So that's how we do it. Beat Pontypridd at the Arms Park, that is. Simple, really. Let them play their home fixture at the famous ground, let them have the home dressing room and dug-out, send the Blue & Blacks out of the tunnel first – but lay on all the hospitality, stewarding and sundry other capital city delights so they can concentrate on winning the game. Then pull out Cardiff's iconic skipper Rhys Shellard, injured during the warm-up, at the last minute. Talk about lulling them into a false sense of security....
But some things never change. Whether it's Premiership, Swalec Cup , pre-season friendly or, in this case, the British & Irish Cup, clashes between the two local rivals are guaranteed never to be lacking in intensity. Cups and trophies are almost irrelevant: it's all about bragging rights. And, boy, can they, we, us brag when the opportunity comes along.
Once again Ponty's choral legion, aka the 'Blues Brothers', made their presence felt, not least when Dai Flanagan put his side ahead with a 14th minute penalty goal. But the first 40 minutes were, in all truth, a sloppy, error-ridden affair with no further scores. Flanagan missed with another ambitious attempt at goal from 50 metres and the normally so-reliable Gareth Davies with a couple from 45 metres (forgivable) and bag in front from 30 (unimaginable). Davies did make a superb break to send Richard Jones over only for the visiting referee Mr Gamage (giving a convincing impression in all sorts of ways of his much lamented Scottish predecessor Mr Ramage, of fond memory) to rule no try under a mass of bodies.
Ponty's best thrusts came from deep, inspired by Matthew Nuthall, but the longer the half went on the greater became Cardiff's territorial domination. But no points ensued.
It was all change on the resumption. The third quarter could have been marketed and sold for the pantomime season. By the 45th minute Ponty were reduced temporarily to 13 men as prop Harford was binned for what was very close to being a spear tackle (and a possible red rather than yellow card) and scrum-half Downes for kicking the ball out of Cardiff's 5-metre scrum as the pack drove to the line (and that could have been a penalty try).
Despite their two-man advantage the Blue & Blacks huffed and puffed and it was all of five minutes before Craig Morgan had the wherewithal to collect a loose clearance kick and go looking for the inevitable open spaces rather than the interminable contact situations which had bedevilled the game. Find them he did and onto his pass ran the outstanding Ryan Howells for the try at the posts that Davies easily converted. Within two minutes, though, Cardiff had the look of pantomime villains themselves as, deep in Ponty territory, and with a two-man overlap, a 'scoring' pass that was not so much telegraphed as stamped, registered and given special delivery, was intercepted by Kristian Baller who galloped 70 metres for the gift try converted by Flanagan.
So, 54 minutes on the clock and it was Pontypridd XIII 10 pts, Cardiff XV 7.
Embarrassment was heaped upon embarrassment as, nine minutes later, acting skipper Jamie Ringer was binned for a dangerous tackle (to which the only rational observation should be, Methinks he doth protest too much). Replacement Dean Gunter slotted the resulting penalty – 13-7 (or 7-13, keep up). True to the unfolding drama Ponty then replicated with a high (unpunished) tackle of their own and Davies potted the three points. That was the signal for a classical final ten minutes or so.
With the game once again being played in the home (i.e., Ponty's) half, Tom Slater charged down a clearance kick near the touchline, regathered and linked with his back row before Ashley Sweet triumphantly crossed for the try half-way out on the left. Davies' tricky conversion gave Cardiff a four-point cushion, reduced to one when Gunter kicked a 25-metre goal. But Ponty were still chasing the game and the Cardiff pack, inspired by a magnificent contribution from James Down, were not prepared to surrender their hard-won comeback.
It was injury time before Ponty's midfield, now all fingers and thumbs, again spilled the ball and Cardiff swiftly transferred it to the right flank where Ryan Howells needed no second invitation to race 40 metres past a desperate cover defence for the corner try that sealed the win.
It was a more than satisfying start to the new cup's campaign – and, just think, for good measure Cardiff have taken Pontypridd's two-year unbeaten 'home' record. Or have they?
Next week Cardiff travel to Birmingham & Solihull and Pontypridd play host to Doncaster Knights in the next round of the competition. After this latest local derby, both matches will seem like a walk in the park.