Cardiff under-18 opened their Regional Age Grade Championship campaign with a hard-fought victory over Ospreys on Wednesday.
Two first half scores, through Saul Hurley and Ben Geraghty, sent Chadd Mutyambizi’s side on their way, leading 13-5 at the break.
A gritty second half affair followed, as the hosts looked to claw their way back into the match at Aberavon’s Talbot Athletic Ground, but the visitors resisted the ever-increasing pressure, with some ferocious work in defence.
But Geraghty’s second of the evening, in the final play of the match, ensured victory for the Blue and Blacks.
There is some rotation expected ahead of the next game, with a short turnaround before welcoming RGC to Cardiff Arms Park on Sunday.
It was a strong opening 10 minutes for the visitors, but despite some sustained pressure in the opposition half, Mutyambizi’s side had to dig deep for a breakthrough, due to a series of handling errors.
The moment of inspiration came courtesy of centre Morgan Bowen, with the former Cardiff City footballer landing a pin-perfect 50:22 from outside his own 22. Five meters out, the towering figure of Rhys Burleton claimed the resulting line-out, and the pack powered over, with hooker Hurley capitalising for the opening the score for the evening.
However, against the run of play, Ospreys brought the scores level. Scrum half Ben Thomas sent a high ball down the left touchline, and wing Tom Weekley was unable to gather in the aerial battle. Llien Morgan picked up the scraps and was able to run in from distance to make it five-apiece.
Hurley reclaimed the restart, putting Cardiff on the front foot. With play advancing into the 22, Evan Hill was penalised at the breakdown, allowing Jacob Symes to put the Blue and Blacks back ahead.
Cardiff continued to threaten, both in the tight play and when spreading to the wider channels, but were met by an aggressive Ospreys defence. Jac Davies came within inches of extending his side’s lead, and moments later Hurley was denied a second when the try line was beckoning.
Flanker Harry Beddall had a score chalked off for double movement, and despite a number of opportunities going begging, the general dominance of the Blue and Blacks was reason for optimism.
The persistence was finally rewarded on the brink of half time. Slick handling along the backline eventually created the space for replacement wing Ben Geraghty to squeeze over in the corner.
With a 13-5 lead at the interval, the first score of the second half was going to be crucial, but it certainly took time for the scoreboard to get back into work after the break.
An impressive midfield burst from Harper Chamberlain almost paved the way for Cardiff’s third, but his offload evaded the support from scrum half Orson James.
A penalty on half-way gave Ospreys a rare attacking opportunity, with Rhys Harris finding touch in the corner, but the hosts were held up under the sticks.
The chance injected some much needed momentum into the home side, who forced Cardiff into a lengthy spell of pressured defence. Despite the like of Morgan Morse and Kian Abraham threatening with ball in hand, the visitors’ defence - led by Chamberlain and skipper Tom Caple - kept the opposition a bay.
With five minutes remaining, replacement hooker Gavin Parry trundled over against the run of play, but a heroic tackle by number eight Morse dislodged the ball, denying Cardiff a certain third try.
The second half seemed destined for a stalemate, but with the clock turned red, prop Mike Vaughan showed the composure of an experienced centre, drawing in the defence before sending Geraghty clear for his brace.
Reflecting on the 18-5 victory, academy manager Rees said: “There’s definitely plenty of positives but, with the way we’re focused as a group, the result isn’t the be-all and end-all.
“On the whole we were happy with the performance, especially as the game became scrappy in the second half. Defensively and physically we saw boys standing up and taking responsibility and that’s the mindset we’re after from the group.
“There were a lot of missed opportunities and there will be elements of that to review. We’ll look at the timings of boys running from deep, while some of the passing and handling over the course of the game wasn’t good enough. But in saying that, the try on the verge of half time showed what we can do when we’re accurate.
“But we can be proud. This group came into the block on the back of a successful schools and colleges campaign, but make no bones about it - it’s definitely a step up at this level.
“Every credit to Ospreys, too. They gave 100 per cent on the night and had some really good performances across the park.
“But we’re glad to inject some early momentum into this programme as we look ahead to a short turnaround before RGC at home on Sunday.”