Action Replay (Merthyr Programme Notes)

Pontypridd 16-25 Aberavon
Indigo Premiership, January 29th 2022

by Paul Williams

There was a time, not so very long ago, when victories at Sardis Road were rarer than hens’ teeth, not just for Aberavon but for anyone visiting the home of Pontypridd RFC. Back-to-back wins therefore, practically unheard off, certainly amongst Aberavon followers, who would have recalled a 15-16 victory there in November 2019 as being their first such win since September 2011.

On this occasion, however, despite the first half being a very tit-for-tat affair in terms of scoring, Aberavon looked the more likely winners throughout, with their irresistible scrummaging power paving the way to victory, with the home side having to rely on opportunism rather than their customary all-action style.

That said, over a quarter of the match was over before either team troubled the scorers. A tantalising kick ahead saw the home side concede a five-metre scrum, and after a couple of resets after the home pack had found themselves shunted backwards, referee Ben Whitehouse ran out of patience and awarded the Wizards a penalty try after the Pontypridd scrum had caved in once again.

The seven-point lead was short lived, however, as Dale Stuckey, widely recognised as one of the best Premiership wingers, leapt high to claim the restart and send flanker Cally James clear, with Jake Lloyd’s conversion levelling the scores. Aberavon full-back Jonathan Phillips then went racing clear in midfield, but was called back with the line at his mercy for a forward pass, but after Chris Banfield and Lloyd had trading penalties, a period of sustained Aberavon pressure ended with scrum-half Rhodri Cole, on top form, made a half-break before handing on to Banfield, who did well to claim the try despite the best efforts of the home defence. The conversion drifted wide, but the Wizards were good value for the half-time score of 10-15, having looked the more inventive side.

Aberavon began the second half with another example of their scrummaging power, pushing the home pack off their own ball with number eight Andrew Waite picking up and racing over from short range for Banfield to convert. Shortly afterwards Pontypridd, having lost hooker Nathan Huish early in the first half, saw replacement hooker Ieuan Morris withdraw, meaning that scrums thereafter would be uncontested, which somewhat nullified a major area of Aberavon superiority. Nonetheless the Wizards stuck at their task, and although two penalties from Lloyd reduced the arrears to 16-22, as the match moved into its final stages the visitors who remained on top, and a final penalty from Banfield made it 16-25 as time ran out.

Further good news for Aberavon came when talisman skipper Joe Tomalin-Reeves emerged from the bench for the closing stages, making his first appearance since early March 2020, and came through unscathed.