5.4.2007 Pontypridd Youth 10 – 15 Cal Poly Under 23’s (USA)
On Friday 30th March, Pontypridd faced the massive challenge of Cal Poly Rugby club, from San Luis Obispo California.
The Californians are a University side, with the bulk of their players aged between 19 and 23, who combine their academic studies with sports development. Rugby is becoming ever more popular as a new sport that many of the athletes are introduced to at University as a winter sport to complement their summer track and field events. Cal Poly also have a Rugby endowment scheme where talented Rugby players at High School level (Comprehensive) can continue their education at Cal Poly on a similar basis to a Rugby scholarship in the U.K.
As would be expected from a group of students from this background, they posed an immense physical challenge for this young Pontypridd Youth side, most of who are under 17's. The Californians had gone down to a narrow five point defeat to a combined Ynysybwl Youth/first team on Wednesday and had demonstrated in that game that apart from being fine athletes, they were also extremely well drilled. They were outstanding for the first hour, holding a deserving lead, however they tired badly in the last 20 minutes allowing Ynysybwl to snatch victory at the death.
With this in mind Ponty opted on a game plan to try to absorb the Americans pressure for the first half and then capitalise on any opportunities as the game started to become loose in the second half. In front of a large vocal home support young Ponty came out and actually took the game to the Americans for the first ten minutes, where despite lack of physical size in comparison to the huge American's, Ponty's aggressive approach at the ruck and mauls saw them win a penalty that full back Rhys Simms converted to open a three point lead.
But the Americans were not going to throw the towel in and after some fantastic driving play by their forwards, they were able to pin Ponty deep in their own half. Ponty were starting to struggle at the set pieces, where the size of their opponents was causing real problems both at the line out and in the scrum, where the Americans were driving them yards backwards!
It's a credit to the young Ponty pack that despite this massive pressure they still managed to win all their own scrums. Ponty's pack were further hampered by the loss of their biggest forward in lock Nathaniel Williams after ten minutes with a dislocated shoulder. So with no other lock forwards fit, blindside Flanker Jon Reid was forced into an unfamiliar role.
Ponty were still hanging on to the narrow lead, although Cal Poly were now dominating possession as Ponty were forced to live off scraps that were won by their marauding back row of Dafydd Gristock, Will Jones and Dean Maisey. With twenty minutes played Cal Poly opened their scoring, when after a series of impressive forward drives, they were able to force a scrum deep in the Ponty twenty-two. With the Ponty scrum going backwards, the back row were forced to concentrate on scrimmaging. This was exploited by the Cal Poly no. 8 Alex Murchison and half-backs Cam Mauritson and Jake Levitt who in text book fashion scored a simple try from quick scrum ball, though fortunately for Ponty the American goal kicker pulled the shot badly wide.
With the score at 3 -5 and with the Americans dominating possession, Ponty knew they needed to get a quick score to stop the Americans from running away with the game and it nearly came after the Ponty forwards won quick ruck ball. Scrum-half Sam Studley launched a quick attack from half way, where brilliant hands from centres Dan Dearden and Kevin James, along with full-back Simms, created an overlap deep in the Cal Poly twenty-two, only for the final pass to wing James Mountjoy to go astray!
The ball was immediately snaffled up by Mountjoys opposite number who raced away from his own try line for what seemed a sure try, but Ponty centre Dearden showed fantastic pace to catch the winger and haul him down on the Ponty twenty-two. With support at hand the American offloaded to his centre and the try seemed certain, however amazingly Ponty's Mountjoy had chased back to put the centre under enough pressure to cause him to drop the ball in the act of grounding over the try line. This was a massive let off for Ponty and they needed to be more clinical if they were to add to their score.
From the resulting drop out Ponty kicked long and with a good chase managed to force a ruck just inside the Ponty half. Ponty won the ruck and looked to launch another attack, but the referee ruled the ruck had been won illegally awarding the Americans a penalty. Frustrated, a Ponty player showed poor discipline by questioning the referee's decision, the ref awarded Cal Poly a further ten metres that now enabled the excellent Cal Poly fly half Jake Levitt the chance to kick to touch for a line out on the five metres.
At the line out a text book catch and drive saw the Americans cross for their second try that again went unconverted to take a 10 - 3 lead. With the last move of the half Ponty were able to win a long distance penalty and desperate for some points before half time, Simms attempted the kick, but it fell agonisingly under the bar to end the half 3 - 10 to the visitors.
At half-time Ponty stuck to their original game plan and brought on their replacement bigger front row of Sullivan, Daniel and Jones. Though this unfortunatey meant losing their only other specialist lock, Drew Evans with Dean Maisey moving to lock and Mike Davies coming on at flanker. Max Padfield and Ben Troake also came on for Ponty on the wings.
Ponty started well and put the Californians under some early pressure, but once again a handling mistake in midfield saw the Americans move the ball quickly wide and despite fantastic tackles from centres Dearden and James, excellent hands from the American midfield saw them cross wide out for another fine try that again went unconverted to gift Cal Poly a 15-3 lead.
