Its becoming a bit of a yearly tradition, facing Cardiff Medics in the quarter finals of NAMs. So this year a merry band of Sheffields finest made the trip around the elephants graveyard that is Birmingham and then on down the M5 to Cardiff. It was an uneventful journey, filled with polite conversation about how many people/things Codrin has ‘flown into’ and the revelation that DoR really doesn't like Pandas. Any drama such that there was came as Choobs saw Maccys was shut for refurbishment and so couldn’t have his usual chicken nugget breakfast.
As ever with long away games half the battle is getting rid of the cobwebs once off the bus. For the travelling support this meant searching out the bar however much to his dismay none was to be found. What kind of university sports ground doesn’t have an onsite bar, think of the possible takings every time any team played there, can't think of anywhere else that would be so daft...Anyway given the icy conditions a warm up was very much needed on the U12s pitch which apparently the sheep (an educated guess) had got to overnight.
The referee graced us with his presence and the game kicked off. SHMEDs started strongly, their new habit of winning scrums being employed to good effect to win a penalty which Mike knocked over from 30 yards out. Being a home game Cardiff had a large herd of supporters gathered on the touch line who made a lot of noise but to our simple, Northern ears, made little sense. They roared their team into life and Cardiff began to apply pressure which led to an overlap and a score in the corner, 7-3. They then penned Sheffield in their own half again and won a penalty soon after as their forwards pulled the wool over the referees eye at a breakdown, making it 10-3 and leaving the SHMEDs with work to do to get back into the game.
Work they did, with the forwards introducing their Cardiff counterparts to some of the dark arts of Yorkshire rugby (epitomised perhaps by Codrin’s hit 2 weeks late on their 12) as turnovers and line outs were exchanged in the midfield. Eventually Cardiff made it to the 5m line and it was a 15 man effort to keep them at bay. One foray over the whitewash was held up however off the resulting scrum the Cardiff player ran into his own man then bundled the ball over the line next to the sticks, leaving their kicker with an easy job to get the extras, 17-3.
Sheffield continued to get the upper hand in the scrum but were penalised for bringing it down once they had begun to drive Cardiff backwards, a decision that provoked much ‘head scratching’ on the touch line. The forwards could feel a little aggrieved again after a line out on the Cardiff 22 was judged not to be straight despite Coxy extending one of his lengthy arms to pluck it from the channel (Choobs was particularly upset by this). However, not ones to be got down by this sort of thing, the forwards upped the intensity and gave the Cardiff 9 a horrible case of banter hands as they nailed a maul backwards. From this scrum the ball made its way the not very great distance across the pitch to Light Breeze who kicked and chased forward then tried to go all Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon on the bouncing ball, nearly decapitating the Welsh defender (to be honest it looked more dramatic than it was but by this point it had all got a bit slow and midfield so I am trying to keep you, the reader, interested).
Sheffield won a scrum a few plays later but their finely crafted move off the back was spoiled by a not so subtle blocking line inadvertently run by the ref after Tevans went for a snipe down the blind side. No matter though as Mike’s golden right peg put another 3 points on the board for the SHMEDs. Cardiff took the narrowing gap to heart and tried to get another score before the break. However, Aitchison (who had been putting himself about all afternoon like Gregor in Pop Tarts) nicked the ball as the momentum built, leaving him wanted for burglary by the South Wales Constabulary and the score at 17-6. Halftime saw the characteristic huddles with the Sheffield medics down but not out, the conclusion being that (somewhat ironically) they needed to be more clinical. With water taken on and a few more inspiring words from the FTC-Tucker axis the second half got under way.
It's unclear what Sheffield had taken at half time but it worked as they started the stronger of the two teams. This pressure quickly resulted in what was admittedly a long range penalty however Mike fancied it. The crowd held its breath (credit where credit is due, the Welsh fans did respect the kicker) but it hit the bar and was scrambled away. Cardiff then gave another penalty away as the dived into the rucks to try and stem the tide of Englishmen (never seen a Welsh team do that before…) and FTC banged it a good 50 yards down the pitch. Cardiff were then reduced to 14 as nefarious behavior at the breakdown got a bit much for the referee who went for the pocket. The strain was now starting to tell as Currie went on at flanker (he was as surprised as the rest of us) and Coxy went to 8 as Sheffield adapted and kept pushing for a score.
Despite the extra man, no opening showed itself and Cardiff cleared to the halfway line. After the referee had gone through two YMCAs and a Macarena with the arm signals it was established he had awarded them a line out. The only points that Sheffield managed came courtesy of Mikes boot to make it 17-9 but Cardiff looked the more likely. It was only extensive knowledge of the rules of the game from the DoR (knew he got the role for a good reason) that stopped quick ball and let Tucker escape with the ball. He then brought some flair to this muddy corner of Wales (hardly a unique feature in Wales, muddiness) as he went for a Gary Owen much to the delight of the home support. 60 yards later and it was a line out to Sheffield as he and Finch (hell of a long way to go for a prop so credit to him) bundled the man into touch.
The referee however had once again put his set square away and one of Choobs better throws was adjudged to not be straight. Sheffield though liked it in the Cardiff half and again felt hard done by to have been penalized for collapsing a maul they had been going forward with. They were then penalized again as Schofield was at the end of a big don’t argue then found to be in the side of the ruck he was behind. Gregor also got the wrong end of a Cardiff man (for some people that’s a great night out, I can’t judge) who he had had in his back pocket (another great night out for some) all afternoon, despite having a head the same width as the chaps biceps. The Cardiff coach was particularly impressed as apparently this winger had run over people all season. Maybe the fact young Gregor spends so much time low to the ground helped, who knows?
The game began to draw to a conclusion but Cardiff lost another man to the bin as their rucking technique left a little to be desired, forced into repeated infringements by the boys in blue. Sheffield however did suffer a collective brain fade as the forwards wanted one type of line out and the backs wanted another (as a forward myself I would question the last time the backs called a line out) but basically it was a cluster fuck and it won Coxy DoD. After this the sting was taken out of the game by Cardiff and eventually after some more side to side rugby they ran it out of play, sealing the win 17-9.
It’s a long report, especially for what was a low scoring and at times grind of a game so good work making it to the end. Despite the result, there is no doubt that the lads gave a great account of themselves, especially after such a long journey to the 1990s/south Wales. It is also worth noting how many of the team are going to be here for some time yet and so while this foray across the border was unsuccessful it seems unlikely that this trend will continue.