Crisis? What crisis? The waves of disappointment following the opening home defeat last Saturday have quickly retreated after this record away win at Ebbw Vale. Cardiff took what promised to be a tricky test by the scruff of the neck in the opening quarter and led 27-3 at the break, though it would be hard to deny a sense of anti-climax in a shapeless second half for both sides.
Outstanding contributions by Ryan Howells and half-backs Gareth Davies and Tom Slater behind the scrum and Ian George and Rhys Shellard up front ensured that the Blue & Blacks' bandwagon is back on the road. The team performance was far from perfect, not least because of a failure to hammer home their interval adavantage with a fourth try and bonus point in a long and turgid second period, but equally undeniable was the clever offloading in close quarters and a pleasing readiness to spread the ball wide at every opportunity.
Howells and fellow wing Matthew John were in the thick of the action throughout the 80 minutes and both were on the try scoring charts. Gareth Davies slotted two 40-metre penalty goals in the opening five minutes before Howells scored the first of his two touchdowns, finishing off a slick back of the scrum combination between Dan Godfrey and Slater, the cheekiest of dummies by the scrum-half, and a clinical finish by Howells. Davies converted from the touchline and it was already evident that the Blue & Blacks were intent on a big win.
When Ebbw Vale transgressed with a fourth penalty against them in the 13th minute, the referee stepped in with what appeared to be a final warning about slowing down the ball at rucks. Ironically, they immediately posted what turned out to be their only points of the afternoon when Gareth Bowen popped over a penalty goal from 25 metres. Cardiff's response was impressive as from quick lineout ball, Howells, coming from the blindside wing, cut through midfield at a lovely angle for a great try, again converted by Davies.
If anything, John's try three minutes before the break, was even better. The Steelmen's lineout had been shaky all through the game and when Cardiff again stole possession deep in their own half the ball was spun into midfield where Gareth Chapman executed a text-book outside break and then linked with the wing. The newcomer is already on the evidence of two games proving to be a real handful for opposing defenders and he had no problem in finishing off the move with Davies adding the extras.
A more than satisfactory first half ended on a bizarre note when Adam Powell, left visibly groggy after a heavy tackle, bravely stayed on the pitch as the Vale's attack continued through several phases before Cardiff were penalised and, being identified as the culprit who stopped their final attack illegally, was promptly sinbinned. Exit a semi-dazed flanker.
The second half began equally promisingly with another long-range penalty goal from Davies in the 48th minute.... only for that to be the final score of the match. As a spectacle the game petered out. Vale salvaged some pride, Cardiff failed to gain a bonus point, and both sides lost a man to the sin-bin – home prop Matthew Jefferies for collapsing a scrum and Howells on the intervention of a touch judge after a minor shindig that didn't even qualify as 'handbags at five paces'.
But it was generally agreed that all Cardiff would have settled for a 30-point performance beforehand; that there was still a feeling of anti-climax augurs well for any side with ambitions of even better days ahead.