The body language of Cardiff’s coaching staff at the final whistle said it all. Dominating second half possession and territory with the wind at their backs, they failed to gain one penalty award in their favour inside Ebbw Vale’s half in the final half hour of play.Either the Steelmen were supremely well-disciplined or the Blue & Blacks lost every 50/50 decision from the referee in a desperately tight encounter. And the mutterings among the coaches strongly suggested it was a case of the latter.
As the rain poured down it was always going to be a difficult afternoon against doughty opponents and Ebbw Vale, to their credit, took their scoring opportunities well. Wing Simon Hunt kicked four fine penalty goals but the side rarely threatened Cardiff’s line. Their best try scoring chance came when Aaron Bramwell blocked a chip-kick on half way and almost won the race for the touchdown.
The Blue & Blacks showed more creativity with a searing break by Tal Selley putting Ryan Howells over in the corner only for the wing to be recalled for the slightest of forward passes. Then in the final quarter skipper Darren Allinson, showing much better form in his second game back from injury, opened up the defence with a great run only for Selley to be stopped 10 metres short by a tackle that was perilously close to be being made before the ball was in his hands.
But the Steelmen survived and their second place in the Premiership doesn’t flatter them. They had a solid scrum, a formidable back row in which ex-Neath flanker John McPhail was outstanding, and the rich promise of 19-year-old Rob Lewis at scrum-half. He was well-matched by Allinson and elsewhere in the Cardiff backs Roger Davies again did many fine things. In the pack Chris Stamatakis contributed useful touches in the loose as well as pinching Vale lineout ball but Mark Lewis’ charges at number 8 were well-held.
Cardiff led after half an hour and against the wind thanks to a couple of penalty goals from Gareth Davies. Hunt had already kicked the first of his quartet, levelled the scores with his second from 30 metres and then edged his side ahead when Jevon Groves was sin-binned in the 36th minute and, with the final kick of the half, boomed his fourth over from the centre spot.
Cardiff made a significant tactical change during the interval with Craig Evans being brought in for Richard Jones at number 12. The half again started well with several promising attacks, a missed penalty by Davies and then a typical siege gun kick from 50 metres by Evans. That was in the 51st minute - and the last penalty awarded to Cardiff in the home half. What happened, or didn’t happen, in the final half-hour is best left unsaid - except to point out that it was literally the case of the referee having the final word.