Cardiff complete year of change

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The Independent Online
Newbridge 8

Cardiff 32

In three years under Alex Evans, Cardiff have turned from relegation candidates to Welsh champions, with last night's visit to the western valley of Gwent giving them the Heineken League title - barring a freak.

Pontypridd, who have dogged Cardiff all season, have conceded as much by choosing a shadow side for tomorrow's game against Llanelli in the knowledge that there is nothing much even their first choice can now do. Cardiff have one First Division fixture to play and Pontypridd two but Cardiff's advantage in tries, the determinant between teams who finish level, is 23 and that is a gap that cannot realistically be bridged.

It is hard to imagine that in 1991/92, the last pre-Evans season, they finished ninth of 10 and would have gone down if there had been relegation. Instead they stayed up because the Welsh Rugby Union expanded the First Division to 12 clubs and three years on, their Australian coaching director having worked so much magic that he has become Wales's World Cup coach, they are an adornment instead of an embarrassment.

Indeed their 79 tries are the highest scored by any of the 60 clubs in the Heineken League and last night they would have added more than two to that total but for the same persistent offside by Newbridge which had upset Swansea in the close-run Cup quarter-final here last Saturday.

Not that Cardiff were ever prevented from scoring, merely restricted. Newbridge attacked now and again but most of the first half was dominated by Cardiff and by half-time Adrian Davies had kicked five penalties to one by Phil Withers.

This was not quite an adequate insulation for the prospective champions against an unlikely defeat but the Championship was then more or less Cardiff's when they added a try to their penalties after 12 minutes of the second half.

A long-range attack consistent with their best this season culminated in Hemi Taylor, the Maori who plays for Wales, breaking clear from a maul for a try at the posts that Davies converted before landing his sixth penalty. Newbridge pulled back a late try when Gavin Pugh drove off a scrum - just the stimulus Cardiff evidently needed because there was enough time remaining for them to finish with the flourish of an injury-time try by Simon Hill.

Newbridge: Try Pugh; Penalty Withers. Cardiff: Tries Taylor, Hill; Conversions Davies (2); Penalties Davies (6).

Newbridge: W Taylor; S Hill, J Hawker, A Lucas (R Clarke 73), S Reed; P Withers, R Smith; R Buckley, N Meek, P Edwards, B Fisher, P Kawulok, M Lawford, G Pugh, P Crane (capt).

Cardiff: J Westwood; S Ford(C John, 53-59), M Hall (capt), G John, S Hill; A Davies, A Moore; M Griffiths, J Humphreys, P Sedgemore, S Roy, J Wakeford, H Taylor, O Williams, M Bennett.

Referee: A Rowlands (Treorchy).