What a difference a year makes. Aberavon and Cardiff brought down the curtain on last season with a ten-try extravaganza on a benign early spring evening at the Talbot Athletic Ground. This time around a few hardy souls braved a mini-monsoon and tempest to witness a dour mud bath which at one point drifted for 45 minutes without the scoreboard being disturbed. An Easter Saturday egg-stravaganza it was not.
Whatever the relevance of the imminent play-offs for the top eight finishers, which appear to have no greater purpose than deciding the fifth and sixth qualifiers for next season's equally unproven British & Irish Cup, this ill-fated fixture stuttered its way through eighty minutes (it seemed longer) towards a conclusion that, if nothing else, strengthened the Wizards' place in that not particularly prestigious octet later this month.
Cardiff started with Lee Jarvis at fly-half. The player-coach slotted a second minute penalty goal, an immediate riposte to a three-pointer already registered by opposite number Jamie Davies seconds earlier. By the 13th minute the ex-international number 10 had departed injured and for the rest of the game Craig Morgan occupied the pivot's role. By then, too, the reminder of the first half scoring had been completed, all to Aberavon: a try by makeshift winger Chris Morgans and another five points from the boot of Davies.
It said everything for the plot of the game that although the Blue & Blacks dominated territory for not only the rest of the half but also most of the second period as well, they didn't score their solitary try until the 80th minute when the result was already a foregone conclusion. Appropriately, that late touchdown went (again) to Daniel Preece, initially replaced in the 50th minute but called back into the front row four minutes from the end when Phil Osborne was hors de combat.
Aberavon's second half points came from Davies with an excellent 40-metre penalty goal and the extras to a try from replacement prop Ryan Bevington.
Amongst the turgid morass Cardiff had at least two heroes. Up front Matthew Veater, not for the first time, displayed the wisdom of playing horses for courses. Behind the pack, and often in the middle of every contact situation, the lion-hearted Darren Ryan made an extraordinary contribution, the main ball-carrier, invariably an unfaltering tackler of the first Aberavon men up, and never far away from the thick of the action. He even converted Preece's last gasp try.
By then 'gasping' was the appropriate emotion all around as on and off the pitch all present were ready for blessed release, a classic example of the final whistle not coming soon enough.