Action Replay (Ebbw Vale Programme Notes)

Bridgend 14-49 Aberavon
WRU Premiership Challenge Cup pool match, 22nd October 2022

by Paul Williams

Regarded by many observers as the most complete forty minutes from any Aberavon team in quite some time, the Wizards’ second-half performance had Bridgend, who had taken an early lead and were very much in contention at the interval, reeling from the power and pace of a relentless onslaught from the Wizards from restart to final-whistle.

Bridgend got off to a bright enough start, with a huge pass freeing wing Cameron Ellis on the right wing to stroll in unopposed for an unconverted fourth minute try. Ten minutes later fly-half Luke Price was successful with a penalty goal to make it 8-nil. Aled Thomas was then successful with a three-pointer to open the Aberavon account, but that was soon cancelled out by Price’s second successful kick.

In the space of a couple of minutes before the interval, however, the Wizards produced a broad hint as to what would follow when an attack down the left touchline saw centres Joe Thomas and Joe Gage exchanging passes before the latter handed on to wing Frankie Jones for a corner try. The conversion drifted just wide but, almost immediately, it was 11-15 in the visitors’ favour as Gage and Rhodri Cole combined cleverly to send Joe Thomas clean through in midfield. The plan was clearly for Thomas to return the ball to Gage, racing up on his right-hand side, but the intended pass never reached its target as Gage had been tackled off the ball to prevent a clear run-in to the posts. Referee Ian Davies had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try, following that up with a yellow card for the transgressor, former Aberavon hooker Evan Yardley.

The second half began with a bang as Jay Baker continued his Aberavon comeback with a touchline run to beat the first-up defence before demonstrating his footballing skills with a grubber kick and dribble to score out wide on the right.

Price was again successful with a penalty to reduce the arrears to six points, but the Wizards by now clearly had the bit between their teeth, and with scrum-half Cole once again increasing the tempo as he brought the big ball carriers in the Aberavon pack into play, hooker Ieuan Davies burst away before sending a long kick almost to the home line. Price failed to secure the rolling ball under pressure from the speeding Jay Baker, and the wing picked up and dabbed down in one movement with Aled Thomas this time adding the extras.

Davies was prominent again going into the final quarter, this time popping up way out on the left wing to round off some superb quick passing involving both forwards and backs to dart over in the corner. It was a score that seemed to have sealed victory for Aberavon, but there was more to come. Replacement Gabe Lacey fielded an inch-perfect cross-kick from Aled Thomas and set off upfield before linking with Lloyd Evans. The flanker carried on the move and produced a superb backhanded offload to Cole, who in turn offloaded out of a tackle for Evans to sprint over in the corner.

Aberavon were by now running the ball from everywhere, and a touchline burst from Frankie Jones paved the way for Stef Andrews, operating at full-back, to score at the posts for Thomas to convert, and directly from the restart Jones was again instrumental in spearheading another attack, this time from deep in the Aberavon half, that ended with Andrews bringing down the curtain by sprinting in at the corner for an unconverted try.

From an Aberavon viewpoint it was, once they had weathered the early Bridgend storm, a complete team display, making it difficult to single out individuals, but what must surely have been pleasing for the Wizards’ coaching staff was the manner in which the introduction of players from the replacements’ bench during that all-action second half made little or no difference to the quality of the performance.