Graham Henry and Steve Hanson, during their times in charge of the Welsh team, were often accused of putting performance before results. After yet another defeat we would hear that the team had put up a good performance, and it was a pity about the result. For the fans, however, results are everything. A win achieved by a late penalty kick after eighty minutes of mediocrity is better than a defeat by five tries to four.
Pontypridd went to Bridgend on Saturday needing a win, and a very late penalty goal by Neil Burnett gained it for us. We had gift-wrapped a try for the home side in the first half, and struggled to find any real form or momentum for much of the game. However, three good penalty goals by Neil sent the faithful home happy.
The day did not start well for the large contingent of Ponty supporters which travelled on the Supporters’ Club bus. It broke down three miles from the ground, and hurried phone calls were needed to bring a replacement vehicle to get them to the Brewery Field on time. They just made it, but the Bridgend clubhouse bar was strangely quiet before the game, as the home fans were conspicuous by their absence.
Despite the heavy overnight rain the pitch was in excellent condition when the game started, although Bridgend kicked off with sharp breeze at their backs. Pontypridd had much the better of the early exchanges, launching a series of good attacks. However, all we had to show for it at the end of the first quarter was a penalty by Neil Burnett. We had spurned the chance of a second penalty to go for a lineout instead, but fouled it up and allowed Bridgend to clear their lines.
This set a pattern which was to be repeated for most of the second quarter. Pontypridd lost lineout after lineout, and spent most of the time defending in their own twenty-two metre area. This they did with great strength and courage, but it was hard going. One Bridgend attack resulted in their player being forced into touch near the line, and a five-metre lineout being called.
Almost inevitably we lost it. Any ball thrown to Dale McIntosh at the front had been taken fairly comfortably by the Chief, but we decided instead to lob the ball unconvincingly towards the middle of the line. Half our pack went forward, the other half went back, and Bridgend No. 8 Andrew Williams said ‘thank you very much’ as he took the ball and fell over the try line. Christmas had come early, and it was 7-3 at half time.
The third quarter saw little good rugby from either side, although some nice breaks by the home side caused a few problems for the Pontypridd defence. For the most part the game was played out between the twenty-two metre lines, with little threat to either try line. Scrum half Ryan Harries received what looked like a bad knock, and was replaced by wing/full back Kristian Baller, who proceeded to have a good game in this unaccustomed position.
The only other incident of note was when Ponty wing Gareth Jones kicked ahead, and was taken out late and dangerously as he followed up. Although it happened right in front of the touch judge, his eyes were elsewhere, and Bridgend went unpunished. Not surprisingly, the official subsequently received a bit of stick from the Ponty supporters on the touchline and in the stand. He then immediately spotted an alleged infringement by Dale McIntosh on the other side of the ground, and the Chief received a yellow card. Ah well….
In the last quarter Pontypridd changed five of their pack. Nick Eaves, Ian Poley, Lee Pearce, Damien Welch and Lee Evans came on for Stuart Williams, Ryan Harford, Leighton Phillips, Grant Harrington and Tu Tamarua respectively. The fresh legs immediately made an impact, and Pontypridd set up a period of high pressure on the Bridgend line. Desperate defence led to penalties, and Neil Burnett kicked a good one to bring the score to 7-6 with time running out.
The Ponty fans on the terraces and in the stand were starting to get edgy as the game moved towards injury time. We were still playing most of our rugby on the opposing twenty-two metre line, and then Bridgend were penalised for killing the ball at a ruck. The kick was another difficult one, out on the right, but Neil Burnett calmly slotted it between the posts. Shortly afterwards the whistle went, and victory was ours by 7-9.
It was not a classic game by any means. Both sides needed to win, and it was certainly hard and keenly contested. Skill levels were not of the highest, however, and very little excitement was generated for either set of supporters to cheer. Lawrence Price had another good game at full back, and Rhys Shellard was his usual abrasive and energetic self. And a win is a win, is a win, is a win.
Dale McIntosh and family are off to New Zealand next week to spend Christmas with his family over there. We wish the big man a safe journey, a merry time, and all our best wishes go with him. Come home safe and sound as well, Chiefy!
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