After the frustrations of the controversial narrow league defeat against Penygraig, young Ponty had to face the mighty challenge of first division Ystrad Rhondda Youth 1 coached by legendary Welsh prop and former Ponty favourite Mike Griffiths.
For followers of Ponty youth, the result of the Penygraig match has been referred to the W.R.U. youth panel, after Penygraig fielded five players from their senior youth squad without the required registrations or permits being in place. The presence of these unauthorised players was raised both with the referee and the Penygraig team officials before the match commenced, and although they admitted to including four senior youth team players in their squad, they claimed it had been agreed with the W.R.U. The result of the match was Pontypridd 5 (try scored by Lewis Smith), Penygraig 7 (try by Rob Phelps, converted by Ashly Bateman, who was one of the unauthorised players included by Penygraig). We will keep followers posted of developments on this.
With the disappointment of the defeat fresh in their minds, young Ponty couldn't have had a worse draw in the cup, facing first division Ystrad Rhondda 1, who are currently top of their division, and include a number of Blues players in their squad, including former Pontypridd Lock and Welsh Presidents cap Gareth Capelin, who left Ponty at the end of last season.
Ystrad have been playing an awesome brand of power rugby from their well drilled pack, and have already taken the scalps of other National and first division sides this season including Merthyr, Ynysybwl, Rhydfelin and Llantwit Fardre. For Ponty however the task appeared impossible, as they went into the game without a recognised line out jumper, after serious injuries to star openside Dafydd Gristock, No 8 Dean Maissey and specialist jumper lock Drew Evans. With hooker Sam Oliver and Centre Tom Newberry pressed into emergency service as lock forwards.
With Ponty also missing first choice wings Lewis Williams and Stephen Parker with long term injuries, reserve openside Ben Miles, was used as an emergency winger, and Ponty were only able to field a squad of 21 players.
The game started in the worst possibel way for Ponty, with Ystrad using their big forwards to pick and drive at the heart of the Ponty defence, and when brave tackling turned over posession close to the Ponty line, the clearance kick only returned posession to Ystrad at the line out, where their forwards caught and drove impressively to score a text book try from their driving maul. The try was scored by Ben Sheppard, converted by a fine kick from Nathan Reece.
From the restart, Ystrad were immediately on the attack again, and with their line out and maul dominant, Ponty were struggling to gain any posession for their exciting backs. However after weathering five minutes of extreme pressure, Ponty managed to break upfield, when a huge hit by stand in winger Ben Miles on his opposite number stopped the Ystrad attack dead, and Miles, using his jackling skills tore the ball away from the Ystrad wing and raced upfield, an excellent tackle stopped Miles, on the edge of the Ystrad 22, and when Ystrad were penalised for trying to slow the ball down at the ensuing ruck, Ponty were awarded a straight forward penalty. Full back Rhys Simms took the kick, but nerves got the better of him and he pulled the kick narrowly wide.
Simms was quick to put the disappointment of the kick behind him, when he picked up a loose Ystrad kick deep in his half and ran out of defence, spotting the Ystrad full back out of position he cleverly chipped the midfield and despite being half challenged off the ball, he still won the foot race to the ball and hacked on to the Ystrad line, only to be cruelly denied a try when the referee adjudged the ball had touched the dead ball line before he grounded. This was a harsh decision with many of the Ponty players and followers feeling that the late challenge on Simms, that had checked his run, actually warranted the award of a penalty try.
This seemed to galvanise Ponty and they now opted to move the ball wide and play an open kick and chase game rather than set peice game, they were starting to ask questions of the Ystrad defence. Ponty centres Deardon and Lewis Egal were ferocious in defence, and fly half Lewis Smith and fullback Simms were varying play with clever chip's, grubbers and up and unders to cause confusion in the Ystrad defence.
It was from one of these kicks that caused panic in the Ystrad defence forcing a knock on close to their own line. From the scrum, Ponty's front five held firm under immense pressure, and when flyhalf Smith fed his centre partners, Deardon threaded a clever kick through his opposite numbers legs, and collected his own kick, only to lose posession over the try line in the act of scoring. Ponty were able to keep the high tempo game going and it wasn't long before they won another scrum in the same position. With Ystrad expecting a similar move, this time Smith broke blind and fed openside Mike Davies who drew two men and offloaded a "basket ball" pass to wing Ben Miles who powered over at the corner flag for Ponty's first score, that was brilliantly converted by Simms from the touchline taking the score to 7 all.
Ystrad hit back straight away and after Ponty were penalised for offside, they kicked for the corner, and scored another try from Lloyd Davies after another excellent catch and drive. Reece missed the difficult conversion.
