A storming second-half fightback saw Swansea edge out Cardiff in a tight and hard-fought Welsh Varsity game at the Millennium Stadium, stretching their lead in the series to 11 victories to 5.
It must have been some team talk in the Swansea dressing room at half-time. For never was the cliché about a game of two halves more appropriate, with Cardiff dominating the first, and Swansea, coached by Richard Lancaster, striking back magnificently in the second.
With the roof shut, and both red and green armies of fans in high spirits and full voice, the stadium was a riot of sound and colour for this encounter, the culmination of a day of sporting competition between the two great rivals, from basketball to taekwondo.
Weathering the storm
Cardiff were missing some key players from last year’s victorious team, but they played with verve and confidence from the outset. Their backs ran intelligent lines of attack and came close to breaking through, the Swansea defence straining every sinew and winning some crucial turnovers to keep them out.
Eventually, after almost 10 minutes camped in the Swansea 22, the Cardiff pressure paid off with a penalty. Shortly after, with Swansea having a man in the sin bin, Cardiff took advantage of the extra man, with their forwards catching and driving over from a lineout
A man down, 10 points down, and with Cardiff continuing to press hard, it looked ominous for Swansea, who were fighting to stem a rising red tide. Clearing kicks only gave the Cardiff backs a chance to counter-attack, which they did with purpose and fluency. The Cardiff full-back, who looked dangerous throughout, broke through only to knock-on before crossing the line. But Swansea dug deep and held out, going into the dressing room for half time, having weathered the storm, with only a 10 point deficit.
A team transformed
Swansea emerged for the second half a team transformed. Right from the kick-off they played with as much authority as Cardiff had in the first half. For the first time they were dominating territory and possession. After patient work by the forwards, going through several phases, the ball was spun out on the blind side and Swansea’s Sam Soul crashed over the line for Swansea’s first try, steamrollering 2 Cardiff defenders.
Cardiff responded with a penalty, but this was quickly cancelled out by a magnificent long-range penalty from the halfway line, from fly-half Ianto Griffiths, evoking memories of the memorable monster effort in 1986 by Wales legend Paul Thorburn, now Welsh Varsity chairman, watching on from the stands.
Swansea kept up the pressure, and started punching holes in the Cardiff defence, stretching them from side to side across the 22. One line break, which would have led to a try, was stopped by the referee for a supposed forward pass, though replays suggested otherwise.
The turning of the tables compared to the first half was complete when it was Cardiff’s turn to find themselves a man down, with their prop sinbinned. It was the cue for Swansea to turn the screw, with several forward surges to within a couple of metres of the line, repulsed only by last-ditch Cardiff defending.
Finally, the dam broke. An elegant move saw Andrew Claypole outpace Cardiff defenders on the wing, before a clever grubber kick from Dion Jones kept the ball alive, allowing Connor Lloyd to judge the bounce perfectly, collect and cross for Swansea’s 2nd try. With the conversion in the bag too, for the first time in the game Swansea had edged ahead, deservedly so.
By now Cardiff seemed bereft of ideas in attack, in stark contrast to the way they fizzed around the pitch in the first half. The turnovers and penalties were starting to go all Swansea’s way, and their back line continued to look menacing.
Though Cardiff continued to press sporadically for the last 10 minutes, Swansea kept their composure and discipline, snuffed out the attacks, and focused on pushing Cardiff back deep into their own territory. Their coolness paid dividends, earning them two penalties, both converted, which sealed the victory.
FINAL SCORE: Swansea University 21 Cardiff University 13
"They had the strength of character to hold on, and did everyone proud"
Swansea captain Jonathon Vaughan said: “Half-time was the turning point. We just went back to our structures, what we’d practised, and we told ourselves that we’re only 10 points down. It feels a whole lot better than last year!”
University Vice Chancellor Professor Richard B Davies congratulated the team straight after the game and said: “They had the strength of character to hold on during the first half, showing wonderful determination to win. The team did proud for themselves, their families, their fellow students and the University.”