Aberavon 10-15 Merthyr
WRU National Cup, Friday, 4th January 2019
(by Paul Williams)
Aberavon made an early exit from the Cup at the hands of Merthyr in a hard-fought encounter at the Talbot Athletic Ground. With resources somewhat stretched at the moment, progress in the knockout competition was unlikely to have been of uppermost concern to the Wizards, with the league campaign being crucial to all and sundry ahead of the drastic reduction in numbers that lies ahead, but it was nonetheless disappointing for the home supporters to see their team just fail to overcome the hot favourites on a cold January evening.
The opening half saw defences on top, with almost half an hour passing before former Wizard Matthew Jarvis opened the scoring with a penalty. Both teams continued plugging away without success as the scoreboard remained resolutely at 0-3 until home fly-half Liam Popham equalised just before the interval, but the Wizards were shortly afterwards reduced temporarily to fourteen men when Iwan Temblett was yellow carded for what was adjudged to be a deliberate knock-on, with the home contingent’s dismay at this given further impetus by the fact that the visitors had received numerous verbal warnings in the wake of a string of high tackles but were somehow allowed to keep a full contingent on the field.
Temblett’s absence was felt early in the second-half as an initially innocuous-looking kick ahead led to try from Merthyr wing Lewis Williams, with the absence of a covering scrum-half being largely instrumental in the danger not having been cleared. With Jarvis adding the conversion it took the score to 3-10.
With momentum now very much in the visitors’ favour, the Wizards nonetheless continued to defend bravely, but with just ten minutes left on the clock Jarvis rounded off a move initiated by another former Wizard, wing Jay Baker, to cross for an unconverted corner try.
During the final minutes the Wizards threw everything at the visitors, for whom earlier transgressions finally took their toll as first influential number eight Phil Rees, and then Jarvis, were sin-binned for ball-killing and persistent offside close to their own line respectively. It was all a case to too little too late, however.
The Wizards did manage to reduce the arrears when replacement scrum-half Jacob Flynn’s blistering acceleration from an attacking scrum took him clean through for a fine try which Popham converted, and a frantic few minutes followed as the Wizards tried to get back on terms, but the visitors’ defence was just about able to hang on and eventually clear the danger, finally running down the clock and putting the ball out of play.
So, attention at the Talbot Athletic Ground will now be concentrated on ensuring that the good work during the first half of the season, in keeping the Wizards firmly in the top half of the table, continues. With four clubs being automatically relegated and a fifth being subjected to a winner-takes-all play-off situation as the Principality Premiership gets reduced back to a dozen teams, staying clear of the life-or-death battle against relegation that is already underway is a priority for all and sundry. With five points potentially up for grabs at every fixture, things can change quickly.