It’s never a good idea to give your opponents a 17-point start in as many minutes, especially when the opposition’s fire power is in the hand and the right boot of a former clubman. But at the Memorial Ground the Blue & Blacks seemed to be standing and watching for the entire opening quarter of an action-packed encounter as Gareth McCarthy scored two tries converted both easily and also added a penalty goal.
Ironically, opposite number Chris Anderson, who succeeded him as Cardiff’s number 10 in the second season of Premiership rugby, had opened the scoring on a sunny afternoon. His second-minute penalty goal had taken him past 600 points for the club, but he departed the scene in the 21st minute with a nasty facial injury. With Craig Evans already off the replacements’ bench as cover for Jamie Roberts, also hors de combat with a dead leg, Llyr Lane was forced to come on as an emergency wing, with Elgan Jones moving to full-back and Evans now at fly-half.
The omens were not good but, somehow, the Blue & Blacks knuckled down and chipped away at the unhealthy deficit. By half-time it was 13-17, thanks to a catch and drive try by Rhys Gill, a brilliant conversion by Evans, and a more straightforward penalty goal.
The impetus continued after the interval. Evans kicked another penalty goal before the ever impressive Gill charged through the open field to create the perfect platform for Elgan Jones to score his 50th try for the Blue & Blacks.
The makeshift back division was understandably hesitant in defence and paid the price when Alex James chipped to the open-side wing where the unmarked Steve Cullen gathered and raced 40 metres to the posts. McCarthy’s conversion meant that the Wanderers were back in the lead at 24-21 after 56 minutes. But their pack was visibly wilting, conceding a succession of penalties at the contact situation. An uncharacteristically patient referee (in Premiership terms, that is) blew his whistle many times and it was the 75th minute before Steve Walsh eventually sent flanker Ben Rose to the sin bin. By then the game was won and lost. Two Evans penalties put Cardiff 27-24 ahead, the Wanderers again exposed a fragile defence with a try manufactured from turnover in their own 22 and finished off by Jamie Jones. McCarthy, of course converted: 31-27.
Appropriately on such an afternoon, and after McCarthy’s initial heroics, it was a former Wanderer now firmly established in Cardiff’s colours who had the final word. Ross Johnston sneaked over in the corner for the winning try, majestically converted by Evans.
It had been in every sense an afternoon of entertaining rugby with a good turnout of supporters from both clubs.