Don't shoot the players and coaches. That has to be the message as the season, long past its sell-by date, petered out in a whimper. Cardiff's ninth match in 34 days (and they were by no means unique) was never going to be anything more than a dutiful case of turning up and doing their best. The injury hit squad has integrated ten newcomers on permit since the Bedwas match last month as the injury list has multiplied. A team that had done so well to shake off the Yuletide blues (no pun intended) and put together a decent set of results in the early weeks of the New Year, staggered to the finishing line with one win in their final seven league and cup games. An honest group of semi-professional players deserved better than this.
On the other hand, the essentially flawed play-off system, hailed as providing “cutting-edge competition” when launched by the WRU last summer, and the broadcasters yet again tinkering with the original fixture calendar, got the match they both deserved.
Nine games involving eight teams to decide two qualifiers for a cross-border competition next year. Never have so many been required to play so much to decide so little. “Cutting edge”? More like cutting their own throats in the pursuit of quantity rather than quality.
For the record, three first-half penalties by the ever-reliable Gareth Davies against a couple from opposite number Steve Shingler, established a shaky 9-6 interval lead. The watching a-political arm of the populace (at least a few dozen of them had opted for this entertainment rather than the vaudeville leaders' debate elsewhere) had to wait until the 54th minute for the first and only try. Shingler's third penalty had cancelled out Cardiff's lead before Nic Reynolds, already the scorer of three tries in cup and league against the Blue & Blacks in the last three weeks, now interpassed cleverly with Chris Keenan before crossing for a worthy try.
14-9 and that was it. No respecter of human rights, the digital clock ticked into the fifth minute of added time before referee David Jones - Cardiff have seen even more of him than they have of Llanelli in recent weeks – mercifully blew the final whistle.
Justice of a sort was done. Llanelli, sixth after 26 league games, qualify ahead of seventh-placed Cardiff for the British & Irish Cup. But spare a thought for fifth-placed Aberavon, 17 league points and three places above Llandovery, but consigned to play all their matches this side of the Severn next season. The Drovers, meanwhile, can look forward to trips to the likes of Ayr, Belfast and Penzance. Next week the thrills continue as Neath, overwhelmingly superior Premiership champions, have to do it all again in play-off semi-finals and, wait for it, a probable Grand Final. Bizarre.