The monsoon season continues and for Cardiff’s fortunes it was another afternoon when it not so much rained as poured. When the next pre-match pitch inspection takes place, the coaching staff might be well advised to frisk the 22 men in Blue & Black to check they have their full quota of lucky charms, pieces of coal or rabbit’s foot. Right now they need all the help they can get to counteract the ingenious ploys they are coming up with that are too often snatching defeats from the jaws of victory.
At St Helen’s the rain stopped in the hour before kick-off and the sun shone but for Gareth Gravell’s side the dark clouds hovered over them all afternoon. The skipper continues to set the best of examples of body on the line rugby, but not always in the best positions. His first yellow card of the season in the 29th minute gave the Whites their first points and took the squad’s total for the Premiership campaign so far to an unacceptable sixteen in 17 matches. Some of the decisions might embarrass the officials involved as much as the players, but not all of them were the consequence of perceived injustices.
On a day when it had been confirmed that a New Zealand test referee would be in charge of the forthcoming cup match against Narberth, the standard of officiating in Premiership matches remains a subject for debate, but no criticism should be levelled on Huw Griffiths at this match. His decision to allow Swansea a second attempt at a match winning conversion was understandable after the crass stupidity of Cardiff’s attempted first charge down arriving fully packaged with some form of primeval war cry.
As a clearly annoyed Justin Burnell said afterwards, “The feeling I have, once again, is of total frustration. Week after week we work hard to correct problems from previous matches and then along comes another example of an individual letting the team down. We must stay true to our environment of 22 players all singing from the same hymn sheet.”
Everything looked reasonably harmonious against the Whites with the Blue & Blacks ahead on the scoreboard from the fourth to 76th minutes and out on the pitch itself dominating possession and territory. But seasoned watchers were already raising concerns at half-time. The interval lead of 9-3 - a hat-trick of penalties by Craig Evans outscoring a Ricky Williams kick following Gravell’s misdemeanour - totally failed to reflect the first half-hour in particular. The welcome return to action of Darren Allinson meant that there was now, at last, the smoothest and swiftest of links between the rugged pack and the midfield backs. But after that it was the old familiar failings. The only gain-line advantages were produced by Jamie Roberts’ incursions from full-back; elsewhere there was a glaring lack of pace or a readiness to look for gaps rather than opposition bodies. One early cut through by Richard Davies promised much, but little followed then or later.
The solitary try, when it came in the 19th minute of the second half, was down to Craig Evans harassing the opposition defence, successfully blocking a clearance kick and flopping on the ball for the touchdown and then adding the conversion. That stretched the lead to a healthy 16-6. Even when Swansea reduced their deficit with a catch-and-drive try by prop Lee May, with Williams adding a conversion to his earlier second half penalty goal, Cardiff retained control. Another brace of goals by Evans, who finished with a 100 per cent goal kicking tally from six attempts, restored a ’two-score’ gap.
Then catastrophe. Williams kicked a 71st minute penalty for Cardiff hands in a ruck in front of their own posts and four minutes later the Whites were back on the visitors’ corner flag after a brilliant run by winger Leigh Bevan had forced the concession of a five-metre scrum. The first attempted charge from the back row was held. The second, with the benefit of a wider blind-side, produced two simple passes and a touchdown for the deserving Bevan.
Cardiff still led 22-21 and seemed safe when Williams missed the conversion from the touchline. Cue midwinter madness. Someone, somehow had used voice as well as charging limbs to distract the Swansea fly-half with his kick. So, another kick was taken and over it went. That the penalty from half-way that followed was fluffed hardly mattered. Swansea were ahead for the first time in the match and stayed there through four minutes of injury time.
The Cardiff camp will have much to reflect on. One damning statistic stands out, and one that goes back long before the current squad was assembled. In four years of Premiership rugby the Blue & Blacks have failed to win at Swansea, Newport, Bridgend and Pontypridd. Another loss at Stradey Park in March would mean that Llanelli could be added to that list.