Action Replay (Merthyr Programme Notes)

Pontypridd 18-31 Aberavon
Indigo Premiership, 8th October 2022
by Paul Williams

Aberavon’s dream start to the league season continued at Sardis Road with a fifth successive bonus-point victory, but had to be at their best to overcome a lively Pontypridd side in an absorbing and entertaining contest.

In bright, Autumnal sunshine, the opening exchanges set the pattern for a first half during which play swung from end to end with the lead following suit by frequently changing hands. Experienced fly-half Joseph Scrivens opened the scoring for the home side with a straightforward penalty goal after just three minutes, but almost directly from the restart the Wizards regained possession and with their midfield trio of Rhys Jones, skipper (on this occasion) Joe Gage and new recruit Callum Carson in great form, they picked up the pace with a sweeping attack that was rounded off when, after a burst from Carson, Rhodri Cole provided quick ball to Joe Tomalin-Reeves who beat off four would-be tacklers and crashed over for the game’s first try.

Jones converted to put his side ahead by 3-7, but with Rowan Jenkins having been consigned to the sin-bin having been adjudged to have deliberately knocked the ball forward, Pontypridd took full advantage with number eight Joe Miles crossing at the posts for Scrivens to convert.

Going into the second quarter, the Wizards were once again in the ascendancy, and 10-7 became 10-12 after Jay Baker, making a long-awaited return to the Aberavon team, showed all his pace and strength to beat three defenders in hardly any space along the right-hand touchline before diving in at the corner for an unconverted try. 10-12.

Back, however, came Scrivens with a penalty to reclaim the initiative and then, with half-time looming, a driving maul saw the home lead increase to 18-12 as replacement hooker Nathan Huish was driven over for an unconverted score. The added impetus one would have expected this to have given the Pontypridd players, however, failed to materialise. The restart took play back into home territory, and as the visitors once again increased the intensity of their attack a succession of penalties against the home defence saw referee Aled Evans issue them with a general warning.

Wizards, meanwhile, were in no mood to relax the pressure, and a clearly planned tap-penalty move followed, with the irrepressible Andrew Waite charging at the home defence with locks Rhodri Hughes and Sam Pailor in close attendance. The ensuing ruck saw the ball emerge swiftly and scrum-half Cole switch the direction of attack to where the very model of consistency that is Ashton Evans was unstoppable from a metre out. Jones’ conversion put his side ahead by a single point as the half-time whistle sounded.

It was still anyone’s game as the second half began with neither side making much headway against some solid defensive work, but it was the visitors who appeared to have that bit more in the tank as once again they upped the pace and intensity of their play, with Cole in like a shot in support of his forwards to pick up and dummy his way over at the posts for Jones to convert.

As the third quarter drew to its conclusion it looked as though the Wizards’ eight-point lead would see them to victory with the home side struggling to make much headway, but the moment of the match was yet to come. After a lengthy but inconclusive kicking duel the Wizards opted to run the ball back from their own half, and as Cole picked up from a ruck he found Sam Pailor, who had been promoted from the replacements bench to a starting role in a late change to the Aberavon line-up, charging up outside him. Clearly the sight of a lock forward running like a thoroughbred was too good to be ignored, and Cole sent a perfect pass to send Pailor thundering through the Pontypridd midfield, eventually leaving one hapless defender in his wake on the ground and another two desperately clinging on to him as he took them over the line beneath the crossbar.

Jones’ conversion took the scoreline to a convincing 18-33, and that concluded the scoring as once again defences took over while the clock ticked away until the final whistle gave the Wizards a chance to reflect on a job well done.