by Paul Williams
A losing bonus point proved just enough for Aberavon to hang on to the top spot in the West conference of the Indigo Group Premiership Cup, albeit with their lead over second-placed Llandovery reduced to a single point.
Matches between these two teams have evolved into invariably tense affairs just as the respective clubs have evolved, during well over two decades, into quality outfits that can compete with the best in Welsh club rugby.
A hard-fought affair from the very start, it took almost a quarter of the match for any change to the scoreboard, coming after a raid into the visitors ’22’ saw the Wizards go close a couple of times before the hard-working Ashton Evans crashed over the line. Teenager Dan Edwards, a hero of the previous week’s victory at Carmarthen, slotted the conversion to make it 7-nil.
Almost inevitably the Drovers struck back on the half-hour, with experienced wing Aaron Warren crossing in the corner for an unconverted try.
Things began to unravel for the Wizards just before the interval when Frankie Jones was adjudged to have deliberately knocked the ball on, receiving a yellow card. By any measure it looked a harsh decision, inconsistent at best; Jones was making a tackle, wrapping his arms around his opponent in the prescribed manner when the attempted pass ricocheted off his arm, and several other similar incidents had not received the same sanction.
One must, however, play with the hand one is dealt, and the Wizards suddenly found themselves under intense pressure, with Llandovery’s numerical advantage resulting in the depleted home defence being stretched one way and then the other before hooker Dafydd Hughes scored close to the posts for former Aberavon skipper James Garland, now a player-coach at Llandovery, putting over the conversion to make the score 7-12 at the break. Meanwhile, the Wizards, having already lost hooker Luke Davies to injury, suffered an addition to a growing injury list when Jonny Phillips fell awkwardly after fielding a difficult high ball and did not re-emerge for the second half.
Edwards reduced the deficit to 10-12 after 45 minutes, sending over a long-range penalty from out wide, but with the match becoming an intensely tight affair he was replaced by the experienced Aled Thomas, who put over another penalty to regain the lead.
Hindsight, they say, is a wonderful thing, and Aberavon may regret withdrawing Edwards from the fray, as Thomas limped off the field with an ankle injury a few minutes later, leaving them with a somewhat unfamiliar looking back division with several players out of position. The situation was compounded by long-serving lock Sam Williams, the Wizards’ main lineout target, succumbing to an ankle strain sustained much earlier.
Just before the hour mark the visitors again took the lead, with former Wales Sevens star Lee Rees sprinting clear to the posts for Garland to convert, and with time rapidly running out the visitors looked to have sealed their victory when wing Callum Williams went over for an unconverted corner try.
A frenetic finish saw the home team redouble their efforts, and new signing Sam Pailor rounded off a period of intense pressure to crash over and reduce the deficit to six points. Further pressure by the Wizards saw them come frustratingly close to scoring a potentially match-winning try, but the disruptions to the line-up and a determined Llandovery defence combined to prevent any further score.
Aberavon 18 – 24 Llandovery
Jonathan Phillips (rep Joe Gage half-time); Chris Banfield, Chay Smith, Joe Thomas, Frankie Jones; Dan Edwards (rep Aled Thomas 50 min, rep Iwan Temblett 61 min), Rhodri Cole (capt); Rowan Jenkins (rep Rhys Fawcett 60 min), Luke Davies (rep Cameron Lewis 28 min), Geraint James (rep Nicky Thomas 60 min), Shay Smallman, Sam Williams (rep Sam Pailor 61 min), Ashton Evans (temp rep Geraint James 66-75 min), Andrew Waite, Lloyd Evans.
Replacements not used:
Dan Edwards appeared from the Ospreys; Billy Moxey and Sam Pailor appeared from Trebanos RFC.
T – Ashton Evans, Sam Pailor
C – Dan Edwards
PG – Dan Edwards, Aled Thomas
T – Aaron Warren, Dafydd Hughes, Lee Rees, Callum Williams
C – James Garland (2)
Man Of The Match:
1 – Andrew Waite
2 – Lloyd Evans
3 – Rhodri Cole
19 min: Aberavon – T – Ashton Evans & C – Dan Edwards (7 – 0)
32 min: Llandovery – T – Aaron Warren (7 – 5)
39 min: Aberavon – Yellow Card – Frankie Jones
40+3 min: Llandovery – T – Dafydd Hughes & James Garland (7 – 12)
40+8 min: Half Time
45 min: Aberavon – PG – Dan Edwards (10 – 12)
45 min: Aberavon – End Yellow Card – Frankie Jones
52 min: Aberavon – PG – Aled Thomas (13 – 12)
59 min: Llandovery – T – Lee Rees & James Garland (13 – 19)
63 min: Aberavon – Yellow Card – Nicky Thomas
74 min: Llandovery – T – Callum Williams (13 – 24)
75 min: Aberavon – End Yellow Card – Nicky Thomas
80 min: Aberavon – T – Sam Pailor (18 – 24)
80+9 min: Full Time