The Pontypridd side played some of their best rugby of the season to swamp Aberavon at a soggy Sardis Road on Saturday. The kick off was delayed for fifteen minutes due to the M4 being blocked by a road traffic accident, but there was no stopping a rampant home team. We scored four tries, whereas Aberavon could only manage one with an assist from the referee.
The first score came after about five minutes. Full back Lawrence Price gathered a ball in his own half, and put up a lovely up-and-under. Racing forward, he then gathered the ball and slipped a pass to Gavin Dacey screaming up on his left. Nobody could lay a finger on Gavin as he completed the 22 metre dash to the line. A beautiful try, easily converted by Dai Flanagan.
Ten minutes later Gavin Dacey got our second try, but this time it was Rhys Shellard who did all the hard work. The tireless flanker stole the ball on the halfway line, and ran through the first line of the Aberavon defence. Rhys then put a grubber kick through, bouncing slowly towards the Wizards’ line. As he came up to the ball Rhys appeared to be obstructed, but Gavin was on hand to fall on the ball over the line. Dai Flanagan kicked the conversion.
As the second quarter of the game proceeded the Aberavon forwards put a lot of pressure on the Ponty line, helped by a stream of penalties awarded by referee Hywel Hopkins, but superb defence kept them out. The only thing they had to show for their efforts was a penalty by Jamie Davies to make the scoreline 14-3. This was quickly matched by a good penalty goal by Dai Flanagan.
Pontypridd’s third try came on the half hour. Chris Clayton took the ball well inside his own half, and put through a good kick along the left hand touchline, heading towards the Clubhouse end. Following up at speed, Chris recovered the ball and put out a pass to Gavin Dacey for his hat trick. Dai Flanagan converted from way out on the left. The first half ended with Pontypridd well in the driving seat at 24-3.
Wayne Evans came on for Ryan Harries at half time, but for a long time the second half threatened to be something of an anti-climax. For much of the opening twenty minutes the game was largely played between our 22 metre and halfway line. The Aberavon pack continued to work hard, but there was no real threat from their backs. Dan Hawkins came on at scrum half to create his usual mayhem (what a terrier!), but Pontypridd easily contained the attacks. Some relief came when Dai Flanagan kicked his second penalty to take the score to 27-3.
As the game moved towards the last quarter Pontypridd changed the whole of its front row, with Stuart Williams, Richard Emms and Ian Poley coming on for Nick Eaves, Lee Pearce and Ryan Harford respectively. Two incidents then set the mood for the last part of the match. In the first, Rhys Shellard broke out of defence on the right hand side, and tore down the touchline towards the Pwllgwaun end with ball in hand. He put through a lovely kick towards the Aberavon line, and seemed certain to win the touchdown. He was then clearly obstructed by one of the Aberavon players a metre or so from the line, and the ball bounced harmlessly over the dead ball line.
Although the home crowd confidently expected the referee to award a penalty try, none came. Instead he gave us a penalty kick, and we messed up the resulting lineout. The referee then gave Grant Harrington a yellow card for what was a blatant obstruction as the Wizards tried to take a quick penalty, further incensing the home crowd, who saw a great discrepancy between the outcomes of the two offences. The sense of injustice was heightened as the referee then awarded a series of penalties to Aberavon, which took them to our five metre line. Eventually the inevitable happened, and Liam Gadd got over for a try for the visitors. Jamie Davies failed with a difficult kick, and the score was 27-8.
The second incident was a bad injury to Dai Flanagan, who had a knock on the head from a collision on the halfway line. Dai lay there for a long time attended by our resident orthopaedic surgeon Stuart Roy and our own physiotherapy team. He was eventually stretchered off, and all the Pontypridd supporters had their fingers tightly crossed. Neil Burnett came on as his replacement, and immediately proceeded to execute some of his trademark booming kicks towards the Aberavon line.
The performance of the referee and the accident to Dai aroused the team to renewed efforts. Lee Evans came on for Tu Tamarua and Tom Games for Grant Harrington, as the pack put a huge amount of pressure on Aberavon. The reward was a good penalty by Neil Burnett to take the score to 30-8. But Pontypridd were not finished yet.
As the game moved towards injury time, Chris Clayton took the ball in his own 22-metre area, sold a huge dummy and moved purposefully downfield. He passed to Gavin Dacey (yes, that man again!), who made a magnificent break from the half way line. As the play reached the Aberavon line that master-poacher Wayne Evans was there to get the touch down. A superb try to end a superb performance by the whole team. Neil Burnett kicked an equally superb conversion to make the final score 37-8 to Pontypridd.
Although Gavin Dacey deservedly won the man-of-the-match award, this was a team performance. The forwards went well from the kick off, and the re-organised front row of Nick Eaves, Lee Pearce and Ryan Harford more than held their own against strong opponents (including former Pontypridd player Lloyd Howell). The combination of Lee Pearce, Damien Welch and Grant Harrington ensured a steady supply of ball from the lineouts, and our back row was generally given the platform on which to create havoc in the loose. Rhys Shellard was tremendous!
In the backs, Dai Flanagan controlled the game at No. 10, never shipping on bad ball and always kicking well under pressure. He helped to build the foundation for the threequarter line and full back to dominate proceedings. Lawrence Price is quickly developing into a very accomplished full back, Chris Clayton was back to somewhere near his best as a threat on the wing, and Gavin Dacey showed what a class player he is. Dafydd Lockyer and Kristian Baller also had very good games, continuously making holes in the defence.
The strength in depth that we have in the squad could not have been more clearly demonstrated than by the quality of our replacements. Wayne Evans and Neil Burnett all made significant contributions in the second half, we could replace the whole front row without affecting the quality of the forward play, and Lee Evans – well, we all know how good he is! Tom Games had little opportunity to impress on his debut, but will have his chance soon.
The Pontypridd team was:
15. Lawrence Price; 14. Kristian Baller, 13. Gavin Dacey, 12. Dafydd Lockyer, 11. Chris Clayton; 10. Dai Flanagan (rep. Neil Burnett), 9. Ryan Harries (rep. Wayne Evans;
1. Nick Eaves (rep. Stuart Williams), 2. Lee Pearce (rep. Richard Emms), 3. Ryan Harford (rep. Ian Poley), 4. Damien Welch, 5. Grant Harrington (rep. Tom Games), 6. Tu Tamarua (rep. Lee Evans), 7. Rhys Shellard, 8. Nathan Strong (Captain).
Scorers for Pontypridd: Tries – Gavin Dacey (3) and Wayne Evans; Conversions – Dai Flanagan (3) and Neil Burnett; Penalties – Dai Flanagan (2) and Neil Burnett.
Scorers for Aberavon: Try – Liam Gadd; Penalty – Jamie Davies.
P.S. Stuart Roy sent Dai Flanagan to hospital for a scan to make sure that there was no serious injury, but was optimistic about his condition after the game. The latest news is that he is alright, and should be back on the park soon. Dai has had his problems off the pitch with the illness of his partner, and we wish both of them well.
P.P.S. Unsung heroes – Simon King and Paul John; after a difficult period for the Club they have made the changes which were necessary to pull things around. The spirit within the squad is tremendous, and this is due both to the coaches and to the senior players. We should also not forget the contribution of team manager Wayne Cullen for his work behind the scenes. Thanks to them all!
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