Oh dear! Just when the Blue & Blacks were building up a formidable head of steam in their Premiership campaign the ghosts of debacles past comes back to haunt them. Two seasons ago Cardiff went to Aberavon and succumbed 20-42; seven days earlier they had gone down 8-49 at Ebbw Vale. Those were the dark days of Cardiff rugby and we are a long way from that now. But as coach Justin Burnell has consistently reminded everyone, there is no room for complacency even in these happier times with the team deservedly placed in the top three of the Premiership.
How right he is and perhaps this dispiriting performance, rather like the earlier heavy defeat at Stradey Park last November, is a necessary antidote to the heady days at Sardis Road and the Gnoll. “We are not the finished article,” is Burnell's byword but, equally, it is still the case even after this disappointment that the second year of the three-year plan remains on course.
Against the Wizards, however, the omens were bad from the off. An early clearance kick charged down (others followed at crucial stages), a final scoring pass going astray, a wing with a clear run in overhauled on the Aberavon line, a creaking scrum....an upset was definitely on the cards by half-time. Leigh Halfpenny and Jamie Davies both kicked a brace of penalty goals for the sides to be level at 6-a1l after 23 minutes. When Gareth Chapman made a clean midfield break, interpassed with Roger Davies, and then crossed for an unconverted try there seemed no cause for undue alarm. But everyone fell asleep in the 36th minute when hooker Chris Wells delivered the ultimate sucker punch at the front of a lineout, taking a quick return pass from his props to cross unopposed.
A double blow at the front was the departure of the excellent Garry Horrigan with an injury and after that, as well as losing an abrasive ball-carrier, Cardiff's lineout never functioned properly.
The second half began like the first with a kick charged down and a period of Aberavon attacks. Their reward within the space of 90 seconds was another Davies penalty goal and his conversion of a try by prop Anthony Edwards after yet another blocked punt near the line.
Suddenly it was 23-11 to the Wizards and although Halfpenny kicked a penalty goal a further setback in the 54th minute was the sin-binning of replacement hooker Ryan Price. He had been despatched for pulling down a maul and Aberavon needed no second invitation to immediately drive off the next lineout and Lloyd Howells was credited with the try.
There were still 25 minutes to play but Cardiff were lifeless. Lineout possession had dried up, the contact area was an embarrassment, and few passes were being strung together. For the Wizards, Christmas had returned with a vengeance. Two five-metre scrums resulted in converted tries for flanker Chris Davies and wing Steve Davies. And the third Davies, Jamie, finished with 17 points for the match and an incredible personal tally of 110 points against Cardiff over the Premiership era.
An afternoon that had started so well with Chris Stamatakis leading the team out for his 100th league appearance had ended in disarray.
But always look on the bright side. A week after the heavy defeat against Llanelli the squad regrouped and went down to the Gnoll to beat Neath. Time for history to repeat itself.....