Rugby union: Cardiff rises to Walker
Cardiff 33 Swansea 26
Sunday 27 April 1997
Before Walker struck, Swansea had gained an impressive 14-9 interval lead and looked eminently capable of going on to write their name in history as the last team to win at the Arms Park before it is reduced to rubble after today's auction of all fixtures and fittings. When the demolition is complete the pitch will be moved round through an angle of 180 degrees. But it will be a great builder who achieves that turnaround as majestically as Walker did yesterday.
The second half was barely a minute old when the former hurdler-turned- winger received a pass from Owain Williams a few yards inside his own half. He then embarked on a run that took him past five opponents who each were left grabbing air where they thought Walker would be. It was a run that combined blistering speed with the balance of a tightrope walker as he swerved inside from the touchline and then back again. How he avoided the last lunging tackle from Stuart Davies is a matter for scientific investigation.
It was a try that could truly be described as stunning because that is precisely the effect it had on Swansea who seemed in that split second to lose all the composure and confident sense of adventure that had made them look so good before the interval.
Within seven minutes Cardiff struck again when the full-back, Justin Thomas, dashed through their dazed ranks and when a quarter-of-an-hour later Hall added another try, Swansea looked to have departed the game. It is to their credit that they hit back with two tries in the last 15 minutes to give us a nail-biting finish, but today they will prefer to remember the superiority they justly gained in the first half.
Cardiff had made the first break and it is difficult to know how Thomas did not score from the early Leigh Davies pass that put him clear in the fourth minute. But on a pitch saturated by the morning's downpour Thomas slid over the line and was somehow judged not to have grounded the ball before the defenders caught up with him.
A capacity crowd of just under 40,000 raised enough noise to allow us to ignore that the demolition work has already started at the west end of the ground which gaped at the game like a hooker's smile. And we thought the pattern had been set when the sure boots of Cardiff's young outside- half, Lee Jarvis, gave Cardiff the lead from a sixth-minute penalty. Three minutes later his opposite number, Aled Williams, missed an easier penalty opportunity. But neither Williams nor Swansea allowed that to tug at their confidence and a Swansea pack who had gained an early dominance over Cardiff were soon to produce a surge from a scrum five metres out that earned them a penalty try when Cardiff collapsed.
Jarvis scored two more penalties, one with a boomer from 48 yards, but these were rare Cardiff pleasures as Swansea ripped into them. The packs were already going after each other with a fervour fit enough to earn them all a good offer from the foreman of the demolition gang but it was some lovely, piercing running from Aled Williams that constantly took him ghosting past Jarvis and setting up exciting Swansea attacks.
From one of those moves Aled Williams and Mark Taylor fooled the Cardiff defence with a pass-exchange routine that sent Taylor clear for a try which Williams converted.
Whether Swansea would have continued in that vein had not Walker demoralised them so effectively it is difficult to say but certainly they became shadows for a long period in the second half and it looked hopeless for them as Cardiff put themselves into the luxury of a 33-14 lead.
When Taylor burst through for a try with 12 minutes on the clock it seemed to retrieve a ghost of a chance but Aled Williams again missed an easy conversion. He was more successful after Steve Moore bulldozed over for a try in the 75th minute and that put the game at an interesting stage because had Swansea gained another converted try to bring the score to 33-33 they would have won on the number of tries scored.
But it was not to be and you couldn't deny Cardiff's right to their first piece of silverware for two years and since we were looking for a game fit to bring the house down we were able to leave the old place happily.
Cardiff: J Thomas; S Hill, M Hall, L Davies (J Davies 24-29), N Walker; L Jarvis, R Howley; A Lewis, J Humphreys (P Young 18-23), L Mustoe, K Stewart, D Jones, H Taylor (capt), G Jones, O Williams.
Swansea: M Back; A Harris, M Taylor, S Gibbs, Simon Davies; A Williams, A Booth; I Buckett, G Jenkins (capt), S Evans (K Colclough, 79), S Moore, P Arnold, A Reynolds D Niblo (18-24), R Appleyard, Stuart Davies.
Referee: D R Davies (Llanbradach)
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