Action Replay (Ebbw Vale Programme Notes)

Llandovery 23-24 Aberavon
Premiership Cup Semi-Final, 26th March 2022 at The Wern, Merthyr

(by Paul Williams)

A remarkable fact about this match is that Aberavon’s victory ultimately came from the only touch of the ball by a player who came on as a late replacement. It was a match that saw first one team then another gain ascendancy, before play swung one way then the other during a frenetic final few minutes.

After a scoreless opening quarter, the Wizards quite suddenly seized the initiative from a defensive scrum in the shadow of their own goalposts, opting to run the ball out of defence. A long pass from Aled Thomas found Jonathan Phillips on the far left, and the full-back’s acceleration took him clear of the first-up defence. A short pass out to Stef Andrews saw the winger kick ahead into the Llandovery 22, and while the Drovers’ defence desperately chased back to cover the danger, Aberavon centre Joe Thomas had too much pace, superbly judging the bounce of the ball and regathering to crash over in the left-hand corner for namesake Aled to add the conversion with a well-judged kick.

Almost immediately the Wizards were back on the attack, but a second try was prevented, albeit illegally, by Llandovery fly-half Kristian Jones whose deliberate knock on earned a ten-minute spell in the sinbin. In truth there was a strong case for a penalty try as Jones’ intervention prevented the ball from reaching Phillips with a clear run to the line. The match officials, however, thought otherwise and the result was Aled Thomas kicking for touch, the Aberavon forwards driving on and Llandovery being penalised as the maul was brought to ground. The Wizards opted for the scrum and, having already gained the upper hand in that particular phase of play, drove the set-piece relentlessly on until the Drovers infringed under pressure and the penalty try was at last awarded.

With the Drovers still reeling from that quick one-two, the Wizards then went on to add to their tally when centre Will Price went off on a diagonal run that took him clean through to posts without a hand being laid on him, with Aled Thomas adding the extras to give his side a 21-point lead.

Llandovery were far from done, however. Adopting a more attritional approach that seemed to rattle the Wizards, they clawed their way back into contention as the interval approached with tries from scrum-half Lee Rees and centre Tomi Lewis, with Lewis also converting Rees’ effort.

Late in the third quarter Jones got the scoreboard ticking again with a penalty goal to reduce the arrears to six points, and two minutes later Rees was again in for an unconverted try. Jones then took his team ahead by two points with another penalty before further drama saw Aberavon awarded a penalty some 45 metres out and fifteen metres from the left-hand touchline. With Aled Thomas sizing up a shot at goal, it transpired that the Wizards had already alerted the officials that they wished to send on Dan Edwards to replace Thomas, and so it was the Cwmafan teenager who found himself facing the prospect of attempting the long-range attempt on goal. Apparently unfazed, however, the youngster judged the wind to perfection and the ball sailed between the uprights to put the Wizards back ahead, albeit by a single point.

It was to be Edwards’ one and only touch of the ball, but what a crucial touch it was. As the Drovers redoubled their efforts to get the result, they managed to battle their way back downfield and into Aberavon territory, but a penalty award close to the right-hand touchline was too much for Jones, who sent his attempt on goal across the face of the posts and into the welcoming arms of Chris Banfield, who gleefully ran the ball out of play to bring this most tense of matches to a close.