2008/2009 Principality Premiership
Cardiff 25 v 19 Neath
07 March 2009 - Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff

Match Report

Cardiff 25 Neath 19

No surprises here then. Cardiff extended their winning run against Neath to a remarkable six cup and league fixtures and, for good measure, completed their second consecutive home and away Premiership double against the defending champions.

If anything, the six-point winning margin flattered the visitors as the Blue & Blacks thrilled the home crowd with one of their best performances of the season. Skipper Owen Ruttley, as if celebrating his selection to play for the Barbarians in eleven days time, set a marvellous example in leading from the front. His fine all round game merely mirrored other heroic performances all about him, not least from Craig Morgan, in his best game since returning to the club, and Ryan Howells in the back three and, up front, a pack which completely outscrummaged the Neath eight and, in Rhys Shellard, had yet again the outstanding individual on the pitch. For good measure, one of the most vivid images of the afternoon was that of 21-stone plus prop Kristian Gay, flattening full-back Gareth King, himself no 6'3” fledgling, with a perfectly legal first-half tackle.

The early exchanges gave no hint of the body on the line tackling that was to come. Neath looked dangerous as they twice broke the first line of defence but, each time, were halted near the line. Their only reward was a second-minute penalty goal by Arwel Thomas and it was Cardiff who five minutes later gave them an object lesson in finishing off scoring opportunities. The visitors' defence was sucked in near their posts before quick second-phase possession was taken full advantage of by Morgan as he spun out a long pass for Howells to touch down near the right corner.

Thomas then badly hooked an attempt at a 30-metre penalty goal before he succeeded with a more difficult long range effort in the 22nd minute. Neath's lead was short-lived as, on the half-hour, Lee Jarvis beautifully struck a 40-metre penalty goal into the worst of the driving drizzle. The half ended with Matthew Veater (in the 39th minute) and Neath scrum-half Kevin Farrell (in injury time) both being carded for killing the ball.

On the restart Jarvis was unlucky when another howitzer from 50 metres rebounded off an upright before Neath regained the lead with a Thomas penalty goal for hands in a ruck. But that was the last time that the champions led. Cardiff upped the antes and in a purple patch Jarvis slotted a 54th minute penalty goal and, two minutes later, marvellous chasing by Ruttley and Shellard created panic in the visitors' defence before the ball was spun wide by Jarvis and Gareth Chapman took on and beat three defenders for the try.

When Jarvis then kicked a 35-metre penalty the lead had been stretched to 19-9. The action was now fast and furious. Ruttley somehow got back and under the noses of two attackers cleared his own line only for Farrell to counter attack and Dafydd Lockyer burst through for his side's first try. Crucially, replacement fly-half Howard Thomas fluffed the simple conversion. When flanker Shaun Miles was binned in the 70th minute Jarvis calmly kicked his fourth goal before departing the scene.

Neath had one last glimmer of hope when hooker Gerwyn Price touched down from a text-book lineout catch and drive only for the Blue & Blacks to go immediately back onto the attack and force a penalty which Gareth Davies goaled impressively.

There was no doubting the quality of Cardiff's victory, their eighth in a row, as they underlined their championship credentials. As for Neath, the unavoidable impression was that the black juggernaut that had swept all before them for four seasons was no longer an irresistible force. Their game plan had very much the feel of being 'last year's model'. Time, perhaps, for a Plan B on their part. Cardiff, on the other hand, have developed a style that is putting a spring in everyone's step at the Arms Park.


Official : Jonathan Mason (Wales)

Cardiff Neath