Aberavon 43-17 Llanelli
Premiership Cup, 18th September 2021
by Paul Williams
Aberavon’s first fully competitive match since March 7th 2020 yielded a six-try victory, albeit after an uncertain start. A strong start from the kick-off saw the Wizards making good progress into the visitors’ half but suddenly a wayward pass gifted Llanelli with seven points as centre Joe Roberts seized the opportunity presented by the loose, bouncing ball to race some 70 metres to the posts, presenting full-back Josh Phillips with the simplest of conversions.
It was an unexpected turn of events, particularly when the power of the home pack was already causing havoc at the set scrums, yet the end of the opening quarter was approaching when the Wizards got back on terms, with an attacking scrum-five marching the Llanelli pack backwards for number eight Andy Waite to claim the touchdown, and fly-half Aled Thomas to add the conversion.
Llanelli, however, had not come to roll over, and a period of sustained attack earned home flanker Lloyd Evans a yellow card for an illegal tackle. The visitors took full advantage of the defence being a man short, and scrum-half Archie Hughes ran well to score close to the posts for Phillips to again convert.
Thomas and Phillips then traded penalties before, as half-time approached, the Aberavon scrum did its usual thing, with the front row of Rowan Jenkins, Ieuan Davies and Geraint James causing no small degree of chaos in the opposing ranks, and after two further phases lock Shay Smallman scooped up the ball from a ruck and ploughed over for his first try since joining Aberavon, with Thomas’ conversion levelling things to 17-17 at the interval.
The second half was ten minutes old when the Wizards finally went ahead, and it was again a set scrum that did the damage, with the visitors’ front row standing up en-bloc to try and halt the relentless drive, inevitably yielding a penalty try.
The usual second-half changes in personnel made no noticeable difference to the pattern of play. Front rowers Jenkins, Davies and James made way for Rhys Fawcett, Luke Davies and Nicky Thomas and the scrummaging mayhem continued unabated, while behind the scrum Joe Thomas, a blood replacement for acting skipper Will Price, went tearing through midfield before brilliantly offloading out of a tackle to send co-centre and prolific try-scorer Chay Smith racing in beneath the crossbar. Thomas’ conversion made it 31-17 and at last the Wizards looked likely victors.
In the final minutes the result was put well and truly beyond doubt when Iwan Temblett, having replaced the excellent Rhodri Cole at scrum-half, went racing away after good running from replacements Jon Phillips and Ashton Evans, bamboozling the defence with several full-tilt changes of direction to score out on the left. Thomas again converted, but was inches out after, in the final minute, the apparently indestructible Lee Purnell capped an 80-minute display of non-stop hard graft, tackling, clearing-out and covering every blade of grass by turning up in exactly the right place to go over in the right-hand corner following a sustained attack that had swept back and forth across the field.
Llanelli, for their part, are a young side that will only improve if they are allowed to play together on a regular basis. On this occasion, however, Aberavon’s customary blend of youth and experience ultimately held too many aces. While the home supporters’ clubhouse vote for the ‘Merlin Man of the Match’ award went to Andy Waite, there were numerous others who deserved an ‘honourable mention’ in that category.