Against all the odds, Cardiff and Aberavon laid on, if not a feast, then at least an entertaining buffet of springtime rugby. The omens were not good. With players on both sides dropping like flies as the Premiership campaign dragged ever nearer to its seemingly interminable end, Cardiff were forced to call on half-a-dozen players on permit and field others out of position in a sticking plaster selection that did not augur well.
Yet out of the anonymity of unfamiliar figures more than one promising new face emerged. Geraint Edmunds had been outstanding for Bedlinog against the Blue & Blacks in the Swalec Cup match back in January; now he was equally impressive in Cardiff colours. Teenage fly-half Staffan Jones from Bargoed almost stole the show with his lively approach and readiness to 'try things' at pivot. In the engine room, Chris Barry from St Peter's, son of Eighties' fly-half David, was a real bundle of energy in the first half while Danny Dowthwaite from Glamorgan Wanderers was a more than adequate loose-head prop in a superior scrummaging unit. Also showing up well was another St Peter's import, number 8 Rob O'Brien.
The result was a keenly-contested game, worthy in its own way of the landmark achieved by stand-in skipper Owen Ruttley, making his 126th league appearance to cement his record as the leading player in the competition for Cardiff. That puts him ahead of Simon Hill (124), Mike Rayer (123), Jonathan Humphreys (121) and six others with 100 games for the club.
There's no denying there were plenty of mistakes, not least the inaccurate passing mixed with white-line fever by both sides and, in Cardiff's case, the inability to secure opposition restarts has developed into a fine art that continues to cost them dearly. But all this could be forgiven when held up against the readiness of two unfamiliar outfits to make a worthwhile game of it.
Steffan Jones and Jamie Davies exchanged short-range penalty goals in the first six minutes, Jones missed another from 38 metres, before Rory Gallagher edged the Wizards ahead with an excellent converted try after turnover ball deep in their own half was retained through several pairs of hands before the number 8 galloped over near the posts for Davies to add the extras.
Opposite number Edmunds then made his mark, touching down after a fine touchline dash by Richard Read, the Rumney wing who also appeared against Bedwas last month.
Though another Davies penalty goal extended the visitors' advantage to 13-8, Cardiff hit back with two quick tries. Nathan Rees came in off the wing to score from a five-metre scrum. Jones converted and then intercepted and juggled on half-way before scampering down the touchline for a try of his own. The smile on his face was soon wiped off when, albeit harshly, he was binned for a professional foul in his own 22 and Davies easily slotted the three-pointer.
At half-time it was 20-16 to Cardiff after a non-stop 40 minutes that was much more entertaining, warts and all, than anyone might have anticipated.
The scoreboard continued to tick over on the restart. Chris Anderson, playing at full-back in his 98th game for the club and continually pegging back the Wizards with clever diagonal punts, stepped up in Jones' temporary absence to nail a tricky 30-metre penalty. Jones returned to the fray in time to add another when Cardiff's scrummaging superiority paid off as Aberavon's under pressure front row headed skywards on their own 22.
A yellow card to either side then produced different consequences. Lock Ian Moore's despatch for the Wizards had no noticeable effect, but when replacement scrum-half Garyn Lucas followed him five minutes later there was a potentially catastrophic turnaround in the offing. Full-back Paul Bamsey and Jamie Davies scored long-range tries in quick succession and with the fly-half converting the second and then adding a straight penalty Aberavon had notched 15 points inside six minutes and led 31-26 with time running out.
Cardiff found the wherewithal and energy for one last surge in the 78th minute and what a lung-bursting effort it was as Craig Everett began and finished a sweeping move that ended with him crossing near the right corner. Even as sundry medicos contemplated sending for oxygen supplies to a back-rower still apparently suffering from jet-lag months after his return from Japan, Steffan Jones' booming attempt at a conversion from the edge of touch drifted in front of the far post. A noble effort, but not quite good enough. On the other hand, an appropriate testimony to the previous 80 minutes and the high-scoring draw was a fitting result.