Aberavon

27 February, 1999

Talbot Athletic Ground

Cardiff
referee
Derek Bevan
scorers
Simon Hill (2)
Gareth Thomas (1)
Paul Burke (1)
Paul Burke (1)

One week Fred Howard, the next Derek Bevan. What have we done to deserve this?

It seemed as though the WRU had done all in its limited control to ruin Cardiff's chances of winning this game. The pitch had been watered all week and the local farmers had allowed their oxen to graze, but at least the rice had been harvested shortly before kick off. And then on rumbled Derek "I'm on TV" Bevan, the ace in the pack for the WRU. Although he gave the obvious penalties to Cardiff that he had to, he constantly ignored the off-side rule. Therefore, the entire Wizard's back-row roamed freely through the paddy and second phase was impossible. The two forward passes that he gave against Cardiff in the first ten minutes stopped any momentum and from then on the game descended into mud wresting.

Conversely, a Cardiff team once more turned in an overpaid performance lacking fire and determination. They waded through the game and wallowed from one muddy pile up to another. Are these the players trying to get push for international honours and a contract for next year? Professional pride seemed missing from a gutless performance. (Can't blame them really though as this was a meaningless game in a meaningless competitions from which Cardiff are shortly to be expelled).

Simon Hill's first try filled us all with hope. Phase one ball and a try in the corner was what we had all come to see. Simply created because Gareth Thomas could waddle in the mud faster than anyone else, things were looking up. Cardiff were eager to spread the ball and more tries looked on until Derek blew his whistle. The spectacle then died for 50 minutes until Owain Williams and John Tait lightened the load late in the second half.

Aberavon played their limited game plan very well. Obviously, they had trained all week in wellies, thus giving their kicking outside half a head start. He passed fewer than 5 times in the whole game, and this was clearly 5 times too many. We are reluctant to criticize Aberavon, as they clearly raised their game with their coach (or should that be farmer/shepherd) praising this as their best performance all season. However, their facilities rival Alcatraz in standards and the pitch is straight from the suburbs of Saigon. Is it any wonder the English teams didn't want Welsh teams involved in a league? It would be embarrassing for Saracens fans to visit the Talbot Athletic "Ground".

All this meaningless game proved was that Cardiff still have Welsh Division 1 players. A number of players were returning from lengthy lay-offs but it was their skill levels and attitude that were lacking, rather than their fitness. It was the inability of the front five to establish any type of platform - especially in the set piece - that meant it would be a struggle for the backs to win space. The front row were outplayed in the scrummage and added little in the loose and Derwyn was way off the pace throughout. These are the areas that Cardiff must strengthen for next year, with especially Mustoe and Jones being shown the door. This slow ball, combined with the even slower play of Robert Jones just shows how bad were Aberavon's backs as Wintle and Thomas continually broke the gain line. This was a second team performance.

Oh for a motivating force in the front row! When Humph was firing on all cylinders, Cardiff looked world beaters. But as his injury worsened and he was eventually replaced in the starting lineout, other than Kacala, the pack lacks a talisman and is all too often going through the motions rather than playing with any passion and pride.

Fortunately, on this occasion Terrance recognised the importance of his replacements bench. He used his three impact players wisely, as Tait and Williams sped up the game and Frank Spencer propped up the scrum. True, Aberavon's players were tiring, but with Bevan gifting penalties when he was 15 yards off the play, anything was possible. The impetus brought by Tait though fast driving play, passing before contact with players interchanging brought us some excellent rugby. There are signs of improvement, but only amongst the select number of players who are able to play this style of rugby.

Watching the players warm up before kick off, it's clearly the way the Cardiff coaching team want to play, but they've failed to discipline the players sufficiently to perform professionally. Who runs this team? The coach or the players? You decide, Terrance. Whilst chopping and changing personnel each week makes it difficult to establish a pattern, these guys are supposed to be the top paid players in Wales! Of course, however, this style of exciting rugby needs a fast surface so it was not as effective as it could have been dodging the oxen and the coolies. In the end, the pitch was the great leveller.

15
Mike Rayer
6
/10
steady but unspectacular in the mud. Showed no leadership in his role as captain.
14
Liam Botham
6
/10
could and should have looked for more work to take the pressure of those inside him.
13
Gareth Thomas
9
/10
very strong and fast, but lacked that killer edge which would have meant him scoring three tries himself.
12
Leigh Davies
5
/10
unusually quiet.
11
Simon Hill
6
/10
scored two easy tries but did not look for enough work.
10
Paul Burke
6
/10
always kept the ball alive, but didn't take the game by the scruff of the neck. Should have kicked for the corner much more.
9
Robert Jones
4
/10
useless in the first 60 minutes. Slow delivery meant pressure from the blatantly off-side Aberavon back row. Last 20 minutes was back to his best, fast popped passes keeping the game alive.
8
Emyr Lewis
6
/10
played only in bursts although always strong in defence.
7
Jamie Ringer
2
/10
totally anonymous.
6
Greg Kacala
9
/10
absolutely brilliant. Was everywhere, all the time!!! One of his best performances all season.
5
Derwyn Jones
2
/10
totally useless and anonymous. This must be his last season - fast rugby is well beyond his abilities.
4
Steve Moore
6
/10
good work in the tight but must carry the ball more in attack.
3
Lyndon Mustoe
5
/10
anonymous
2
Paul Young
4
/10
poor throwing and not his busy self in the loose. Carrying an injury?
1
Andrew Lewis
4
/10
rock in the scrum, anonymous in the loose. We must be lacking good props in Wales.