Flat. That is the only way to describe the feeling at the Arms Park after the Blue & Blacks meekly surrendered their unbeaten record and top-two placing in the Premiership. The Wanderers fully deserved their win as they dominated possession for long periods and looked far sharper with their attacking ideas.
Director of coaching Justin Burnell hit the nail on the head afterwards when he admitted, “In all honesty we have scraped a couple of wins in our previous matches when the results could easily have gone the other way - so this literally evens the score.”
Cardiff paid a heavy price for sloppy set-piece work and unsuccessful goal-kicking. Craig Evans, so often the saviour with his points accumulating, was still striking the ball well but saw an attempted conversion rebound back off both uprights - a sure sign it was going to be one of those days - and narrowly miss with penalty efforts from 41, 40 and 35 metres.
But it would have been a travesty if Cardiff had won. For once their lauded back row was forced to play second fiddle to Andy Powell and the outstanding open-side, Sam Warburton. What was more disappointing was the lethargic scrummaging, a surprising Achilles heel with Ross Johnston and Scott Roberts on rare Premiership duty.
Behind the scrum Darren Allinson was easing himself back into match fitness after his long lay-off. Some of his clearance kicking was as good as ever but there was an understandable lack of sharpness in his running and sniping. Further out in the back line there was a lack of ideas, with no one taking advantage of Tristan Davies’ ball-carrying in the midfield.
All in all, it was a salutary reality check with a tough month ahead, involving a home match against Newport, who have not lost to Cardiff in the past four years, sandwiched between away trips to Ebbw Vale, Llanelli and Neath.
For the record, the Blue & Blacks led 7-3 at the interval. Luke Ford put the visitors ahead with a penalty goal from 48 metres in the second minute, before Damian Welch galloped 20 metres for a try converted by Evans. Referee James Jones heavily penalised Cardiff throughout the first 40 minutes - by half-time the count was 8-4 against the side - and Gavin Lucas was sin-binned in the 31st minute for pulling down a maul.
There were fewer transgressions after the break but the Wanderers seized the initiative with two tries in as many minutes. Flanker Richard Thomas claimed the first from a 5-metre scrum after Powell had done the initial damage; then, when Cardiff lost another lineout, Ford took advantage of some schoolboy errors in defensive alignment for a try in the corner that he converted majestically.
Sensing danger, the Blue & Blacks upped their game and Adam Whitney crossed for his third try in as many games and at 12-15 it looked for a while as if a comeback was on the cards.
But the Wanderers’ defence was impressive, despite losing scrum-half Harry Trelawney to the sin bin. Fittingly, it was yet another lost Cardiff lineout in their own 22 that allowed the ball to be worked back to fly-half James Thomas and he dropped a goal from 35-metre range with barely a minute left on the clock. Cardiff had run out of time and ideas.