Cup games between Cardiff and Pontypool have a rich history with many epic encounters which more often and not have gone Cardiff’s way. So it was that the Pontypool faithful made their way to the Arms Park to witness what they hoped would be another classic encounter. The Cardiff officials seemed a little taken aback by the size of the Pooler Army and this led to a bit of frustration getting into the ground but all that was soon forgotten as we took our places.
Conditions were absolutely perfect with no wind and of course the artificial pitch. Cardiff must surely have started as favourites as they are in the Premiership with Pooler in the league below and of course their familiarity with the way the pitch plays.
Rather like in the previous round in Llanelli, the Premiership side started the stronger as Pontypool tried to acclimatise to the conditions. Cardiff deservedly got the first points on the board with two well-taken penalties by their lively outside half Thompson. The Pontypool tacklers started to get their range and seemed on intent on making the Cardiff attackers their traditional black and blue. There were some thunderous hits going in. Tu’ipulotu in particular was relishing the challenge and he intercepted a pass in a promising home attack and set Brookes scurrying under the posts. Pooler were up and running and with the successful conversion 6-7 in the lead.
Cardiff continued to attack with their pacey backs but Pontypool continued to rock them back with powerful defence. As Pontypool started to get more possession it was clear that their driving play was going to be very effective as they repeatedly crossed the gain line. Pontypool were awarded a penalty and Matthew Jones made no mistake 6-10.
Back came the home side with a series of strong thrusts. The Pontypool defence finally cracked and conceded a try near their posts. Cardiff were back in the lead at 13-10. Cardiff then increased their lead through another penalty to 16-10 after a rather harsh decision by the referee. This was turning out to be a tremendous match with Pooler’s power and commitment against the undoubted skill of the Cardiff backs. Does that sound familiar?
Pontypool worked their way into the Cardiff twenty two and their backs showed just what they could do with a perfectly executed strike move which put Hurley over for a try in the corner. A fantastic try coupled with a fantastic conversion put Pontypool back on top at 16-17.
In the sixth minute of injury time Cardiff were awarded yet another penalty and the sure footed Thompson converted to give the home side a narrow 19-17 lead after a tremendous first half battle. At that stage it was difficult to pick a winner and it promised to be an epic second half.
As you would expect, Cardiff were out of the blocks quickly in the second half and the Pontypool defence had it all to do to keep them out. But keep them out they did and what is more they broke out from their own twenty two and almost scored. There followed a period of concerted pressure from the away side and an excellent line break by Hurley was supported by substitute Gullis who crossed near the posts. With the conversion Pooler were back in the lead at 19-24.
Pontypool really had the bit between their teeth and tore into the Cardiff ranks as they sought to put the game to bed. Their pressure led to a further penalty 19-27 but this was quickly cancelled out by a penalty from the home side 22-27. Yet another penalty to the home side made it 25-27 and it was getting really tense.
The Pontypool supporters pumped up the volume as they tried to will their side home. Pooler responded with another powerful surge deep into home territory. Forwards and backs hurled themselves forward and it was almost inevitable that it was the redoubtable Nash that eventually crossed in the corner. Another fine conversion from Jones gave Pontypool breathing space at 25-34.
Pontypool continued to surge forward and under enormous pressure Cardiff conceded a penalty at a ruck and lost a man to the sin bin. Pontypool looked winners at 25-37 but there was no room for complacency as the Cardiff backs had looked more than capable of scoring a try or two. Strong defence led to another penalty for Pontypool which the ever reliable Jones slotted. The away side had a 15 point lead at 25-40 and were now more than two scores clear with time running out. Game over you would say.
Cardiff didn’t think it was game over, however, and put together a powerful set of phases and despite some strong defence deservedly scored their second try of the match near the posts. The gap had closed to 32-40 deep into injury time. Cardiff threw the ball about but Pooler were in no mood to let this one go. The away side forced Cardiff to concede yet another penalty with Jones yet again converting to bring a fantastic game to a close with a final score of 32-43.
What a brilliant game of rugby and what a brilliant performance by Pontypool. As at Llanelli, it was the complete team performance with everyone playing out of their skins against a good Cardiff side. If this is what rugby on an artificial pitch is like, let’s have more of it! A word for the travelling Pontypool support who outnumbered and out-shouted the home fans and really count as the sixteenth man. There is no mistaking the fact that Pontypool are a Premiership team in all but name and it is a real shame that they have no short term route to that exclusive club.
So Pontypool progress to the quarterfinals and I cannot think that any of the remaining teams will relish playing against them in this mood. Let us hope for a home draw this time so we can give our opponents a real Pooler welcome.
Fantastic win, congratulations to all at the club. You did us proud!