Saturday 16th September 2006 saw the newly reformed Pontypridd youth kick off their season with a friendly home game against Pontyclun.
With the loss of the majority of last year's under 17 side having departed during the summer and with the WRU abolishing the under 17 age grade rugby, it fell to last season's under 16's to step up and represent the squad in the Taff Rhondda Youth League. For this young Pontypridd squad, this is a massive step, with all but three players being under 17 and coming up against squads consisting mainly of 18 and 19 year olds.
The Pontyclun game was played at the new Welsh school at Gartholwg in Church Village, and what the Young Ponty squad may have lacked in size and experience, they certainly made up for in attitude and commitment. A big thank you also goes out to the Pontyclun coach who refereed due to the absence of the WRU appointed referee. Due to injury and other commitments Pontypridd had six players unavailable and were only able to field a 21 man squad.
The Pontypridd forwards dominated the early scrums against their older opponents and took the game's first two scrums against the head. This set a pattern for the game with the starting front row of Marc Jones, James Sullivan and Sam Oliver, together with 2nd half replacements Alun Thomas and Dale Pugh, showing outstanding form. Despite this scrum dominance Pontypridd were unable to create any early pressure or points, with their opponents causing several problems at the ruck area.
Pontyclun took an early lead despite some brave tackling from Pontypridd wing Gary Page with a well worked try from a five metre lineout. But Pontypridd were quick to reply and after a period of pressure opened their scoring with a well struck penalty from man of the match Rhys Simms, who had an outstanding game at full back. Pontypridd now had Pontyclun on the back foot and after a series of fouls near the Pontyclun try line, the referee awarded Pontypridd a penalty ten metres out that Simms again converted to put Pontypridd into a 6-5 lead.
Pontypridd captain and fly - half Lewis Smith was now starting to control the game, with his excellent tactical kicking keeping Pontyclun under pressure. Centre Lewis Egal was tenacious in defence, winning a long range penalty for Pontypridd after a crunching tackle that prompted his opposite number to retaliate. The kick was beautifully struck by Simms only to drift agonisingly wide. Pontyclun hit back against the run of play, from a scrum in the Pontypridd half they exploited some confusion in the midfield to score a try for a score of 6-10 to Pontyclun. Pontypridd flankers Dafydd Gristock and Johnathan Reid were starting to dominate the tackle area and Pontypridd ended the half by far the stronger side despite the score line and were unlucky not to get a try after a long period of pressure close to the Pontyclun line.
The second half saw Pontypridd make several changes, that meant a welcome return to Pontypridd colours for Dean Maissey, who immediately made his presence felt with some trademark big hits. Pontypridd almost regained the lead after a well worked short line-out move that saw powerful lock Nathaniel Williams held up just short of the line. Flanker Mike Davies had replaced injured Dafydd Gristock and was linking well with Reid, so it seemed only a matter of time before Pontypridd regained the lead.
Pontypridd suffered a setback when lock Williams was dismissed, placing the young Ponty side under immense pressure at the set piece, having lost a key player at both line out and scrum. Pontypridd continued to battle bravely and when the back row caused the Pontyclun fullback to concede a penalty deep in his half, Simms slotted the kick to take the score to 9-10.
Time was against Pontypridd now and although they spent the last ten minutes of the game deep in the Pontyclun half, they couldn't get the breakthrough they needed. Despite the man disadvantage giant prop James Sullivan and his partner Dale Pugh were causing all sorts of problems for the Pontyclun front row. With time running out Pontypridd fly - half Smith attempted a long range drop goal that went agonisingly wide and despite Pontypridd keeping Pontyclun deep in their half, the game ended 9-10 to Pontyclun.
Despite the result, the coaches were pleased with all the Pontypridd player's performances, with each one more than demonstrating that, despite their youth and inexperience they are well capable of competing at this higher level.
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Sut y gallwn hawlio yn ol ein gem genedlaethol? Oes angen newid y strwythur? How can we reclaim our national game? Is there a need for a restructure?