Replacement fly-half Gareth Davies was a central figure in two exquisite pieces of footballing skill in the final five minutes that rescued the Blue & Blacks from what seemed certain defeat at the hands of Aberavon.
The Wizards deservedly led 23-13 after 79 minutes as Cardiff seemed set to pay the full price for a curiously low-key performance. All the good work on plentiful display seven days earlier at Cross Keys seemed to have deserted them until Davies and his namesake, Roger, with considerable help from debutant scrum-half Luke Evans, together manufactured two get out of jail cards.
Overwhelming territorial advantage in the final ten minutes of a fractious game had come to nought as the Blue & Blacks tried to bludgeon their way over from close range lineouts. Finally, after a succession of penalties - the count in that department ended four to one in Cardiff’s favour by the end - the penny dropped that some variation was needed.
Gareth Davies was the man to provide it. As the ball came back from yet another drive near the Wizards’ line he it was who had the vision and the confidence to place the sweetest of cross-kicks to the open-side wing. With equally impressive skill Leigh Halfpenny plucked the ball out of the air and underneath the nose of opposite number Richard Carter for the sweetest of tries. Davies couldn’t quite add the extras and with the clock now into added time the five-point deficit still seemed beyond Cardiff. Until, that was, Luke Evans left his own imprint on the game.
The new recruit from Queensland had been thrown into the deep end as early as the seventh minute when player-coach Gareth Baber departed with a dislocated shoulder. Content to fire out a slick pass for most of the next hour or so, he finally came into his own in the fourth minute of injury time. Bursting away from a ruck on halfway he broke the first line of defence, drew the last Wizards’ defender, and unloaded the perfect pass for Roger Davies to just about reach the line for the try that tied the scores.
At 23-all after a flat afternoon in the sun, a draw would have, reluctantly, been an acceptable result. But Gareth Davies still had a chance of glory and, from a tricky angle halfway out on the left he struck the perfect conversion for the lead and the win, despite another four minutes of playing time about to be added.
Aberavon had paid the price for their own indiscipline and failure to finish off several scoring chances. To their credit, they did score three good tries through Liam Gadd in the first half and Carter and Marc Bennett in the 46th and 56th minutes. But Jamie Davies, a thorn in Cardiff’s side over the years, could only convert the first of them and succeeded with only one of his two attempts at penalty goals.
The Wizards had led 10-0 after the first quarter and when Craig Evans, majestic last week, sent an attempt of his own from 25 metres high and wide there was a distinct suspicion that it was going to be one of those days for Cardiff.
Thankfully, on the brink of half-time Roger Davies scored a great individual try, swerving and stepping from halfway for a touchdown at the posts. Evans easily converted and when he then added a penalty goal from 35 metres shortly after the break the team was back on level terms.
Aberavon hit back well with their two unconverted tries and a drop goal by Darren Ryan. Evans’ towering goal from near halfway seemed a mere straw in the wind until the tide turned thanks to better scrummaging in the final quarter and an impressive never say die attitude. Though Dafydd Rosser and opposite number Ian Moore were both sin binned in the 69th minute the game was about to enter its most significant stage - and Cardiff‘s new boys were the men equal to the challenge.