2008/2009 Principality Premiership
Cardiff 27 v 22 Pontypridd
28 April 2009 - Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff

Match Report

Cardiff 27 Pontypridd 22

Cardiff are the perfect fifteen – 15 wins in a row that has given them the Principality Premiership title with two games still to play.

In a performance that was far from perfect but which summed up all the dogged qualities and team spirit that have developed over the course of the campaign, the Blue & Blacks prevailed in a tense match that seemed for long periods to be slipping away from them.

Pontypridd looked suitably shell-shocked at the final whistle. They had dominated the first half and were still two scores ahead with barely 20 minutes left to play.

But as the final quarter unfolded, the Blue & Blacks refused to be frustrated by the slow ball coming back to them at the rucks, patiently bided their time, and eventually gained their just rewards.

Beforehand, there had been much debate about what exactly was required from this match for the top spot to be finally put beyond the reach of the only remaining championship contenders, Newport. Initially the belief was that Cardiff needed five league points from a bonus point win. That was based on an official WRU booklet that stated that where two teams were level on league points, placings would be decided by “(a) the team who has scored the most tries, (b) the team with the most wins”, etc.

Newport has scored 12 tries more – but Cardiff had two more wins. Then the message filtered through that there had been a mistake in the printing .... (b) should have been (a) and, presumably, vice-versa (You couldn't make it up).

So the scenario had changed. A win of any sort over Pontypridd would settle the Premiership honours in Cardiff's favour. The plot was clear but the script was far from perfect. For 40 minutes the Blue & Blacks looked anything but a championship side. The scrums creaked, the lineouts were sloppy and the decision making behind the pack was, to put it mildly, unreliable.

Pontypridd had outstanding performers in skipper and number 8 Nathan Strong and winger Chris Clayton. Cardiff's decidedly rearguard action was led by the magnificent Damian Welch. But rearguard it undoubtedly was. Within three minutes of the start the visitors broke out of their own 22, flanker Rhys Lloyd made the hard yards, and Clayton scored in the corner for Kristian Baller to convert.

Against the run of play the Blue & Blacks equalised in the 17th minute as Andy Williams sneaked around the blind-side of a ruck and, with precious little room on the touchline, his nifty footwork carried him over for a try that Gareth Davies did well to convert.

The comeback was short-lived. A dreadful dose of indecision under a high ball among two-thirds of Cardiff's back three (no names, no pack drill), let Pontypridd in again as they intercepted the backtracking attempt to repair the damage with a suicidal bout of passing in midfield that was easily gobbled up by the poacher Clayton.

Baller's conversion was a formality, and when he then added a 40-metre penalty goal after pulling down in a lineout, any champagne lurking in the home dressing room was ready to be stored away for another day.

Whatever was said at half-time by the Cardiff coaching staff must be a candidate for a BAFTA.

The classic game of two halves suddenly took shape. The scrum, so indecisive earlier in the game, now embarrassed Pontypridd on their own put-in and Adam Powell pounced for a try to which Davies added the extras. Then it was a case of enter the gladiators as Messrs Gay, Veater and Richard Jones joined the party.

Veater, in particular, was a revelation. Throughout the campaign he has brought a much needed streetwise hard-edge to the Blue & Blacks' pack. And here he was again, making a thorough nuisance of himself at Pontypridd's lineouts, carrying the ball near rucks and mauls, and generally leading where seven others followed.

Rhys Shellard was now reaping the rewards of rugby on the front foot and surge followed surge deep into opposition territory. There was still time for one more aberration as a fluffed clearance kick gave Pontypridd a rare second-half foothold in Cardiff's 22 and the felony was compounded when poor marking at the lineout let in Rhys Lloyd for a ridiculously easy try.

Now it was a test of character. Cardiff passed it with flying colours. The referee finally lost patience with Pontypridd's ball killing technique at the rucks and mauls and off went Laurence Price for ten minutes in the sin bin. Davies slotted the resulting penalty... 17-22 after 62 minutes.

Back came the Blue & Blacks to the visitors' posts. Another scrum won and this time Andy Williams goes to the short side where Chris Czekaj's try levels the scores. Davies converts from a wide angle ... 24-22 after 67 minutes.

Then great kicking and chasing – so different to the first half – and Pontypridd kill the ball outside their own 22. Davies kicks the goal again ... 27-22 after 74 minutes.

From here there is no surrender. Pontypridd almost regain their vibrancy of earlier in the game, but not quite. They are beaten by the clock and a championship team that had the home crowd on their feet as the final whistle and celebrations followed. It was quite a night.


Official : Phil Fear (Wales)

Cardiff Pontypridd