Action Replay (Cardiff Programme Notes)

Aberavon 5-24 Pontypridd
Premiership Cup, 3rd December 2022
by Paul Williams

Pontypridd qualified for the semi-final stage of the cup at the expense of an injury-ravaged and out-of-sorts Aberavon who struggled to make any impact during the first-half and as a result were chasing the game, or at least a bonus point that would have seen them edge through due to a superior try-count and points difference, right up until the final moments when a promising Aberavon attack was foiled by an interception try from experienced Pontypridd wing Dale Stuckey.

With the cup competitions traditional early rounds having given way to four three-club groups, each of whom would play one another once, the Wizards had looked in pole position to qualify for the semi-finals following their convincing win at Bridgend in October, but Pontypridd, despite having lost at home to Bridgend, had managed to salvage two bonus points during that match, giving them a lifeline which they grabbed with both hands, emerging to top the group with six points to the Wizards’ five.

For half an hour it looked as though neither side was going to score, although the visitors, no doubt still smarting from the league defeat at the hands of Aberavon a few weeks earlier, looked the more likely of the two to take a lead. They had, however, gone close rather more readily than the Wizards, but had managed to butcher a gilt-edged try chance by dropping the ball over the line, and were denied another by an eagle-eyed official spotting an off-the-ball obstruction.

Eventually, in the 31st minute, fly-half Ben Burnell slotted a penalty goal to give the visitors the lead and repeated the feat five minutes later before adding the conversion to a try from Stuckey on the stroke of half-time.

Trailing 0-13 at the interval, the Wizards did at last begin to put together some meaningful attacking play, and after a period of early second-half pressure quick passing and a clever run by centre Joe Thomas created the chance for wing Chris Banfield to sprint over in the corner for an unconverted try.

Hopes of a turnaround in fortunes, however, were to be dashed. Despite a vast improvement over their first-half performance, a determined Pontypridd defence kept the Wizards at bay while Burnell added his third penalty before putting the result beyond doubt with his fourth just a few minutes from time.

At 5-19, however, there was still a chance as a converted try would have earned the home side that all important bonus point, and with Rhodri Cole increasing the tempo of the game the Wizards threw everything they had were within a whisker of breaking through only for the long reach of Stuckey to intervene and, despite Jay Baker steadily gaining on him in the ensuing foot-race the Pontypridd man had just enough in the tank to make the corner and take his side through to the knock-out stages.

From an Aberavon perspective it was bitterly disappointing yet somehow not unexpected turn of events, with a recent dip in form coinciding with the absence through injury of several key players, forcing them to rely in some cases on players who are themselves only just returning from lengthy injury lay-offs, as well as players brought in on permit from local clubs, and the Wizards camp will be anxious to see the return to full fitness of quite a number of their squad who are currently out of action.