This was an even more comfortable win for Cross Keys than the scoreline suggests. The visitors were well on top for most of the game, outscored Pontypridd by three tries to nil, and were rarely threatened by the home side’s attacks.
The outstanding player on the pitch was Keys hooker Lloyd Burns, who rounded off his supercharged performance by scoring the final try. A converted back row forward who was advised by the Dragons to move up to the cauldron of the front row, Burns dominated the proceeding from beginning to end.
In fact, it was Burns who assisted Pontypridd to gain their first (and only) score in the first half. Following some skulduggery which resulted in a ticking-off by referee Nigel Whitehouse, the hooker was penalised and Neil Burnett put the kick over to give Ponty a three-nil lead after three minutes.
Most of the rest of the first half belonged to Cross Keys, despite losing a prop to a yellow card after 20 minutes. The only good attack by Pontypridd, a run down the left by winger Dan Hitchings, ended in a knock on with the line beckoning. Otherwise, with the home pack under severe pressure in the scrums and struggling in the lineout, Ponty had little to offer.
The first try came after 26 minutes, when Pontypridd gave away a penalty on the half way line. Cross Keys ran the ball, and a good move saw Gareth Chapman go over near the right-hand corner flag at the clubhouse end. An excellent conversion by Leon Andrews made it 3-7 to the visitors.
Cross Keys continued to dominate proceedings up front, and set up a concerted series of drives down the left-hand side. Pontypridd defended desperately, but something had to give. It all ended with Marcus Johnstone going over for the try, taking the score to 3-12 after 35 minutes.
As the first half came to an end Pontypridd were given an excellent chance to put three more points on the board. A second yellow card for Cross Keys presented an opportunity for a penalty kick in front of the posts, but inexplicably Ponty decided to go for the lineout instead. Almost inevitably the lineout was lost, and Keys were able to clear their lines. So the teams went in at 3-12 when it could so easily have been 6-12.
Five minutes after the restart Pontypridd attempted to bolster their creaking scrum by bringing on prop Stuart Williams and hooker Rhys Williams. Things certainly improved up front, and the home side put together some good rugby for the first time in the game. Unfortunately the only reward for the hard work was a long-range penalty goal attempt after ten minutes, which went close but missed the mark.
As the third quarter of the game drew to a close Ponty made further replacements, with prop Ian Poley coming on for Ryan Harford, back-row Geraint Lewis for Lee Evans, and scrum half Andrew Jenkins for Rhys Downes. Cross Keys were giving away a lot of penalties at this time, and continually slowing down the game with injury after injury. Eventually Neil Burnett was able to kick a penalty goal which brought the score to 6-12 with about 20 minutes to go.
Former Pontypridd favourite Dai Manley was 'sent off' at about this time. Dai is now coaching at Cross Keys, and had been giving the referee and touch judges a bit of stick as the game went on. Nigel Whitehouse had warned him once or twice, and now despatched him to the stand for the rest of the game.
There was no doubt that the Pontypridd was back in the match at this stage. Possible victory started to beckon as a long series of forward drives took the ball closer and closer to the Keys line. Then two incidents occurred which summed up Ponty’s efforts on the day.
The first came with the forwards looking certain to score if only Ponty kept it tight and kept hammering at the Cross Keys line. Instead, the ball was shipped out to Kristian Baller on the wing. There is no doubt that Kris is a very good player, and one of the few to enhance his reputation on this day, but he is not the man to batter his way over from short range with the whole of the Keys’ close defence waiting for him. He was unceremoniously carted backwards away from the line, and the door closed for Pontypridd.
The second incident involved Grant Harrington, who collected a yellow card for retaliation right under the gaze of Mr. Whitehouse. Pontypridd were still pressurising the Cross Keys defence at this time, with about ten minutes to go and a win still on the cards. The resulting penalty allowed the visitors to clear their line, and that was that really.
With five minutes to go the seal was set on the Cross Keys victory when hooker Lloyd Burns scored his try, converted by Leon Andrews, to take the score to 6-19. An Andrews' penalty made it 6-22 in injury time, and Pontypridd had experienced their first defeat in the Principality Premiership this season.
Full back Jason Pocock was solid in defence for Pontypridd, and wings Dan Hitchings and Kristian Baller threatened on occasions. Geraint Lewis looked what he is – a different class – when he came on, but it was too late. Otherwise, the home team was on the back foot for much of the game, courageous in defence but offering little in attack.
The Pontypridd team was: 15.Jason Pocock;
14. Dan Hitchings, 13, Matthew Hutchings, 12. Gavin Dacey (rep.
Adam Thomas), 11. Kristian Baller; 10. Neil Burnett, 9. Rhys Downes
(rep. Andrew Jenkins);
1. Nick Eaves (rep. Stuart Williams), 2. Leighton Davies (rep. Rhys Williams), 3. Ryan Harford (rep. Ian Poley), 4. Anthony Mead, 5. Grant Harrington, 6. Lee Evans (rep. Geraint Lewis), 7. Rhys Shellard (rep. Wayne O'Connor), 8. Nathan Strong (Captain).
Pontypridd scorer: penalties - Neil Burnett (2).
Cross Keys scorers: tries - Gareth Chapman, Marcus Johnstone, Lloyd Burns; conversions - Leon Andrews (2); penalty - Leon Andrews.
Play Off Final
Total votes 154
Ponty ar ben eu digon - pencampwyr dwbwl Cymru. Pwy oedd yn serennu yn y gem fawr yn erbyn Llanelli? Ponty on top of the world - double champions of Welsh rugby. Who starred in the big win over Llanelli?