ABERAVON 16 CARDIFF 24
Cardiff were promised plenty of blood and thunder on their day trip to Aberavon, but not even the most seasoned of their campaigners could have expected such a ferocious onslaught from the pumped up home pack.
After a week of trading insults and puffing out their respective chests,the two clubs finally got down to business to find out which one would host the Principality Cup holders Newport in the quarter-finals.
Aberavon, sitting proudly on top of the Welsh First Division and keen to prove their ability to sit at Welsh rugby's high table, had been rubbing their hands with glee ever since they had been drawn against Cardiff in the Principality Cup seventh round draw.
The Wizards coach, Chris O'Callaghan, had promised the visitors' a warm welcome and his players certainly didn't disappoint on that score. They came out bristling, got stuck in and drew first blood.
It was their scheming skipper Daniel Hawkins who gave the move the momentum it needed as he grub kicked to the right corner for Sam Greenaway to chase.
The wing did enough to force Cardiff to concede possesion five metres out and Aberavon worked the work back across the field to the right for the former Wales full back Matthew Back to gather at the second attempt and cross for a try at the posts.
Jamie Davies added the simple conversion and all of a sudden there was a whiff of a cup upset in the air. To give the odour added pungeance the home forwards were running straight and hard and causing untold damage.
It was time for Cardiff, who had rested many of their international players, to get a grip and it was those three old dogs of war Jon Humphreys, Emyr Lewis and John Tait who steadied the ship.
Their lead was enthusiastically followed by the youngsters, none more so than the scrum half Ryan Powell. Revelling in the challenge thrown down to him by Hawkins, he weaved his way past three defenders and then beat a fourth for pace to cross for a much needed try from 25 metres.
His half back partner Nicky Robinson couldn't add the conversion and it wasn't until his fourth kick that he finally hit the mark, giving his side
a one point advantage five minutes before half-time.
Then came the crucial moment on the stroke of half time as the former Wales prop Peter Rogers showed off his handling skills to miss out two players and pick out Liam Roberts for a try in the right corner which Robinson converted off the touchline.
The Cardiff pack started the second half with the sort of authority and determination the Wizards' eight had shown at the start of the game and Robinson's boot provided more points with two further penalties to increase the lead to 14 points.
But the home side weren't finished with. Greenaway looked to have got clear after intercepting on his own 22, only to be called back for offside by the referee, but the wing played another crucial role in keeping a move going to the edge of the Cardiff 22 from where Scott Leighton dropped a goal to provide new incentive to the home team.
Hawkins increased the tempo with his sniping runs from the heels of his forwards and the home skipper actually reached the Cardiff line when he took a quick tap penalty and raced past the back pedalling blue and black defence. As he dived for the line the combined efforts of Pieter Muller and the recently introduced replacement Iestyn Harris just did enough to stop the scrum half from touching down.
That was the start of a series of near misses for the home team as they grew in stature. Andrew Thomas, Dafydd Owen and the giant No 8 Richard Morris made their marks on the Cardiff team driving forward and Morris emerged as the man of the match at forward.
It all added up to a cup tie full of passion and when Leighton added a penalty, having taken over the kicking duties from the three times loser Jamie Davies, to his earlier drop goal, the Wizards had cut the defict to eight points.
The drama increased when Rob Appleyard turned over the ball to Aberavon after being hit so hard in a tackle he didn't know where he was and after another storming raid into the Cardiff 22 Leighton kicked a penalty that set up a real do or die last 10 minutes.
Cardiff galvanised themselves and Harris pulled a rabbit out of the hat with a 35 metre penalty into the wind in injury time to re-establish a two
Scorers: Aberavon: Try: M Back; Con: J Davies; Pens: S Leighton 2; DG: S
Leighton. Cardiff: Tries; R Powell, L Roberts; Con: N Robinson; Pens: N
Robinson 3, I Harris.
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Go to www.wru.co.uk/tryourgame for more information
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