19.1.2003 Graham Clutton at Sardis Road
[Times Online] PONTYPRIDD scrambled untidily into the semi-final of the Parker Pen Challenge Cup with a victory over Connacht that provided a little more weight to their bid to stand alone in Welsh rugby's new-look structure for next season.
The side are so concerned about losing their identity in Welsh Rugby Union chief executive David Moffett's plans for the future of the national game that last night's game was preceded by an emotional demonstration by more than 100 local schoolchildren.
So with more than 6,000 fervent supporters behind them, it came as no great surprise that they defied the elements to stave off the Connacht challenge.
Their early advantage came from the trusty boot of Neil Jenkins, whose spirit and endeavour reflects the mentality that exists within Sardis Road. He kicked a second to double his side's slender lead and after Eric Elwood, another veteran of more than a decade of senior combat, had halved the deficit with a penalty on 20 minutes. Jenkins added a third to leave the home side 9-3 to the good at the interval.
Despite the atrocious conditions, which left the two sides struggling to establish any secure platform on which to work, they gave as good as they got. In fact, with a little more composure in the Pontypridd 22 and a stronger set-piece, the Irish province might have posed a few more problems.
As it was, Pontypridd had enough quality, especially in the lineouts, where Robert Sidoli was head and shoulders above the rest.
Jenkins added his fourth penalty on 50 minutes. Elwood retrieved the situation for Connacht with his second of the night as Connacht struck back with immediate effect and his third on the hour, after Jenkins had seen his fifth attempt slide past the upright, gave rise to an understandable air of concern around Sardis Road.
It was a sticky situation, both underfoot and in the heads of a Pontypridd side who yearn for the opportunity to make up for last season's final defeat by Sale. Yet, such is the resolve of this side, that not even Connacht's best efforts and a few self-inflicted problems in the loose, could prevent the Valley Commandos from striking yet another blow for valleys rugby.
Connacht, driven on by Elwood, were combative to the end, but Pontypridd had enough in the locker to hold on. Although this display was far from impressive, on the evidence of last season's efforts against Saracens and London Irish, it would take a brave man to bet against Pontypridd winning through to a second successive final. And as for the future of this club, well, it's a case of wait and see if the union takes any notice of the children for whom valleys rugby means so much.
I doubt they will even bat an eyelid.