With two wins from two so far in the season against arch rivals Exeter and Bath, Durham went into the game down in wet Wales with a quiet confidence. Training had been spot on and the boys were still focused on achieving the job in hand. With an early start the boys took to the bus to face the 6 hour journey ahead.
On arrival, it was evident the trek had sadly taken its toll. In the first half Cardiff came out firing with their large pack causing issues in the narrow channels. Under the early pressure Cardiff took a 7-0 lead through some good counter attack. To get into the game Paddy McDuell took an easy 3 points to get Durham on the scoreboard. This was closely followed by another successful kick attempt from Paddy taking the score to 7-6. With a strong Durham attack with Newcastle duo Charlie Wilson and Ben Stevenson combining down the left hand side, skipper Colin Markham hit a hard fought angle off the scrum half, Alex Skinner, to score Durham’s first try of the game and taking the score to 13-7. Sadly, a scrum penalty lead to Cardiff kicking to the corner and with only 5m to the line a strong maul setup gave them the 5 points taking the scores to 13-12. The game was truly on. Diffusing the situation another calm Paddy penalty took pressure off the Durham boys as the went into the half time break 16-12 up. It was evident the bus journey had done its job in quietening the boys voices and adding to fatigue.
A gutsy second half was needed. An early error in Durham’s defence and a missed tackle in the centre field meant the strong Cardiff number 8 carried hard in the midfield and offloaded for Cardiff to finish an easily converted 7 point score. With Cardiff bringing on their replacements, their scrum took a hit and strong a strong set piece meant Paddy’s boot brought the scores level at 19-19. With 15 minutes left to play the game was on a knife edge. In previous weeks discipline had been an issue for Durham and at the forefront of this was making sure they kept 15 men on the pitch. Following a deep kick into the Durham 22m, a slight lapse in concentration and error in timing meant Durham feel to 14 men with Jack Hedley seeing yellow for contact with a Cardiff winger in the air. This small advantage meant Cardiff could apply the pressure and relentless 5m mauls meant they crashed over when space was exploited out wide. With a missed conversion, this took the scores to 24-19. Durham needed something special. Who better to bring this than Vice-Captain and Number 8, Ben Fowles. Persistent Durham pressure in Cardiff’s 22m from short pick and goes got Ben close to the line and grunt got him over under the posts. Paddy’s boot added the extras and Durham took the lead at 26-24 with 2 minutes left to play.
With one last hoorah, Cardiff were awarded a 5m lineout. They opted to maul but Durham’s defence stood fast and the ball was spun out. It was clear to see them manufacturing the perfect situation for a drop goal from the fly half. They were going for glory. Guards in place and the perfect angle, the Cardiff 10 received the ball and puts his laces through it. Under the pressure from Durham’s back row he hooked it to the right and Durham stuck on in there for a gritty hard fought 2 point win.
Plenty to work on but an important win at one of the toughest places to go. Bring on Hartpury.