Cardiff are out of the Premiership starting blocks with a bang after a performance at Pandy Park that can be summed up as two As and an A minus…plenty of Ambition and Attack but not quite enough Accuracy. Their occasional shortcomings in the latter cost them a fourth try and a bonus point under the new scoring system introduced this season.
But none of the significant travelling support were complaining after a thoroughly entertaining afternoon. Cross Keys had previously triumphed three times in four home fixtures against the Blue & Blacks in Premiership rugby and any victory over them on their home patch has to be gratefully accepted.
The Ambition was apparent from the outset with a thrilling second-minute try built on a platform of swift recycling through several phases before the Keys’ defence ran out of bodies and galloping Richard Cornock provided the perfect final pass for Adam Whitney to loop outside him for the touchdown near the left corner flag.
If Cornock was out to make an impression against his former club then so, too, was former centurion Blue & Black, Leon Andrews. For him, the boot was literally on the other foot as he slotted three first half penalty goals to keep his new club in the game.
But ominously for the home side Craig Evans’ own goal-kicking was in siege gun mode. Two first half penalties didn’t require too much of the proverbial welly - and even if they had it would have been more a case of the fly-half’s immaculate timing of his kicks. In general play his long distance touch kicking was already threatening to break the Keys’ hearts as time and time again their pack was turned on its heels as they trudged back over 50 metres.
Cardiff finished the half strongly. Home centre David Price was sin-binned in the 30th minute for cynically killing the ball and now the Attacks were increasing. Eschewing a simple three points the Blue & Blacks went for a try. At first held up, they then pounced on a loose ball from a Keys’ lineout only for Chris Jones’ apparent try to be disallowed after the bizarre intervention of a touch judge. They were not to be denied and Ryan Howells started another sweeping attack with the ball passing through several pairs of hands before Adam Powell crossed.
Cross Keys could only feel flattered by the narrow interval deficit of 16-9 but might even have smelt an unlikely victory shortly after the restart when they drew level. Though Andrews badly hooked an attempted penalty goal moments later wing David James burst on to a short pass by Gareth Chapman for an excellent try at the posts to which Andrews easily added the extras.
To their credit, Cardiff didn’t panic. Evans kicked a truly towering goal from over 40 metres and, though Damian Welch was binned for an innocuous infringement (which Andrews failed to convert into another three points), he added two more from similar range to restore a nine-point lead. No sooner had Welch returned to the action than it was Keys’ turn to be depleted again when Ryan James was shown yellow after blocking an attempted tap penalty.
Now was the time for the clinical Accuracy. It didn’t quite click as planned. Adam Powell lost possession inches from the line and several other promising attacks fizzled out. Ten minutes from time Evans kicked his sixth penalty but it was left to Leigh Halfpenny to provide the magic moment of the match. Turnover ball on the right touchline - and in their own half - was swiftly moved left to the dynamic winger who put on the afterburners to leave Andrews in his wake as he crossed for the third try. Evans’ conversion gave him a personal tally of 20 points.
Careless play allowed Marcus Johnstone to gain a consolation try but at the very end another Cardiff attack should have delivered that elusive fourth try only for Halfpenny, of all people, to be halted on the line. There was no bonus point - but it was still a very fine result.