Swansea 17-39 Aberavon
Indigo Premiership, 8th September 2022
by Paul Williams
Having set out their stall just five days earlier with a comprehensive victory over Bridgend, Aberavon met the greater challenge of a visit to St Helens with a solid six-try victory over the All-Whites.
Sadly, but quite obviously appropriately, the online live coverage of this match was cancelled following the news from Balmoral, and indeed the match itself remained in doubt until shortly before kick-off pending a decision from the WRU.
With Rhys Jones having got things moving with one of his typically towering kicks, the Wizards spent the opening minutes battering away against a resolute Swansea defence until, five minutes in, Jones put over a long-range penalty to get the scoreboard moving.
The first half then unfolded as an end-to-end spectacle, with the lead changing hands as first one side then the other added to the score. The home side hit back with a fine try from scrum-half Connor Tantum, but the Swansea lead was short lived as opposite number Iwan Temblett darted away before sending a short kick into the path of Joe Gage. The popular Gage, clearly revelling in his now-regular role at inside-centre, picked up on the run and raced in beneath the posts for Jones to convert.
The Wizards’ 7-10 lead soon became 7-15 when Tantum was adjudged by referee Dewi Phillips to have failed to “use it” within the allotted five seconds, presenting the visitors with a five-metre scrum and home skipper Tom Sloan with a reason to repeatedly complain to Mr Phillips, to no avail, in the minutes that followed Dan Baker touching down at the back of the advancing scrum.
Back, however, came Swansea, with fly-half James Davies putting over a penalty and then adding the conversion to put Swansea ahead following a close-range try from the experienced Hanno Dirksen as half-time approached. The Wizards, however, were far from done, and re-took the lead seconds before the interval with a driving-maul yielding a try that was initially credited to Ashton Evans but subsequently confirmed to have been scored by Rhys Fawcett, with Jones again converting.
The 17-22 Aberavon lead at that stage looked anything but secure following an absorbing forty minutes between two well-matched teams, but the second half unfolded in a very different fashion. As the Wizards, visibly, increased the intensity the home defence began to creak, and an absolute classic of a try got the ball rolling as Jones and Gage produced a slick midfield loop move for the former to send up an inch-perfect cross-kick that was fielded by left-wing Stef Andrews. He, in turn, rode the tackle and offloaded to Jonathan Phillips. The full-back took the ball at top speed and had far too much pace for the defence to get anywhere close to preventing a corner try that was then brilliantly converted by Jones to stretch the Wizards’ lead to a healthier-looking twelve points.
The latter stages should be remembered for tries by Cameron Lewis, darting over from the back of a driving maul, and Stef Andrews, picking off a loose Swansea pass to race clear, but also on view as the match moved into its final moments was evidence of the home-side’s frustration at the way they were completely shut out of the second half. Displays of petulance from one or two of their younger element did them no credit, while a ridiculous off-the-ball shoulder charge on Joe Gage by Cameron Jones, as the Aberavon man broke away from a maul at which he took an elbow to the face that may, just, be charitably described as accidental, earned the prop a stern lecture and a yellow card following the intervention of TMO Jonathan Mason.
Incidentally, the recording of S4C’s coverage of this match can now be viewed on their website at https://www.s4c.cymru/clic/programme/861287666