As 'winning ugly' goes, this was surely a definitive example of its kind. Cardiff notched a seven-pointer straight from the kick-off as a clearance kick was charged down and skipper Dan Godfrey scored near the left corner, And that was as good as it got. All that the Blue & Blacks produced in the remaining 79 minutes was a penalty try when Cross Keys were reduced to 13 men (they were momentarily one fewer than that as well) and a penalty count three to one in their favour which, ultimately, meant nothing.
Cushioned by their whirlwind start which only served to give them a false sense of their superiority, the visitors spurned several goal kicks from penalties, opting to go for attacking lineouts. That they on one occasion managed to kick the ball dead for an opposition 22 drop-out tells us everything about the latest chapter of an end-of-season saga that merely underlines the fact there has been too much rugby for too few exhausted players in the dying embers of the protracted campaign.
It was not inconceivable that the Keys could have won and if they had no one could have complained. The two outstanding players on the pitch were hooker and captain Lloyd Burns and open-side flanker, 23-year-old Rob Nash.
Despite their early gift to Cardiff, they were 13-7 ahead at the break and it was the hour's mark before the visitors scored again. Gareth David slotted two penalties – the first from 15 metres and the second from 45 – and sandwiched between them was his angled conversion of Carl Pocock's clever try in the 25th minute.
Cardiff had been as flat as a pancake for 40 minutes and their weary demeanour continued long into the second period as well. But the Keys had problems of their own. Lock Mark Curtis was binned in the 58th minute, giving Gareth Davies the opportunity to reduce the deficit to three points and when Jevon Groves was binned in the 67th minute and Tom Lampard a few seconds later it was almost 12 against 15. But as one door closed, another opened, Curtis returning as Lampard departed. Yet they had lost two-thirds of their influential back row and the next set of scrums led to the inevitable penalty try, albeit some way out from the goal-line but nevertheless a brave decision from referee Jonathan Mason, already a target for an unhappy home crowd.
In the remaining ten minutes the greater attacking threat came from Cross Keys. Still with 13 men they pulled back to within a single point courtesy of another long-range effort from David. Then they returned again to Cardiff territory, enjoying the luxury of a full complement of players for all of two minutes at the end but unable to deliver the final ignominy on the shoulders of their opponents.
Cardiff won, but with the new-fangled play-offs looming on the distant horizon when will this survival of the fittest finally end?