CARDIFF claimed their first Varsity Cup win since 2012 with a narrow victory on the competition’s Liberty Stadium return, despite a spirited second half Swansea comeback in front of —– vocal spectators.
The visitors’ two tries were to be the difference, as they capitalised well on Swansea’s shaky first half performance before defending their lead well when under onslaught for much of the second.
In a breakneck start, Josh Hammett edged the hosts in front with a first minute penalty before the visitors replied almost immediately with a spell of pressure culminating in three points courtesy of the boot of Ross Preedy.
The game settled in with both teams looking to break the deadlock, and it was Cardiff who were the first under the posts just shy of the quarter-hour mark.
Rory Martyn-Smith broke the Swansea line, stretching the defence before offloading to Andy Evans who played the simplest of passes inside for Iwan Phillips to dive home unchallenged. Preedy added to his total with a simple conversion to make it 3-10 to the Varsity Shield victors.
Cardiff took this momentum into the following phases, with the forwards from the capital stealing Swansea’s lineout ball and charging upfield, pressurising the defence into conceding a penalty just outside their own 22. Preedy duly converted, bringing his tally to eight points and sending his side ten points clear with just a quarter of the match played.
The next ten minutes put a dent in both sides’ kickers conversion rate, with Hammett and then Preedy missing three-point opportunities either side of scrappy passages amid lengthy injury stoppages.
Preedy was undeterred, however, and almost claimed a try assists soon after. His last minute offload after drawing the tackle travelled forward, stopping Cardiff captain Ben Madgwick in his tracks as he surged through.
With five minutes of the half remaining, Swansea went on the offensive. Morgan Williams was pulled back just metres from the line, before Cardiff hastily half-cleared and eventually conceded a penalty which Hammett did well to convert from a tight angle.
Minutes later, Hammett slotted home another difficult kick, this time from the halfway line, to reduce the deficit to just four points at 9-13 heading into the final minutes of the half. Cardiff, however, had other ideas, as Jordan Viggers showed tremendous to squeeze a pass out of the back door and into the path of Madgwick. The skipper enjoyed a clear run at the posts, and touched down at the second attempt after desperate tackling from the backtracking Swansea defence. Preedy converted to make it 9-20 with the referee ready to blow for time.
The leaders enjoyed the early spells of pressure in the second half, and almost added a third try directly from kick off but for a knock on in the build up the pull them back.
It didn’t take long for another chance to arise, however, and Jack Phillips ensured both Cardiff centres got on the scoresheet by dummying well and breezing home unopposed. Preedy enjoyed possibly his easiest kick of the evening, adding the two points to make it 9-27 with almost the entire second half still to play.
Not to be outdone by his opposite number’s increasing haul, Hammett arrowed another penalty home from halfway, swinging momentum in Swansea’s favour and inspiring what was almost a sensational comeback.
Captain Ollie Young led by example, travelling almost the length of the pitch with ball in hand and forcing a dangerous lineout deep in enemy territory with half an hour left. From the throw, Swansea earned a scrum 5m from the line and Young needed no invitation to break through from the base of the melee to touch down and bring his side right back into the contest. The reliable Hammett converted from a central position, bringing the hosts to within eight points of Cardiff at 19-27.
Consistently advancing well, Swansea were hungry for points and gained a further three just five minutes after the try. Initially running into trouble just beyond the Cardiff 10m line, the Green and White forwards rucked well to win a penalty which Hammett sent comfortably over to put the cup holders within a try of nudging into the lead.
The hosts spent most of the remainder camped in Cardiff’s half, and looked for all the world on the verge of a comeback but for a few clumsy knock ons and overzealous offloads. The leaders defended well as Swansea forced the issue, and even a missed Cardiff penalty and last minute catch and drive could not spur the 12-time champions on to victory.
Swansea: 15 Morgan Williams; 14 Andrew Claypole, 13 Daie Evans, 12 Matthew Jenkins, 11 Jedd Evans; 10 Josh Hammett, 9 Josh Guy; 1 Thomas Kaijaks, 2 Tom Ball, 3 Jamie Kaijaks; 4 Matt Hague, 5 Matt Dodd; 6 Matthew Evans, 7 Rhys Woodman (Joe Tingle, 31), 8 Ollie Young (c).
Cardiff: 15 Iwan Phillips; 14 Tom O’Flaherty, 13 Jack Phillips, 12 Ben Madgwick (c), 11 Andy Evans; 10 Ross Preedy, 9 Louis Silver; 1 Tom Boot, 2 Alun Rees, 3 Aled Rees; 4 Ashton Evans, 5 Jack McGrath; 6 Jordan Viggers, 7 Rory Martyn-Smith, 8 Jon Williams.