Cross Keys have always been dangerous opponents when they come to the Arms Park and this latest chapter in the story was no exception. Until the final quarter they seemed every chance that they would repeat their famous victory of two seasons ago.
Perennial snappers-up of half chances, they were true to their traditions by poaching two winger's tries at the start of each half, adding a third when taking full advantage of a five-metre scrum with the last move of the first half, and led 19-10 early in the second half.
The Blue & Blacks stuttered and spluttered through long barren periods, interspersed with some good offloading and running into gaps, especially in the early stages, but by the end were thankful to rely on a couple of Craig Evans howitzers to snatch an unconvincing victory.
A rare bright star in an otherwise dour team performance was the ball-carrying contribution of prop Scott Roberts, who found a willing lieutenant when Ross Johnston joined the proceedings in the final half-hour. But the pack, generally, lacked pace in the loose and control in the set-pieces. Behind the scrum, Gareth Chapman, a former Keys' try scorer against Cardiff, now turned the tables on his old club and provided a much-needed cutting edge.
Cardiff received an early warning of the dangers ahead when in the fourth minute a clearance kick failed to find touch and from half-way the visitors drove forward and created a huge overlap for Owain Williams to touch down near the far corner. Cardiff old boy Leon Andrews converted in some style.
The Blue & Blacks countered well and typical legerdemain by Roberts created space for Nathan Rees to chip and chase from halfway and sneak a touchdown under the noses of two defenders. Evans converted so it was 7-all after only eight minutes' play. But it took Cardiff another 25 minutes to register their next score and that from a close range penalty goal by Evans. He then missed with a more ambitious effort from 45 metres.
With the last move of the half Cardiff failed to clear a Keys' speculative grubber, conceded a five-metre scrum and were made to pay the price. As the set-piece broke up scrum-half James Leadbetter pounced on the loose ball for the try and a 12-10 interval lead.
With ex-Blue & Black James Malpas firing on all cylinders the Keys struck again immediately after the restart. Again it was turnover ball from a mix-up in the home defence and right wing Gareth Williams raced over far out on the right and then behind the posts for a try that Andrews easily converted. At this stage the smart money had to be on the visitors but fortunately Roberts was still galloping all over the place. Another of his charges set up ruck ball that was swiftly moved to the openside where Johnston provided a pinpoint pass and Chapman's pace did the rest. Evans converted brilliantly, then missed with a penalty from 38 metres but had the last laugh with two monster efforts from 42 and 49 metres in the final quarter.
It wasn't pretty and it wasn't convincing – but it was a win.