by Paul Williams
With both teams having some time ago qualified for home quarter-finals in the Premiership Cup there was very little at stake in this final pool match, but Aberavon can feel more than a little hard-done-by with regard to a crucial penalty that set up the position from which Llandovery were able to steal the result in the dying moments.
The Wizards fielded a blend of youth and experience for what was always going to be a tough encounter. Academy lock Tristan Davies partnered Sam Williams at lock and sent well before giving way to Shay Smallman early in the second half, while another teenager, Dan Edwards, came off the bench during the second half to make an impact. With Aled Thomas still nursing a leg injury Joe Thomas started at fly-half.
The Wizards made much of the early running, but twelve minutes of hard graft had elapsed before they were able to fully breach the home defence. When it came, however, it was an absolute beauty of a try, launched from near halfway with the ball being spun out to Stef Andrews on the left wing. Having eluded the first-up defence, he then kept the ball in play with a magical back-handed offload to flanker Lloyd Evans, who showed his own brand of magic by sending up a perfectly judged kick and then catching it on the full, passing inside to Rhodri Cole who made the line. Chris Banfield converted with a fine kick from out wide.
Five minutes later more pressure on the home line saw the Wizards double their tally when Cole sent out a long pass to Thomas, whose acceleration took him clean through the home defence to touch down near the posts for Banfield to again add the extras.
As half time approached, Lloyd Evans left the field with what appeared to be a shoulder injury, and with no other open-side specialist available Lee Purnell, one of the great unsung Aberavon heroes of recent times was forced, not for the first time, to adapt to the role. Meanwhile Llandovery reduced the arrears when much-travelled wing Ashley Evans was put clear for a try, converted by fly-half Kristian Jones, to make it 7-14 at the interval.
Just after the interval the scores were level, wing Aaron Warren crashing over in the corner with Jones again converting. Play continued to swing from end to end, but in the often-frantic close-quarter stuff it seemed that the home side were increasingly getting the upper hand and, crucially, the benefit of any fifty-fifty decisions.
Jones landed a brace of penalties to take the score to 20-14 with ten minutes left to play, but the Wizards were not done. Forward pressure saw them advance towards the home line before the ball came back to Dan Edwards. The youngster put in an inch-perfect cross-kick, and Banfield challenged for the ball as it came down but it was knocked back by a defender and seemed to be heading harmlessly for the dead-ball line when Jonny Phillips, having only just replaced Frankie Jones, came from nowhere at top speed to touch it down with inches to spare. Edwards stepped up and, with no sign of nerves, sent over the conversion from the right-hand touchline to put his side ahead by a single point.
That should have been that, but there was one final twist. With Cole waiting to feed a scrum on halfway, the front rows went to ground and Geraint James was adjudged to have been the cause. Shouts of protest came from the Aberavon dugout, a viewpoint from whence one could clearly observe at close quarters James’ opponent tucking his elbow under and pulling James down, while the referee, standing on the opposite side of the scrum, would have had no sight of what happened. The assistant referee, despite being some twenty or so metres downfield, was called upon to confirm or otherwise, and found in favour of the home side. The Wizards were denied the opportunity to claim possession and run down the clock, and instead the penalty was kicked deep into Aberavon territory, from whence intense pressure ended with centre Rhodri Jones forcing his way over for Kristian Jones to again convert.
It brought an otherwise entertaining and absorbing contest to a close, and while there was no real prize at stake, the Wizards will feel somewhat disappointed at the defeat and the manner in which it came.
Llandovery 27 – 21 Aberavon
Chris Banfield; Stef Andrews, Chay Smith (rep Dan Edwards 63 min), Will Price (capt) (rep Rheon James 59 min), Frankie Jones (rep Jonathan Phillips 70 min); Joe Thomas, Rhodri Cole; Rowan Jenkins (rep Jordan Walters 60 min), Cameron Lewis (rep Ieuan Davies 46 min), Chris Davies (rep Geraint James 46 min), Tristan Davies (rep Shay Smallman 43 min), Sam Williams, Ashton Evans, Andrew Waite, Lloyd Evans (rep Lee Purnell 36 min)
Tristan Davies & Dan Edwards appeared from the Ospreys.
T – Rhodri Cole, Joe Thomas, Jonathan Phillips
C – Chris Banfield (3)
T – Ashley Evans, Aaron Warren, Rhodri Jones
C – Kristian Jones (3)
PG – Kristian Jones (2)
Man Of The Match:
1 – Andrew Waite
2 – Chris Banfield
3 – Rhodri Cole
12 min: Aberavon – T – Rhodri Cole & C – Chris Banfield (0 – 7)
18 min: Aberavon – T – Joe Thomas & C – Chris Banfield (0 – 14)
40 min: Llandovery – T – Ashley Evans & C – Kristian Jones (7 – 14)
40+1 min: Half Time
42 min: Llandovery – T – Aaron Warren & C – Kristian Jones (14 – 14)
46 min: Llandovery – PG – Kristian Jones (17 – 14)
70 min: Llandovery – PG – Kristian Jones (20 – 14)
74 min: Aberavon – T – Jonathan Phillips & C – Chris Banfield (20 – 21)
80+3 min: Llandovery – T – Rhodri Jones & C – Kristian Jones (27 – 21)
80+6 min: Full Time