by Howard Evans
Aberavon are through to the semi-final stage of the Premiership Cup after an amazing finish to their home quarter-final against Merthyr.
With Merthyr winning 16-10 time was up, but Aberavon were still hammering away at the line and the match just went on and on.
On several occasions it seemed that a penalty try would not be given, but with somewhere near 86 minutes played, eventually one such score WAS given, though with a combination of the rain, the jumping and dancing of players and supporters and a large pillar that was helping hold the grandstand up, it was difficult to know what caused the decision in the end.
The referee Aled Evans stated that it was “illegal wheeling of the scrum after Aberavon were driving forward”. So, one must applaud the replacement prop forwards Rhys Fawcett and Chris Davies for their magnificent efforts.
We often mention Rowan Jenkins and Geraint James, but Rhys, Chris, and also the powerful Jordan Walters and Nicky Thomas (both watching from the grandstand) are six very strong and good scrummagers.
There is no doubt that hookers Ieuan Davies and Luke Davies are a huge help as are the five men in the second and back rows. And one must also give full credit to Marc Breeze, who is the coach.
It was a game that had looked almost certain to be drifting away from the ‘Wizards’ with Gareth Thompson at fly half playing superbly for Merthyr, but somehow Aberavon gained the win.
Due to the conditions, few players stood out, partly because one has to be in the middle of the scrum to know and understand the push, drive and knowledge of the men in it.
To me, the biggest thing that will remain in my mind was that even when Merthyr drove them back, the home players never gave up hope of pulling off a minor miracle.
Merthyr were lively behind the scrum, but full back Ben Jones had to be helped off and will be a huge loss, while it was good to see Aled Thomas back in action for Aberavon and young Zac Fifield, a teenager from Cardiff, was given his first taste of senior rugby, just as his father Ian used to play.
Chris Banfield did well in the backs despite the ball being hard to handle, while skipper Joe Tomalin-Reeves eased his way back to match fitness and Shay Smallman continues to improve.
Thompson, Banfield and Thompson again, all kicked penalties before Andrew Waite touched down another big Aberavon scrum drive. Banfield converted for 10-6, but Thompson struck again for 10-9 at the interval.
The lively former Bargoed wing Ashley Norton snapped up an early second-half try that Thompson superbly converted and then Merthyr tackled their hearts out.
Both Thomas and Fifield came on and passed with great width and speed, but Merthyr twice leapt high believing the game was over, only for the front row of Rhys, Ieuan and Chris to dig in and deliver the goods.
Cardiff, Newport and Aberavon are now in the semi-finals with Llandovery or Pontypridd yet to come, while it appears likely that the league match at RGC will be off in favour of the cup.
Aberavon 17 – 16 Merthyr
Joe Gage (rep Jonathan Phillips 72 min); Chris Banfield, Chay Smith, Will Price (rep Aled Thomas 58 min), Stef Andrews; Joe Thomas, Rhodri Cole (rep Zac Fifield 76 min); Rowan Jenkins (rep Rhys Fawcett 55 min), Luke Davies (rep Ieuan Davies 70 min), Geraint James (rep Chris Davies 70 min), Shay Smallman (rep Rhodri Hughes 68 min), Sam Williams, Ashton Evans, Andrew Waite, Joe Tomalin-Reeves (capt) (rep Lloyd Evans 50 min).
Zac Fifield appeared from Glamorgan Wanderers RFC and made his debut for the club.
T – Andrew Waite, Penalty Try
C – Chris Banfield
PG – Chris Banfield
T – Ashley Norton
C – Gareth Thompson
PG – Gareth Thompson (3)
Man Of The Match:
1 – Rhodri Cole
2 – Geraint James
3 – Sam Williams
11 min: Merthyr – PG – Gareth Thompson (0 – 3)
14 min: Aberavon – PG – Chris Banfield (3 – 3)
17 min: Merthyr – PG – Gareth Thompson (3 – 6)
28 min: Aberavon – T – Andrew Waite & C – Chris Banfield (10 – 6)
38 min: Merthyr – PG – Gareth Thompson (10 – 9)
40 min: Half Time
41 min: Merthyr – T – Ashley Norton & C – Gareth Thompson (10 – 16)
74 min: Merthyr – Yellow Card – Sam Jones
80+6 min: Aberavon – T – Penalty Try (17 – 16)
80+6 min: Full Time