Ponty were not going to lie down, and launched a brilliant back move that saw fantastic handling skills from the threequarters. Outside centre Lewis Egal burst through the gap created by his partners and looked destined to score, however brilliant cover defense from the Ystrad wing and fullback saw him over the try line but unable to ground the ball to the referee's satisfaction, and Ponty were denied a further try. Ponty were now growing in confidence whilst Ystrad looked shell shocked at the pace of the game, and Ponty were justly rewarded when Simms brillaintly chipped the flat Ystrad defence, collected his kick and outsprinted the full back to cross in the corner for an well deserved solo try that he expertly converted from the touchline, taking the half time score to Pontypridd 14, Ystrad Rhondda 12.
Ystrad Rhondda started the second half strongly and had reverted to a tight 10 man game, kicking cleverly to the corners where they could use their driving line out. This was difficult for Ponty to defend against and despite some brave defence, Ystrad quickly added two further tries from Chris Weygood and Joey Woolridge, with one converted by Nathan Reece to take the score to Pontypridd 14 Ystrad Rhondda 24. Ystrad were now starting to dominate play and only outstanding cover tackles from replacement Ponty wing Owain Kingsbury, full back Simms and the outstanding Ponty No8 Alun "Beefy" Thomas, prevented Ystrad adding further tries.
Ponty were not down yet and after the Ystrad Hooker was yellow carded for dangerous use of the boot at a ruck, Ponty scrum half Liam Stacey took a quick penalty and his sniping run caused problems for the Ystrad defence, with the move halted 10 metres from the Ystrad line when the ball was spilled in the tackle. Ystrad cleared their lines but only to the edge of their 22, and taking advantage of the fact that the Ystrad hooker was off the field, Ponty Hooker Cai Daniel called a clever short line out, that saw giant Ponty prop James Sullivan take a clean catch and power toward the Ystrad line. When Sullivan was stopped, Ponty quickly recycled and an excellent blindside break from Stacey and Thomas was just driven into touch metres from the Ystrad line. Ystrad were struggling to get out of their own half and Ponty continued to press for a score, spurning a kick at goal to launch a huge up and under from Simms in their pursuit of a try.
With Ystrad Rhondda restored to full strength, Ponty dug deep for another score, and after Ponty were awarded another kickable penalty for offside in midfield, Simms again launched a towering high kick that caused confusion deep in the Ystrad 22. The Ponty loose forwards were quick to the break down and excellent jackling from blindside Jon Reid won another Penalty 12 metres out. With Ystrad expecting Ponty to throw the ball wide, Stacey took the penalty quickly and popped the ball to the powerful Reid, who showed fantastic strength and skil to smash through the Ystrad pack to claim a well earned try. Once again Simms converted to take the score to Pontypridd 21 - Ystrad Rhondda 24 with 5 minutes to go.
From the kick off Ponty reverted to their running tactics and from some loose play in their own half, full back Simms spotted some front row players out of position on the Ystrad wing, in a brilliant exhibition of pace and balance, he glided past both players to launch a superb attack. When Simms was tackled, athletic prop Dale Pugh appeared from nowhere on the blindside and collected the offload. Pugh showed excellent pace and strength to beat the challenge of the covering centre and sprinted away close to the touchline deep in the Ystrad half. The covering wing and fullback put in a text book double tackle on Pugh as he cleverly attempted to cross kick the ball infield where Simms and flyhalf Smith were heading the race for support. Although a brilliant peice of skill from Pugh, the play was called back as he had been driven onto the touchline before launching the kick.
Although only three points behind, Ponty still needed a try, as a draw would put Ystrad through on try count under cup rules, so when in injury time Ponty had a penalty just inside the Ystrad Half, they again elected to hoist the ball deep into the Ystrad 22. This time the ball was collected cleanly and Ystrad were able to launch a blistering counterattack of their own, which was thwarted when Ponty No8 Thomas drove the Ystrad centre into touch with a crunching try saving tackle with the last play of the game.
Both sides and the referee Mr Brian Powell contributed to a fantastic display of Rugby and were warmly applauded by both sets of supporters and coaches, who had witnessed a feast of rugby demonstrating all that is good about valley rugby, played in a fantastic spirit. Many supporters commented afterwards that it had been one of the best games they had seen for some time, and it was good for the young Ponty squad to hear the compliments from Mike Griffiths and the Ystrad coaching team, on the way they had risen to the occaision and made Ystrad really battle for their win, and they acknowledged in the club that if Ponty had been able to score another one of their chances in the first half, Ponty might have snatched an unlikely victory.
In such a fantastic team performance, it is difficult to single out a man of the match. Credit must be given to Tom Newberry, Ben Miles and Sam Oliver who played out of position for the team, to Pugh and Sullivan who held the scrum rock solid against a huge opposing front row, to Deardon Smith and Egal who were outstanding in midfield, and the whole Ponty back row who scavenged for posession like their lives depended on it. However if one player had to be singled out it is full back Rhys Simms, who stole the show with a fantastic performance in his first game back after a month due to an injured hand.
Best wishes for a speedy recovery to all Ponty's walking wounded especially Nathaniel Williams who left the field early with a serious shoulder injury after an excellent personal display