By John Jones
After taking two wins from their last three games, Cardiff University had a chance to continue this resurgent run of form in their final BUCS Super Rugby home game of the calendar year against high-flying local rivals Cardiff Metropolitan.
An estimated 2,500 supporters piled into Cardiff Arms Park for the clash, and both teams were met with thunderous noise as they stepped out onto the turf.
Evidently fired up by the crowd and sense of occasion, there was confrontation between the sides from the off, with the opening tackle sparking some unnecessary handbags.
Whilst Cardiff Uni looked eager to attack early on, it was Met who went closest to drawing first blood, with an electrifying break down the left wing nearly seeing them over the line, only for the ball to be lost forward from a thumping defensive tackle.
Minutes later, Met were knocking on the door again, with a driving maul from a lineout on the Cardiff Uni 5-metre line judged as being held up as the sea of bodies rumbled over the line.
After a period of such sustained pressure, it seemed inevitable that a Met score was just around the corner, and captain Aled Ward duly crashed over for the first try of the match, with Harry Johnston adding the extras.
CURFC’s heads certainly did not drop, however, as Wales Under-19 international Cam Lewis made a surging run forward, trying to bulldozer his way through a resilient Met defence, only for the ball to be turned over and cleared.
Minutes later, however, Lewis had more success, as he burst over the Met 22, and delivered a terrific offload to set Ben Thomas free on the left wing to run it under the posts, to the delight of his team’s supporters. A clean conversion from Owen Davies drew the game level.
After a well-taken penalty from Johnston had edged his side back in front, CURFC looked to fight back once again, edging their way deeper and deeper into the Met half, only to be penalised on two occasions for sloppy handling.
There was controversy in the closing stages of the first half, however, as Met’s Luke Northmore made another break up the left wing, shaking off two tackles and diving towards the line.
From the crowd’s vantage point, it seemed as if Northmore had crossed legally, but video replays show the winger was held way short of the line by Owen Davies, before losing the ball forward.
With both officials a considerable distance from the event, the awarding of the try was questionable to say the least, but the reliable boot of Johnston saw the conversion added from out wide to make it 17-7.
Some superb defensive tackles from Tom Wilson, Seb Herold and Cary Davies ensured that the deficit did not widen, and CURFC edged up the field in the final moments of the half, only to again be let down by a misplaced pass, meaning they still trailed by 10 points at the break.
As the second half kicked off, Met were quickest out of the blocks, putting pressure on to win an early penalty, before driving the ball from a lineout to their opponent’s 5-metre line.
Minutes later, a resilient CURFC defence was finally punctured by Met’s Eduardo Balocco, who crossed under the post, for Johnston to again convert.
Whilst rocked by this early setback, Cardiff University spent the next ten minutes camped just metres from Met’s try line, edging closer with each passage of play, with this steady progress only thwarted by a crucial try-saving tackle from full-back Tom Benjamin.
Whilst Met were ultimately able to clear their lines after a long period of Cardiff University pressure, they were soon to be a man down as Balocco was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle.
With their opponents now a man down, Cardiff University continued their barrage and, moments before Balocco’s return to the field, grabbed their second try of the evening.
After the ball had just escaped his clutches en route to the line minutes earlier, debutant Ioan Davies did fantastically well to evade four Met players to score in the left corner, after a period of slick passing from the CURFC backs.
Minutes later, Cardiff University were in again, as a tap-and-go from a penalty just inside the Met 22 by a canny Davies released the rapid Adam Sadbri who, in turn, fed skipper Wilson for the try, with the added extras reducing the gap to just five points, and silencing the Cardiff Met ‘Ultras’.
However, whilst the stage was set for a stunning comeback, there was to be disappointment for the Cardiff University side, as Johnston slotted a 40-metre penalty kick, before Northmore burst his way through the opposition defence to run it under the posts from distance for a bonus point try that sealed the game for Met.
Johnston’s sixth successful kick of the evening meant it finished 19-34 to Cardiff Metropolitan.
Whilst Cardiff University will be left rueing the questionable officiating of the first period, they showed great spirit and determination in their second half performance – buoyed by the fervent crowd – which temporarily rocked the BUCS Super Rugby league leaders.
With a tough match away to Hartpury next week, Cardiff will need to put in a similar performance if they are to lift themselves off of the foot of the table, and go into 2019 on a high.