Preview: Merthyr v Aberavon

Posted by Gareth Gange on 14/05/2018

In the Wizards final game of the season, Aberavon (11th place - 37 points) travel to the Wern to take on Premiership winners Merthyr (1st place - 66 points) in a re-arranged Principality Premiership match this coming Tuesday evening, kick off 7:15pm. The sides were originally due to face each other on April 7th but was postponed due to the Ironmen having a National Cup Semi-Final game that weekend. Merthyr went on to lift the Cup by beating Newport 41 - 7 in the Final.

Since the Premiership combined, Merthyr have won twelve and lost two games. They won their opening four games by beating Cross Keys, Bedwas, Cardiff and Pontypridd with the Ironmen gaining try bonus points in three of the games. Their first loss came in March when they went down 18 - 19 at home to Newport, picking up a losing bonus point. They then won their next five games, seeing off Llanelli, Bridgend, Neath, Llandovery and Swansea with them picking up try bonus points in all five games. Their second loss came last month when they went down 21 - 33 at home to Carmarthen Quins. Since then, the Ironmen have won three straight, with them beating RGC 1404, Ebbw Vale and, last weekend, Bargoed (35 - 7).

During the first phase of the season, Merthyr finished top of the Premiership East after winning eleven of their fourteen games. They did the double over Cross Keys, Newport, Ebbw Vale and Bargoed, and also beat Cardiff (at home), Bedwas (away) and Pontypridd (home).

Looking at results since the Premiership merged, in "attack", Merthyr have scored 30.4 points on average per game (ranked 3rd) and 4.2 tries (ranked 3rd). In "defence" they have conceded 17.4 points on average per game (ranked 2nd) and 1.9 tries (ranked joint top). Aberavon have scored 19.0 points per game (ranked 13th) and 2.7 tries (ranked 11th), and conceded 17.9 points (ranked 3rd) and 2.1 tries (ranked 3rd).

Head-to-head, Aberavon and Merthyr have met each other 11 times in the Welsh National League (including playoffs), with the Wizards leading the series 7 - 4. At the Wern, the series is tied with 2 wins each, with Merthyr winning 34 - 23 at the ground last season.

Looking back to when the sides met at the Wern in a midweek game in May 2002. The Ironmen were already relegated from Division One whilst the Wizards were competing with Pontypool for the Division One title and needed to win and score at least nine tries. In that game the homeside had first use of the slope and went ahead with a penalty in the second minute of play - outside half Robert Downes with the kick. The Wizards hit back with a try by wing Sam Greenaway and penalty by outside half Jamie Davies to make the score 8 - 3 after 20 minutes of play. Centre Scott Leighton scored a try late in the half with the New Zealander's conversion making the score 15 - 3 at the interval.

In the second half, the Wizards knew they needed a further seven tries to go back on top of the Division above Pooler. Now playing down the Wern slope the Wizards started well when lock Dafydd Owen scored in the corner at the start of the half. Hooker Jason Hyatt was next on the scoresheet as the Wizards stopped taking conversions as they chased the tries. The score was 25 - 3 as the game approached the final quarter with the Wizards still needing five tries. Those five tries came in an eleven minute spell when tries were scored by centre Paul Morgan, lock and captain Steve Rees, then both Morgan and Owen scored again, before backrow Gareth Newman touched down for Aberavon's ninth try. That score put Aberavon back on top of the table with ten minutes left to play. The Ironmen then hit back with a try of their own as wing Kristian Owen intercepted inside his own 22 and sprinted clear for a try that Downes converted (Owen went on to sign for the Wizards after the season finished). Aberavon had the last word though when Greenaway scored two more tries before replacement wing Jonathan Williams touching down in the last move of the game to make the final score 65 - 10 to Aberavon.

The Wizards team that day was: Matthew Back; Sam Greenaway, Paul Morgan, Scott Leighton, Nicky Bonham (rep Jonathan Williams); Jamie Davies, Daniel Hawkins; Rob Price (rep Mike Harris), Jason Hyatt, Andrew Clatworthy (rep Greg Dix), Dafydd Owen, Steve Rees (capt), Natano Tiatia (rep Richard Morris), Gareth Newman, Andrew Thomas (temp rep Kevin Allen)

The referee for Tuesday's game will be Jason Bessant, aided by Jason Morris and Mike Cox.