The chairman’s end of season message said it all. Writing in the match programme, Malcolm Childs observed, “…There is no room for complacency. The ‘C’ word that we should really be conscious of is consistency.” And so a Cardiff team showing a dozen changes in the starting line-up from Sunday’s cup victory, took the field at the Arms Park for the final time this season. Eighty minutes or so of rugby (in its loosest definition) later they had slipped to their sixth home defeat of the campaign and their third in their last four matches.
Consistency, indeed. With a top six finish apparently in the bag, (though keep an eye on Glamorgan Wanderers steaming up on the inside rails in the past month), the priority now is preparation of bodies and minds for the impending cup final. Weary limbs - and, more importantly, particularly sore feet after the pounding on the Sardis Road dustbowl three days earlier - necessitated rest for several key players. Others left watching from the sidelines in recent weeks were presumably keen to get back in match action. Selection was therefore a subtle balancing act.
But back to complacency. A look at the form book would reveal that Maesteg were on a roll with three successive wins under their belts, including Pontypridd. They had also won at the Arms Park last season. And, as always, they arrived with a bevy of battle-hardened warriors. See the names of the Boobyers, Hocking, Ellis and Clapham on the team sheet and any opponents would know that they were in for a game and a half. Cardiff relied on their own old guard, if of a younger generation. Frankly, they weren’t up to it. Lineout organisation seemed non-existent, scrummaging dodgy, and cohesion everywhere was lacking.
Maesteg, delayed by a road accident, were slow out of the blocks. But the Blue & Blacks were themselves an accident waiting to happen. The only advantage they could take was a couple of first half penalty goals from 40 and 15 metres by Chris Anderson. Six-nil at the interval. There was unanimous agreement at the break that it was the worst 40 minutes of play seen at the ground this season. It could only get better.
It did. For Maesteg. Between the 49th and 60th minute they manufactured 20 points. Luke Richards dropped a goal, Kevin Ellis was sin-binned, Richards cross-kicked for Jason Howells to beat Leon Andrews for the high catch and the try. Richards converted from the right touchline and then kicked a 35-metre penalty goal as Cardiff were again on the back foot from generous turnover ball. All done with 14 men. Anderson kicked another point-blank penalty goal to bring the deficit briefly back to 9-13. But then came the inevitable Pythonesque parody. Laboured chain-passing in midfield and a loose ball gleefully gathered by Maesteg hooker Lee Williams who galloped 50 metres to the posts. Richards converted easily…9-20. Another Richards penalty goal stretched the visitors’ lead to 14 points.
Desperately trying to salvage the situation, Chris Stamatakis, Adam Powell and, after a cameo appearance by the subsequently injured Nathan Trevett, Rhys Gill were brought into action. Too late. Despite Stamo’s touchdown from Powell’s drive, the game was up. Maesteg were worthy winners.
All eyes now turn, understandably, to a first cup final in a decade. But watch the Wanderers and our final Premiership opponents, Llanelli. That top six placing might yet slip away.