Aberavon 33-14 Ebbw Vale
Indigo Group Premiership, 2nd April 2022
by Paul Williams
“A game of two halves” is probably the most-used cliché in the cliché-ridden world of sport, but the description fitted this match perfectly. A dry, sunny Saturday afternoon on a perfect playing surface and a willingness from both sides to open up from all parts of the field brought plenty of thrills, as well as a few spills, to the opening half, but whether it was the late-afternoon plummeting temperature, a touch of fatigue after all the earlier running, or perhaps a combination of those and other factors, but the jamboree for some reason gave way to a somewhat error-strewn final half-hour that became dominated by the referee’s whistle.
It was evident from the word go that while Aberavon’s much-changed line-up were all raring to go in the quest for a place in the forthcoming Premiership Cup Final, the visitors hadn’t just arrived to make up the numbers, and things quickly settled into the Wizards’ pacy backs seeking to find a way through or around a dogged Ebbw defence, while at the same time having to contain the visitors’ more direct but no less effective approach. Within this environment, two players – wing Cori Lewis-Jenkins and flanker Ben Williams, made their respective league debuts in Aberavon colours while the popular Chris Banfield captained the team for the first time. All three emerged with considerable credit.
It was the Wizards who made the early running, however, opening the scoring when the in-form Joe Gage burst up the middle and offloaded to Andrew Waite. The speedy number eight went charging away and when play was halted in the shadow of the visitors’ posts, quick ball was moved left and flanker Ashton Evans crashed over for an unconverted try.
That was followed by a brace of tries from Chay Smith, the first after a clever reverse pass from Iwan Temblett had the Ebbw defence wondering where the ball was as Smith sprinted in at the posts, and then Aled Thomas joisted a delicate chip into the in-goal area for the alert centre to acrobatically ground the ball inches before it rolled dead.
With Thomas having added both conversions, the Wizards were suddenly 19-nil up, and looking good value for their lead. The visitors, however, came storming back, laying siege to the Aberavon goal-line until lock Ethan Doyle was able to crash over at the posts for fly-half Evan Lloyd to add the conversion.
It was close to half time when the next score came. When it did, it was courtesy of the Aberavon scrum, which has caused more than a few problems for opposing packs this season. After a speculative kick ahead had earned them an attacking scrum-five, on came the pressure and as the Ebbw front row caved in referee Ben Whitehouse had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try, earning the Wizards a bonus point.
A fine try from Gage late in the third quarter was goaled by Thomas to make the score 33-7, but to their credit the visitors kept on battling away as play became increasingly attritional, with Mr Whitehouse’s whistle coming increasingly to the fore. Eventually number eight Alex Howes forced his way over from close range following a period of sustained pressure on the home line, with Lloyd again converting. It was to be the final score of the day as the match reached its conclusion with both teams battling away without success to add to their tally.