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Saturday, 17 October 2015 18:42

Cardiff v Swansea in the Trophy

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SATURDAY 17th OCTOBER - Lawrenny Avenue / Leckwith Stadium - dry but cool.

Third Round of the Trophy, 32 ties to choose from. As ever, there are plenty of interesting candidates but on this particular Saturday my choice is restricted - it's really not a day to attempt to use public transport, as Cardiff is once again swamped with rugby fans: not just those of the four visiting teams playing in the RWC quarter-finals in the Millennium Stadium this weekend, but also the usual turn-out of locals (who re-discover their interest in rugby on days when Wales are playing), heading to the city centre bars to watch the Welsh team at Twickenham this afternoon.

But I'm lucky: one of the very best ties in the third round of the Trophy is tight here in Cardiff (there are actually two local games). It's a Cardiff v Swansea clash (which always adds spice) and it involves two very good teams, Canton Liberal and Penlan Club. So, for the second time this season, my destination is the Libs' pitch next to Cardiff Athletic Stadium.

Walking out from the city centre, I'm going against the tide. Brightly clad rugby fans are streaming in from all directions, and even out at Leckwith there's plenty of activity at the park-and-ride, coupled with the usual Saturday afternoon retail park traffic. Across the road, at the Liberals' ground, it's an oasis of peace, even twenty minutes before kick off. Approaching kick-off time, I am delighted to find a group of children selling match programmes - big credit to Canton for showing the competition enough respect to issue one, and it turns out to be a fine 28-page production.

The teams appear, Canton in blue and Penlan in yellow and navy. How do I expect this tie to go? Penlan have the experience in this competition and like all Swansea Senior sides will have both ball players and a physical presence. But I've seen them quite a few times over the years (mostly in this competition) and more often than not they don't have eleven men on the field at full-time. Canton will look to cause damage with their speedy breaks and the threat of prolific front-man Christopher Quick. They can't afford to get drawn into a battle.

The opening stages are inconclusive: fairly attritional stuff, lots of commitment but tinged with wariness of unfamiliar opposition. Half chances at both ends, nothing more, until a Canton break in the twentieth minute, Penlan's defence is stretched, and as the ball is squared Quick slides in to score from close range.

The opening goal is followed immediately by some Penlan pressure, a goal-line clearance preventing an equaliser, then a gilt-edged chance that is fired over the bar. But the Libs have a spell of pressure with corner after corner, and already the Penlan yellow card count is racking up, potentially a worry for the second half. Their number 12 even manages to pick up a yellow within a couple of minutes of entering the fray. But the goal the Swansea side have been threatening comes a minute before half-time, Luke Chappell picking up a half-clearance and finishing nicely from an acute angle. All square, and both teams assemble for a brief half-time pep talk. How will they react to the late equaliser?

Initially, it seems Penlan have been invigorated by it. They start the half better, but then have a let off when the Libs are denied by the woodwork. After 57 minutes, Quick makes one of his trademark darts down the right, cuts into the box and is fouled. Andrew Rowley blasts the penalty into the top corner. Ten minutes later, Quick produces a repeat run, but he is allowed to complete it this time, his shot clattering the outside of the post. A let off for Penlan, but then their booking start to catch up with them: a second yellow reduces them to ten men, and tempers are getting frayed now and the single official is a busy man. Then there's an incident when Canton have put the ball out with a defender down, but Penlan ignore the custom of returning it - a potential flashpoint, which Canton elect to ignore. Their response is better - a few minutes later a spectacular goal from nothing, Liam Pika's shot from distance finding the top corner.

3-1, fifteen minutes left, and Penlan need something quickly. What they don't need is to lose another player, but their no. 12 sees yellow again, then red. It's all over now really, but there's time for Quick to add a fourth for Canton with the nine men stretched, chasing the game.

On my long walk home across west and north Cardiff, I can reflect on the joys of the FAW Trophy - this afternoon has been great entertainment for the neutral. And despite the on-field hostilities, everyone goes off to watch the rugby together in the club, Cardiff/Swansea rivalries parked in support of Wales.

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