Action Replay (Bridgend Programme Notes)

Swansea 20-30 Aberavon
Premiership Cup, 6th November 2021

by Paul Williams

Aberavon had to work hard in the wind and rain at St Helen’s as Swansea, with a performance that belied their current lowly position in the ‘West’ group table, were within touching distance of a victory until the closing minutes when the Wizards’ scrum half Rhodri Cole and wing Matthew Jenkins combined twice with devastating effect to secure a bonus point win.

A bright start for the visitors saw ten minutes of almost relentless pressure before Andrew Waite picked up from an attacking scrum and Cole fed Stef Andrews, who forced his way over for an unconverted corner try. Five minutes later the lead was doubled when flanker Lloyd Evans touched down after the pack had driven over from a lineout. The swirling wind, however, was playing havoc with any attempts on goal from out wide, and for the second time of asking Aled Thomas’ conversion attempt was blown off course.

The match had entered its second quarter before Swansea opened their account through a straightforward penalty from James Davies, but just a minute later flanker Leon McNally was despatched to the sin-bin for failing to heed a warning from the referee for repeated infringements, adjudged to have deliberately slowed down possession at a ruck.

Aberavon then struck with a superb try. A deft pass from hooker Ieuan Davies saw Jenkins, running from deep on a great line, take the ball at full speed and race through almost to the home line. Possession was swiftly recycled and passed across the width of the field where Lloyd Evans replicated Davies’ deft handline to release Andrews, who again went over in the left-hand corner.

At 3-15 the Wizards were looking likely victors, but either side of half-time Swansea redoubled their efforts, and a fine try from their star player, scrum-half Ben Ley, converted by Davies, took it to 10-15 at the interval.

Ten minutes into the second half the home side were in the lead. With the first-half wind having given way to steady rainfall, fly-half Davies was able to land the conversion of number eight Charlie Davies’ close-range touchdown, taking it to 17-15.

A penalty from Aled Thomas made it 17-18 going into the final quarter, but Davies responded in kind to put Swansea back ahead, with Chay Smith getting a yellow card for a late tackle.

With both sides gearing up for a tense finale, it was initially the Aberavon defence, with skipper Will Price typically to the fore, that swung the game the visitors’ way, constantly driving back the Swansea attack. Home skipper Tom Sloane was then sin-binned following yet another lecture from the referee, and two minutes later the Aberavon pack drove powerfully from a lineout before Cole once again intervened to good effect, breaking down the blind side and feeding Jenkins, who went thundering over in the corner to make it 20-23.

With time rapidly running out the home side desperately tried to break down an increasingly water-tight Aberavon defence, and paid a high price when McNally went headlong off his feet at a ruck, earning himself a second yellow, and therefore a red card. Thomas sent the resulting penalty deep into Swansea territory, the Aberavon pack again drove relentlessly forward from the lineout, and Cole, apparently now in telepathic contact with Jenkins, put a perfectly-judged kick into the in-goal area, with the big winger comfortably winning the chase to touch down in the corner.

With time all but up it was a body-blow for a hard-working Swansea team that had battled hard to the very end, but with Thomas’ conversion sailing high over the bar to make it 20-30, Aberavon were able to reflect on a hard-earned victory at a venue that has so often down the years, to quote a celebrated local literary giant, been a “graveyard of ambition” for the Wizards.