Ponty needed points desperately and when Simms was wide with a penalty kick it looked as if the Americans were going to run away with the game, particularly after the referee harshly sin binned centre James for handling at a ruck where he was trying to jackle a tackled player.
With Ponty down to fourteen players, the lads dug deep and as predicted ans as happened in the Ynysybwl match, the Californians seemed to be tiring? Slowly, but surely Ponty were becoming the dominant side at the scrum where Sullivan and Jones were starting to drive the American scrum backwards. It was from one of these scrums that Ponty should have opened the scoring.
Quick scrum ball was spun wide to the excellent Simms who had joined the line in place of the binned James. Simms beat the first line of defence and fed left wing Padfield who cut in field and launched a towering kick, only to be tackled late and high. With the touch judge flagging the incident Ponty expected a penalty where the ball was caught, deep in the American twenty-two. Yet the referee waved play on and the excellent American full back Chris Williams launched a counter attack taking play to his own ten-metre line where he was tackled by Ponty's Studley and lost possession.
Seeing the Californians had no one at full back, fly half Lewis Smith chipped the ball towards the left corner where it rolled over the try line and stopped, prompting a chase between Ponty's Dearden and Padfield against their opposite numbers. Dearden showed tremendous pace and in the dive for the ball clearly got his hand to the ball for the try (as acknowledged by the Californians) and with the touch judge also giving the thumbs up Ponty thought they were back in the game, only for the referee to over-rule the touch judge and award a drop out twenty-two as he had personally been unsighted?
This decision seemed to motivate the Ponty players and once restored to a full team with the return of James they seemed determined to turn the game around. Once again the game entered a new phase where the Californians were trying to slow the game down, while Ponty were trying to play the game at a frantic pace and force the Americans into making mistakes.
Ponty won a penalty inside their own half when the Californians were penalised for offside and Simms placed a brilliant kick to win a five-metre line-out for Ponty. At the line-out Maisey jumped superbly to claim the throw, however the Caifornians hauled down the resulting maul to concede another penalty five metres from their line. This time flanker Dafydd Gristock took the penalty quickly and dived over the line for a clear try, however the referee ruled he lost control of the ball and the Californians were awarded a scrum. Gristock was not to be denied though. Massive pressure from the Ponty scrum forced Cal Poly backwards, Gristock robbed the scrum-half of the ball and burst away for a well deserved try that was converted by Simms.
Ponty now knew that they were capable of winning the game and with the Californians fading badly, the game was still up for grabs with five minutes left. The Ponty cause was helped further when the Cal Poly lock forward was yellow carded for dangerous play. From the resulting penalty Ponty's Studley asked how long was left and the referee said two minutes, so with Ponty five points behind a try was needed, so he kicked for touch for a line out.
Once again Maisey won the ball that was spun quickly into midfield where the Ponty centre grubber kicked the ball through the rushing Cal Poly defence. The ball bounced and rolled, eventually coming to a rest against the goalpost on the Cal Poly try line. Mindful of Martyn Williams' try for Wales against France in the Grand slam year, Ponty's Kevin James and the Cal Poly full back were both first to the ball, both diving to secure it. Dearden and Lewis Smith also arrived quickly and were desperately trying to recycle the ball when the referee blew and awarded a scrum to Ponty under the American posts.
With Ponty now rampant in the Scrum and the Californians a man short in the pack, Ponty believed this was their chance to win the game, however cruelly for Ponty the referee checked his watch and ruled there was no time left to play the scrum and blew for full time.
Both sides were exhausted and had treated the large crowd to a great game of Rugby. Ponty were frustrated as they really felt they could have snatched the game at the death, however Cal Poly had dominated the game for sixty minutes and scored three tries to Ponty's one, so it would have been equally cruel for the Californians if they had lost. The turning point of the game was clearly Dearden's disallowed try and after the game the Cal Poly players conceded it was clearly a good score. If awarded it would have resulted in the game being tied that would have been a fairer result.
Both sets of Coaches selected the man of the match awards with each player being awarded a special Grogg courtesy of John Hughes. There were two awards for Cal Poly, these went to their fly half Jake Levitt and No 8 Alex Murchison. The man of the match for Ponty was awarded to centre Kevin James, who along with no 8 Will Jones and prop James Sullivan have been called up to train with the Senior squad where they will join Dan Dearden and Jon Reid.
It was a fantastic evening at Sardis Road and the celebrations went on well into the night, with the Ponty Coaches wishing the Cal Poly players and coaches all the very best of luck for their forthcoming "sweet 16's" play offs and University Championship finals. It is hoped they will return to Ponty in the not too distant future and have fond memories of their visit.
TRY scorer for Pontypridd: Dafydd Gristock, Rhys Simms kicked one conversion and one penalty.
Pontypridd Man of the match: Kevin James.
TRY scorers for Cal Poly: Andrew Valdez, Chris Williams and Jeff Van Meter.
Cal Poly Man of the match: Chris Williams.
A4 prints on photographic paper will cost £10. £2.50 of which will go to the Youth Team.
Postcard size (normal photo size) cost £2.50 of which
the youth get £1.
Photos can be picked up at the club or posted free of charge within UK.