The Lockdown Shield: Cardiff Dream XV v. Cardiff Blues Ultimate XV
First Half Report
Awaking to find a Taff fog, thick, strong and covering the city like a European jersey grey blanket made the heart sink a little. Ghostly mists rolling through Grangetown, Adamstown and up Westgate Street, as if the ancient marshland the Arms Park sits on had never been drained. Transported through the haze and through time, Cardiffians could once again smell hops bubbling into the air from the Brains brewery. Fog horns from ships sailing into Tiger Bay echoed down Bute Street. Hollers from the men navigating canal loads of Crawshay blood money sounded down through Mill Lane. Drunken laughter and cruel threats rang out from crewmates with knives in their boots tumbling out of dives on Womanby Street. The Marquess looked out from his castle and from somewhere, we could hear the rude whisper of air raid sirens.
What year was it? Did it matter? For this was Cardiff. It was the weekend. And on a scrap of land once upon a time torn away from the river Taff, our gods had come to play their sport. Always have, always will.
The sun gradually burnt through and shone brightly and by kick-off, all was perfect, and any spectres made real. The lines of supporters awaiting entry and those partaking in a few pre-match looseners the length of Westgate Street basked in a warm glow. The crowd was nevertheless in place a good quarter of an hour beforehand, wishing to savour every drop of what was to be an unforgettable occasion. The South Glamorgan Youth orchestra played ‘In the mood’, as indeed all were. The Blues Brothers drums drummed like Sonny Payne, though without the rhythm or musicality. Tuts and murmurs were practised. Parents advised offspring of board banging etiquette. Ale flowed like the Taff itself, presciently named ‘1876’ as if to mark the occasion. The flat owners of Westgate St. took up their privileged balcony positions, looking down on all and sundry. Public Health Wales had graciously allowed a concession and pipe smoke drifted up from beneath flat caps on the Terraces; those wearing beanies looked on, disapprovingly, while supping from their re-usable beer cups. It had been decades since the ground had been this full.
Reports of a mild altercation at the coin toss were received. Both teams wanted to play a certain direction, offers of home changing room and exclusive use of the Hubert Johnson room post-match were given and received to no avail. Finally, a solution was reached, the noble Scott graciously allowing the blue and blues the honour of playing toward the Clubhouse in the second half, confident that his team would not be unduly concerned by his generosity. They would, after all, do their talking on the pitch.
Such was the noise when both teams entered the arena that Darude's ‘Sandstorm’ was barely audible, a blessing to most. To avoid the most absurd of colour clashes, the Ultimate Cardiff Blues XV made a late decision to wear their Marseilles dark blue and blue jerseys, while the Cardiff Dream Team were resplendent in familiar Cambridge blue and black quarters. Immediately, several younger fans were pestering their fathers as to where they could get ‘…one of them shirts’. If only, my boy, if only.
King Nicky kicked off into the sunshine. Norster rose salmon-like and tapped the ball straight to Dan Baugh. The Canadian charged into the heart of the chasing blues and blue pack, nostrils flaring, eyes bulging, his mind seeking recompense for crimes only he knows of. After palming off Jenkins and Williams, he was stopped in his tracks by the unforgiving embrace of Filise. The South Stand shook, the South Terrace winced. The game was afoot. At the resulting ruck the Ultimate XV’s hooker, Smiler Rees, transgressed and gave Barry John the chance to make some ground into the blue and blue 22.
The line out went long, with Scott tapping down to Edwards, the greatest rugby player of any time. Quick hands from John gave Ring time and space. Rayer came running on an angle, spotted by Roberts and Robinson. But instead, a long pass was floated over Bleddyn Williams and straight to Nigel Walker. With Cuthbert out of position, there was little he could do as the Olympic hurdler swerved past the big horse and away from the attempted ankle tap of Ben Blair. John effortlessly struck the conversion over. A dramatic start! What a score! Seven-nil to the blue and blacks. The drums had fallen silent. The blue and blue players were shaken. A week of grainy video analysis had already been undermined.
The Ultimates then adopted a kicking game, but the raking touch finders of Robinson were no match for the telepathy and soft hands of Rayer. Wisely, the 21st century boys tried playing themselves back into the game through charging carries from Rush, Filise and Roberts. Quinnell’s inability to roll away gave Ben Blair the easy task of cutting the deficit to 7-3. From the restart, Macauley Cook was taken out in the air by an over eager Gareth Roberts. Mr Norling made his presence felt by laying down the law to an unprotesting Ming the Merciless, before another Blair penalty made it 7-6.
Tensions were heightened. Some had anticipated that this would be a game played in the spirit of a gentle Wednesday evening run out against Oxford University, rather than the skull and crossbones warfare of the 1870s. They were soon proved wrong.
