KONICA MINOLTA WELSH CUP FINAL 2006
Pontypridd made things happen in the early exchanges of the game, a charge down by Matthew Nuthall and a break by Dafydd Lockyer giving them the chance to apply real pressure in the Neath half. Ponty spurned the chance to kick for goal, driving into their opponents’ twenty-two, as Paul Matthews came on as temporary replacement for Tom Riley. A kick and chase instigated by Nuthall and followed up by Matthews saw Ponty going close to scoring, but a full eight minute’s pressure so far going unrewarded.
A foray by Neath into the Ponty half allowed their outside half James Hook to coolly slot over a penalty from in front of the posts. Ponty’s repost was however was an immediate one from the restart, Dai Flanagan hoisting over a penalty of his own to level the scores. From a phase of loose play Ponty wing Chris Clayton raced clear to the line, but play called back for a knock on. Neath now set up a series of mauls and charges to propel deep into Ponty territory, but the Valley Commandos defending doggedly against the onslaught. The cup final continued a full blooded contest, and with Neath fly half Hook sin binned for holding back Gareth Jones on a burst.
Ponty were just edging a close fought affair, looking the more creative force in attack. Taking top of the line ball, Ponty set up a flowing back line move, Matthew Nuthall racing past the cover defence to squeeze in for a well taken try in the corner. A chip from Dai Flanagan, taken up by Dafydd Lockyer gave Ponty further impetus to advance, keeping up a concerted phase of pressure. Ponty were maintaining territorial dominance with Matthew Nuthall’s intelligent punts down into the corner, but unable to fashion another score. As James Hook returned to the fray, Neath coincidentally enjoyed a period of attack, their efforts finally rewarded as a gap was created for flanker Andy Llywellyn to burst through for a try, a precision conversion to follow from a wide angle by Hook.
Ponty again immediately struck back, putting points on the board through a long distance Dai Flanagan penalty. The final remained keenly contested into first half injury time, but a long range penalty from James Hook just tipping the interval scoreline in Neath’s favour, by 11 pts to 13.
Ponty came out for the second half with Ryan Harford on in place of Stuart Williams, the frenetic pace of the game continuing unabated. Ponty were showing a willingness to attack from deep, a burst up the flank allowing centre Dafydd Lockyer to cruise in for a try, converted by Flanagan. In defending their new found lead, Ponty were again put under pressure, struggling for parity in the set pieces. With Adam Powell on for Lee Evans, Ponty were aggressive in defence against their opponents’ power play, hounding the Neath attackers at every opportunity. A drop goal attempt by Dai Flanagan was just off target, then an incisive break from Morgan Stoddart undone by a loose pass into touch.
Ponty were now bristling with attacking intent, varying their options with a series of chips, breaks and charges, their persistence paying off, putting Chris Clayton in for a try on the overlap, with fifty-six minutes gone. Tom Dickens now came on for Gareth Jones, as Neath applied real pressure, but hitting a wall of committed Ponty defenders. This final was not for the faint hearted, a full blooded and eagerly contested affair, both teams going at each other with no quarter given or asked. Leighton Davies now came on for Ben Phillips, Ponty soaking up a good amount of pressure , their difficulties compounded as lock Chris Dicomidis was yellow carded. Taking full advantage of the situation, Neath set up a driving line out to cross the line, a try claimed by prop Paul Jones. With just ten minutes remaining the game was balanced on a knife edge. Neath now threw everything they had at a beleaguered Ponty defence, as Jason Pocock came on for Morgan Stoddart. Ponty set up a running attack from deep, but Neath fly half James Hook intercepting to race clear for a try which he then converted.
Ponty were now playing against the clock as well as their opponents, bold in their efforts to attack, but Neath securing a turnover to strike back on the offensive. With Wayne O’Connor coming on as a late replacement for Grant Harrington, Ponty threw their all into a last ditch attempt to salvage the game. Deep into injury time, a platform was gained from which Dai Flanagan slotted over a dream of a drop goal. Amidst scenes of euphoria from the large Ponty contingent of fans, the final whistle blew on a hum-dinger of a cup final, Ponty taking the spoils by the narrowest of margins – 26 pts to 25.
15.Morgan Stoddart (Jason Pocock) 14.Chris Clayton 13.Tom Riley (Paul Matthews temp) 12.Dafydd Lockyer 11.Matthew Nuthall 10.Dai Flanagan 9.Gareth Jones (Tom Dickens)
1.Stuart Williams (Ryan Harford) 2.Ben Phillips (Leighton Davies) 3.Scott Roberts 4.Chris Dicomidis 5.Grant Harrington (Wayne O’Connor) 6.Lee Evans (Adam Powell) 7.Rhys Shellard 8.Nathan Strong – cpt