19.1.2003 Pontypridd 12 - Connacht 9
[icWales] PONTYPRIDD will face Rob Howley's Wasps in the semi-final of the Parker Pen Challenge Cup in April.
The Valley side ran out victors against an impressive Connacht for the second week on the trot to clinch a place in the last four of the competition.
Neil Jenkins, once again, proved the difference with his reliable right boot and the former Wales star and Lions legend slotted over four penalties to give his side the win.
Jenkins and his Ponty cohorts will now face former Wales skipper Howley after his Wasps side had a comfortable double over French giants Stad Fran-cais in Paris.
Lawrence Dallagllio's side ran out comfortable 27-12 winners to set up a mouthwatering clash between London's glamour boys and Welsh rugby's valley boys.
But Pontypridd, who went into the second leg against Connacht with a 35-30 lead from the first tie, had to work hard at Sardis Road to ensure qualification.
It wasn't easy, and Ponty knew they had been in a battle. Coach Lynn Howells realises his Ponty side will go into the semi-final clash as underdogs, but he wouldn't have it any other way.
Ponty know all about this competition, they reached last year's final and no side will relish the prospect of taking on Welsh rugby's cup holders in their own back yard.
It was a night of high emotion, with the Ponty fans out in full force to make sure the powers-that-be at the Welsh Rugby Union understand they are not prepared to let their side die without a fight.
School children and players from youth clubs around the valleys marched about the field before the start of the game to loud applause as they waved banners with slogans like `No merge, no way', `give us a future', `don't sell us down the river' and `valley rugby, not for sale'.
It showed the strength of feeling at the valleys club about David Moffett, the new WRU boss, and his proposals to enter four provincial teams on behalf of Welsh rugby into competitions like this.
Moffett will have been impressed by the show of defiance, but he won't be swayed from making the decisions he believes need to be taken to give Welsh rugby a future.
On the field, Pontypridd were given a tough time by an Irish Provincial side that itself faces an uncertain future. Irish rugby's genre province faces the axe at the end of this season, they proved more than a handful for Pontypridd.
It was a timely reminder of the current strength in Irish rugby as the bottom ranked province pushed one of Welsh rugby's premier sides to the wire.
Both sides struggled to find any fluency or rhythm on a surface, that was, quite frankly awful.
The Sardis Road pitch could be used for synchronised swimming rather than rugby when the rain pours down.
Both sides struggled to show what they could do, and neither side could get a real foothold in the game.
Pontypridd did dominate territory and possession, but never looked real-istically like grabbing a try.
Having said that, Connacht's defence was well marshalled and well drilled and they finished the stronger after they had nullified Pontypridd's pack in an emphatic style.
But it was too little, too late as the damage had been done in the first half.
Jenkins opened his account with an early penalty to give his side a lead they would never surrender.
Wing Emyr Lewis then came the closest to grabbing a try during the game when he raced away into the Connacht half, only to be hauled down in the visitors' 22.
It was the only real attacking opportunity of the game.
Jenkins then added a second penalty as Pontypridd tried to establish themselves in the game.
Most of the first half was played in the Connacht half, but the visitors' defence would not be breached.
Former Ireland star Eric Elwood then added his side's first points with a penalty of his own, before Jenkins replied with a third penalty to take his side in at the break 9-3 ahead.
After the break, it was more of the same.
Pontypridd looked for that elusive try to stretch the lead they had built up.
But it was Jenkins, once again, who kept the Ponty score ticking over with a fourth penalty at the start of the second half.
Ellwood replied with two more penalties to claw his side within one score of Pontypridd.
The Irish side kept pushing for the victory, but it didn't come as Ponty's defence stood firm.