Rugby Union: Heavyweight tie light on punch

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Cardiff. .55

Maesteg. . 3

IT WAS billed as the heavyweight clash of the fourth round of the Swalec Cup, the only match between two First Division sides, yet it ended as a non-contest. Cup ties traditionally have added spice, extra urgency and a degree of unpredictability. There was only ever going to be one winner in this game, however, and Maesteg knew that as well as anyone.

Last season the Llynfi Valley club were the only team to finish below Cardiff in the First Division. So far this winter Maesteg have moved up one place, but Cardiff have risen to the top of the table. What this game did was demonstrate the huge gulf that exists between the top few clubs in Wales and the rest.

Maesteg were industrious, without being creative, and combative throughout. So much so in fact that their prop, Phil Pincher, was sent off five minutes from time for punching Paul Armstrong. But those few qualities apart, they had little to offer. Cardiff went through the motions, did not play particularly well, yet still ran in nine tries.

The worry for clubs like Maesteg is that they might end up becoming cannon-fodder week in week out. Their other problem is holding on to their better players in troubled times.

Already this season Maesteg's captain and centre Hugh Woodland, a member of the Welsh development squad, has gone to Neath, and the offers have been pouring in for Andrew Williams and Lindsay Harvey, both under-21 caps. Williams enhanced his reputation with another excellent performance.

All of which means Maesteg, and so many other clubs like them, seem destined to remain a mere breeding ground of talent for the elite in Welsh rugby. A stepping stone to bigger, if not necessarily better, things. The new order of Welsh rugby, brought about by the Heineken League system, has so far served to strengthen the top- flight teams. It may have provided an incentive for every club to try to make it big, but for the likes of Maesteg it has left them more vulnerable than ever.

That vulnerability was cruelly exposed by Cardiff, who can now look forward to a home tie in the fifth round against St Peters, of the Third Division.

Cardiff: Tries Budd 2, Ford 2, Humphries, Stone, Walker, Moore, Kawulok; Conversions Davies 5. Maesteg: Penalty Edwards.

Cardiff: P Armstrong; S Ford, M Hall (capt), A Palfrey, N Walker; A Davies, A Moore; M Griffiths, J Humphries, P Sedgemore, P Kawulok, S Roy, H Stone, H Taylor, M Budd.

Maesteg: D Edwards; N Lewis, L Jones, M Brown, A Graham (B Davey, 73); D Williams, H Lewis; P Pincher, G Davies (capt), A Henson, P Matthews, L Harvey, C Evans, A Williams, P Thomas.

Referee: M Bailey (Loughor).