Cardiff RFC fell to a disappointing 28-19 defeat to Pontypridd on Friday night, leaving Steve Law’s men with a mountain to climb in the Principality Premiership title race.
This loss, coupled with last week’s defeat at the hands of Swansea at St Helens, has seen the Blue and Blacks fall 12 points back from Merthyr, so that even winning our game in hand would leave us with a gap to bridge.
Hunting a first double over Pontypridd since 2007/08, Steve Law had welcomed Brad Thyer, Kirby Myhill and Macauley Cook to join James Down, James Botham, Ben Thomas and Max Llewelyn in the starting XV from the Cardiff Blues setup.
There was also recalls for Morgan Allen and James Beal, who was making his first appearance since March 2018 after a lengthy spell out through injury.
The first breakthrough of the game came from a reliable source though as, within three minutes of the action getting underway, Gareth Thompson took the ball to the line and a killer dummy line from Will Rees-Hole created a huge gap for Max Llewelyn to break through.
He was dragged down by a good cover tackle from Rhys Shellard but a quick recycle saw Rees-Hole back in the action and carrying towards the line only to be tackled by an offside Gareth Smith. Referee Craig Evans promptly sin binned the prop and awarded a penalty try.
Unfortunately the Blue and Blacks could not capitalise on the man advantage as the scrum got away from them though, while a string of errors prevented any momentum being gained.
Fortunately the defence was soaking up what Pontypridd had to throw at them comfortably, and the set piece was functioning well enough to escape from some tricky situations.
In the end it was the 25th minute when the scoreboard changed again, as the Ponty defence was caught narrow and a miss-pass found Edd Howley in a yard of space. He carried forward and spotted the chance to kick in behind which sat up perfectly for James Beal to score on his return to action.
Thompson missed the conversion but a 12-0 lead was looking good for Cardiff until being on the wrong side of the referee too often led to Rees-Hole being sent to the sin bin after a build up of team infringements.
That period with 14-men was seen off without any real incident, but with just three minutes until half-time some controversy involving the refereeing team.
Firstly, Peter Lloyd was shown a yellow card after he was adjudged to be the reason that scrums had consistently gone down throughout the first half, with Tom Daley sacrificed to allow Will Davies-King to enter the fray.
Then, from an attacking five metre scrum, Alun Lawrence picked and carried off the back and as he tried to offload for Dane Blacker the tackle coming in from Ben Thomas knocked the ball down.
Referee Evans referred the incident to the TMO, who adjudged that Thomas had deliberately knocked it on and as such was yellow carded and a penalty try awarded.
As ever with the scrummaging it’s a matter of opinion and only those involved in the tight five know what is really going on, but the second decision was harsh in the extreme, with Thomas’ head on the wrong side of the contact to see the attempted offload. More TMO controversy for a Cardiff team!
The score stayed at 7-12 until the break, but playing for the first part of the second half with 13-men was always going to be a struggle, and from first phase ball Pontypridd took advantage, spinning the ball wide for Dale Stuckey to break before he chipped back inside for Dane Blacker to collect and score.
Ceri Sweeney converted to give the home side the lead for the first time, and from there over the next 15 minutes the momentum was with them even as Cardiff returned to full strength.
Alex Webber kicked in behind dangerously forcing James Beal to bumble the ball in to touch on our own five metre line, and at the second time of asking Ponty were able to rumble over the try line with Rob Jones the beneficiary and a superb Sweeney conversion adding the extra two points.
Then a Cardiff error as the backs tried to move the ball wide, Will Rees-Hole was tackled but tried to offload only to see his hopeful pass intercepted by Dale Stuckey and the winger just had enough to outpace Gareth Thompson, before Sweeney again nailed a wide conversion.
With an hour on the clock and the scoreboard showing 28-12 the game was very close to heading out of sight for the visitors, and when the following 10 minutes was littered with handling errors and a suffering set piece, any chance of getting back into the contest went out the window.
There was still time for some more refereeing controversy when Scott Gibson took a quick tap penalty in the Pontypridd 22 and headed towards the try line only to be taken down by a high tackle from Morgan Boksanko who was not 10 metres back, but no yellow card was forthcoming.
Cardiff still managed to make it over the try line from the back of the resulting scrum when Aled Cockwell was able to power over, with Steffan Jones converting, but it wouldn’t be enough.
Ian Jenkins was adjudged to be just short when looking to burrow over and secure a two losing bonus points with the last play of the game, leaving the Blue and Blacks to head back down the A470 empty handed on the night.
In all truth they didn’t really deserve more than that, with reasons why varying from too many errors on the day, a perceived ill-discipline issue by the referee, a lack of cohesion from too many changes to the starting XV, and Pontypridd simply being more up for the game on the night.
It leaves Steve Law with a lot to think about this week heading into next weekend’s WRU National Cup Final as Cardiff look to avoid finishing the season in a disappointing fashion that would be undeserved after the campaign as a whole.