Festive games have long been a part of the traditions at the Arms Park, and the 2010s were no different with Cardiff Blues involved in some excellent derbies over the Christmas period.
One that sticks in the memory though is a game that wasn’t famed for it’s quality, but has rather reached a level of infamy for it’s lack of it, as Cardiff Blues v Dragons on Boxing Day 2012 was played out in what can only be described as a mud bath at the Arms Park.
Heavy rain in the week leading up to the game had left the old grass surface looking less rugby pitch and more swamp as the teams took to the field, both looking to kick start a season that up until that point had been disappointing.
For Cardiff Blues it was the first season with Phil Davies as Director of Rugby and three wins from 10 Rabo Direct Pro12 games had been a less than ideal start, alongside seeing Heineken Cup involvement ended by four losses from the four pool games played.
The list of departures and retirements over the previous summer had been lengthy, with key figures in the squad during the Dai Young era including Martyn Williams, Paul Tito, Deiniol Jones and Xavier Rush calling time on their careers, while the likes of Gethin Jenkins, Richie Rees, Casey Laulala and Ben Blair moved on to pastures new.
It was very much a squad in transition with young players Sam Hobbs, Rhys Williams, Scott Andrews, Lewis Jones, Rhys Patchell and Harry Robinson all starting in this key game on the back of losing 6-9 at home to Scarlets just a few days previously.
Andrews and Jones are joined by Jason Tovey as members of the current squad who survived that day, although Tovey has done so via spells at Dragons and Edinburgh, while there was a familiar face in the opposition in 2012 as Hallam Amos lined up at full-back for the visitors.
By the 15th minute of the game it was starting to become unclear exactly who was on what team though as the light blue jerseys of the home side became much closer in colour to the black of the away jerseys, and soon both were covered in thick layer of mud anyway.
With the rain continuing to lash down throughout the first half, Rhys Patchell was laser accurate off the kicking tee, unlike Dan Evans for the opposition, and ensured that Cardiff Blues took a 9-0 lead in at the break.
Such was the amount of mud we actually chose to change jerseys at half-time, but that just caused double the work for the kitman that week as within 20 minutes it was browns v browns again, and the game itself was hotting up with Andy Tuilagi crossing for Dragons with Wayne Evans converting.
The away side then took the lead at 60 minutes with substitute Lewis Robling kicking them ahead, but Patchell clawed the advantage back a few minutes later and some strong Cardiff Blues defence saw the game out to a 12-10 win for the hosts.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of this game though was not a try or points scoring opportunity, but a simple breakdown that Dafydd Hewitt went to the bottom of. For a moment there was an honest thought that the centre may have drowned in the mud, but fortunately he survived to play for three more years.
It came to pass that this would be one of the last mud baths that the Cardiff Blues would play on at the Arms Park as this game, coupled with a visit to Saracens’ Allianz Park in the Anglo-Welsh Cup the following month paved the way for a plastic pitch to be installed in the summer of 2013.
There will always be a part of every supporter that misses those days of seeing the players slogging away in the swamp though.