After that god on earth, TGR Davies (‘Gerald’ to his close friends, otherwise ‘His Holiness’), danced past a flat-footed Tom James and Jamie Robinson, a certain try was stopped only by the smallest of knock-ons from Dai Young with the line at his mercy. It was then that Baugh blew a kiss at the all at sea blue and blue forwards. This act of belittling hubris was unseen by many, but not by Tito (or, more accurately, Teee-to). The man from Taranaki was suddenly far more Maori than ginger as he looked the Canadian square in the eye. The stare was felt straight down the pitch, and inside the pavilion and hospitality boxes, where drinks were spilled and prawn sandwiches instantly turned rotten. Somewhere in Riverside a baby started to cry.
It is not for your correspondent to report who threw the first punch. But, we can confirm that only good, fair punches were thrown with no use of teeth, forehead or boot. From the distant safety of the stands, the onlooking Dr Jack Matthews remarked that one or two of the blows were reminiscent of Marciano. We can only defer to his wisdom on this matter.
Between them, Mike Griffiths and Martyn Williams managed to pull the two men apart. Norling, somewhat breathless, seemed to have lost the power of speech, though his hair remained perfect. He fumbled for his cards. Supporters of every hue braced themselves for the inevitable flashes of red. It was then that Scottie and Melon put placatory arms around Norling, winning him over with a gentle diplomacy that all would love to see in the ground redevelopment negotiations. It was yellow for both, and for ten minutes, 30 would become 28.
But it was the blue and blacks who took advantage. On 20 minutes, a scissor-move in midfield between John and Williams saw the Prince of Centres dummy Tomos Williams and find himself in space. Martyn Williams was on hand to stop the Dream Team genius but a most un-1950s backhanded offload saw Edwards charging for the corner flag. An excellent tackle from Robinson seemed to finally bring the move to a halt, but an acrobatic over arm pass as Edwards flew toward the touchline was claimed by TGR, who stepped Blair and then arced away from Tom James to dot down in the corner. Hermes couldn't have been quicker. A fine score, with John again converting effortlessly. Fourteen point to six and the blue and blues needed to hit back quickly.
With the match threatening to get away from them, they finally struck. Quick scrum ball on their own 22 enabled Nicky Robinson to throw a classic long pass to his brother Jamie, who swerved Williams and lit the after burners to release Cuthbert in full flight. Martyn Williams was in support, and with take and give smooth as the Brylcreem in the despairing Bleddyn Williams’s hair, slipped it to his namesake Tomos Williams. The pass wasn’t good, but Williams was able to catch it behind his back one handed as he spiralled out of an attempted tackle from Mike Rayer and danced past Barry John to dive in close to the posts. The conversion a formality for Blair, it was 14-13. Game on. Just as the Canadian and Kiwi returned to the field.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. With just over half an hour played, following a clever Ultimates line-out, Jamie Roberts burst through some inattentive tackling and set up a ruck on half-way. Varying the play nicely, King Nicky now sent a cross kick toward Alex Cuthbert. As he charged toward the 22 to claim it, the athletic Walker leapt high, and tapped the ball down for the covering Bleddyn Williams. Twisting both Robinsons inside and out, Williams sent a pass inside to Baugh on the charge. The Canadian took it up to halfway before a quick ruck again saw the blue and blue defence once again caught napping. John’s popped pass to Rayer saw the fullback sprint toward the Ultimates 22, before a dummy bought by everyone, including several seagulls, saw the All-Dayer stroll in under the sticks. The crowd stood as one. The formality of a conversion saw the lead increase to 21-13. However, a twisted ankle back on halfway saw Bleddyn Williams limp from the field, but one prince was replaced another as Gwyn Nicholls ran on in dynastic fashion. Many had never seen Nicholls play, and the prospect of doing so brought a tear to blue eyes of all shades.
From the restart, the Dream XV were intent on showing the Ultimates that they weren’t just all razzamatazz. Humphreys and Scott urged the pack into a rolling maul, powered by Quinnell and drove from the 22 to their opponent’s 10 metre line. A dive pass from Edwards gave Barry John all day to nonchalantly drop a goal from 40 metres. Twenty-four points to thirteen, and surely room for only one monarch in this kingdom.
And that was halftime. The blue and blacks with a healthy lead, but with the knowledge that it was now the turn of the blue and blues to utilise the legendary pull of the Clubhouse in the second half. As the Ultimates disappeared down the tunnel, the Dream Team looked quizzically on and huddled around a plate of oranges in centre field. The coaching team of Alec Evans and Frank Hancock emerged to offer wise words of counsel. Jo's Heatwave were forced to work in a much more confined space than normal, but with no kicking competition thankfully in sight, they performed magnificently. Meanwhile Bruiser, wearing a specially constructed outfit that reflected both his pre and post-2003 personas, tried to comfort those sobbing children, clinging to the railings, still in shock from the handbags of Baugh and Teeeeeee-to.
Cardiff Dream XV 24 Cardiff Blues Ultimate XV 13
To be continued…