A beautiful afternoon in Cyncoed, Cardiff with two teams locking horns with plenty to play for was a mouth-watering prospect. Cardiff Met have always been recognised as a team with a desire to play attractive open rugby and conditions certainly looked ideal as they tried to climb out of the relegation zone of the Championship. For their part, Pontypool have looked at their best in good playing conditions and knew that if they took the spoils they would be crowned champions.
The home side chose to play with a stiff breeze behind them in the first half. In the first few minutes they were given a starter for six with two well-taken penalty goals from near the halfway line by Williams (6-0). It was clear that the scrum was going to be a problem for a Pooler as it was completely unstable and the referee felt Pooler were to blame. Pontypool were also going to have problems containing the pacy and slick-passing home backs who looked dangerous from the outset.
Towards the end of the first quarter, Pontypool did manage to win some decent possession and Rusby Davies forced his way over the line for a try. The successful conversion gave the away side a narrow lead at 6-7. We expected Pontypool to kick on but virtually every time they worked their way into a promising position they gave away a penalty at scrum or ruck. It was frustrating stuff!
Cardiff Met continued to look dangerous and, after around half an hour, their backs cut Pooler to pieces for Northmore to score their first try. The conversion opened up a 13-7 lead for the students. Worse was to follow for Pooler with another long range penalty from Williams and a yellow card for Rusby Davies on the stroke of half time. This left the score at the interval 16-7 with Pontypool having a lot of thinking to do. They had lacked any measure of control of the game and had given away far too many penalties to the lively and committed students.
Pontypool did have the benefit of the breeze in the second half and enjoyed their best period in the third quarter of the match even though they were down to fourteen men for the first ten minutes. The scrum on the Pontypool put-in was stabilised by the introduction of Harford and the penalty count against them dropped. It was from a scrum near the halfway line early in the second half that Pooler scored their second try. After a couple of good passes, Gullis found himself in space and sprinted forty metres to score in the corner. Jones converted and Pooler were back in the game at 16-14.
Pooler continued to press but time and again were frustrated by the students at the breakdown and gave away too many turnovers. As the third quarter drew to a close, the away team was at last awarded a penalty near the halfway line. Matthew Jones converted with aplomb and Pontypool were back in the lead at 16-17
The final quarter was clearly going to be a tense affair. The injury count mounted for both teams with the respective benches being emptied which added to the frenetic nature of the game. Pontypool looked the more likely to score but the students looked dangerous whenever they won a turnover. The students were scrapping hard for every ball and the scrums had once again became a shambles.
Early in the fourth quarter came the turning point in the game. Pontypool were on the attack near the halfway line and a stray pass was intercepted by the grateful Northmore who galloped almost fifty metres to score under the posts. Pontypool were in trouble with the score line 23-17.
Pontypool strove manfully to get back into the game but could not find any rhythm or control. Their task was made more difficult by the frequent injury stoppages. The main issue, however, was the inspired play of Cardiff Met who were not about to let the opportunity of a famous victory slip. The final nail in Pooler’s coffin came when they conceded another turnover and brilliant inter-passing by the students paved the way for Evans to score in the corner as normal time came to an end. Another great kick from Williams converted the try and the students were home and dry at 30-17.
There was still the possibility of a losing bonus point for Pontypool and they attacked ferociously with time running out. Harford did manage to force his way over in the corner in the last play. Unfortunately the conversion went wide to leave the final score at 30-22 so no bonus point for Pontypool.
So Pontypool’s long winning streak came to an end and you have to say that the students deserved their victory. Pontypool never managed to gain the measure of control over the game that they have enjoyed for most of the season. The lively and committed students proved difficult to contain and Pooler’s cause was certainly not helped by giving away far too many penalties. The unbeaten record may have gone but the Championship is still well within their grasp. A home win against Glamorgan Wanderers next week would seal it but, after this defeat, it is clear that Pontypool can take nothing for granted.
I cannot begin to understand the machinations that are taking place at the Dragons. I only hope for Gwent rugby’s sake that a workable solution can be found. Even the most ardent Pontypool fan surely recognises that Gwent should have a competitive professional rugby team.
The snippets of Welsh regional rugby that I watched over the last couple of days were pretty dire. I saw bits of the second half of Scarlets against Edinburgh and the last quarter of Treviso versus Ospreys. Both were awful but at least the Scarlets managed a win unlike all the other Welsh regions.
Congratulations to RGC 1404 for pipping Merthyr for a place in the Challenge Cup final. It amply demonstrates that teams from the Championship can be competitive at Premiership level.
Let us hope that we have a better Saturday next weekend.
Come on Pooler!