instead, ball in hand rugby was attempted too often. It was the final quarter of the Ebbw Vale match revisited.
Cardiff’s only points came in the first 15 minutes. Craig Evans succeeded with penalty goals from 20 and 45 metres, sandwiched around a third effort from all of 60 metres that was only inches short. But the kick of the half was reserved for the very end when, with no time for a lineout, Ponty fly-half Neil Burnett elected to try for a speculative goal into the teeth of the swirling wind. Incredibly, from a wide angle and at least 35 metres out, he drilled the ball between the uprights. The teams immediately retired to the dressing rooms with Cardiff’s lead merely a slender one of 6-3.
The only reflection for the fans was that too few platforms had been established inside Ponty’s 22, with the best moments of the first 40 minutes from a Cardiff point of view being Josh Freeman’s near touchdown in the opening moments and a couple of kick and chases, albeit out of deep defence, by Owen Ruttley. Worryingly, the most dangerous attacks had come from the visitors, centred around their skipper Nathan Strong in the pack and powerhouse midfielder Dafydd Lockyer in the backs.
Cardiff knew that they were in for a desperately long second 40 minutes. That they held out for the first 30 of them was to everyone’s credit. The back row of Gavin Lucas, Adam Powell and Gareth Gravell was again inspirational; the work rate of young 20-year-old props Rhys Gill and Alex Murphy truly phenomenal. The rest of the pack were not far behind. The opposition, though, had a game plan that they stuck to rigidly: kicks deep into Cardiff’s half; chase, chase and chase; and, when the ball reached midfield all available bodies at hand to take advantage of Lockyer’s regular forays over the gain-line.
Cardiff’s dam finally burst in the 70th minute (well, it was very wet). A subtle change of tactics saw Chris Clayton come into the attack from the blindside wing and, with the defence breached, Gavin Dacey had a clear run in to near the posts for the opening try. The second arrived almost immediately. Another charge up the left touchline produced a gap that Burnett exploited off an inside pass for the five-pointer that settled the result beyond doubt.
Pontypridd deserved their victory. The only tiresome sideshow to a worthy effort was the inconsequential chanting of their terraced supporters. After nearly four seasons into the growing success story that is Premiership rugby in Wales, for all the notice anyone outside their group takes of “I will never be a Blue” they might just as well be singing the “Birdie Song.” Or “I am a Walrus”…...