Action Replay (Newport Programme Notes)

Aberavon 28-13 Swansea
WRU Premiership, 9th December 2021

by Paul Williams

The Wizards got off to a good start to the season’s somewhat abbreviated league programme with a bonus point victory that will be remembered for one of the most remarkable tries seen at the Talbot Athletic Ground in quite some time.

With the fixture brought forward from Saturday afternoon to a wet and windy Thursday evening, in order to accommodate S4C’s desire to stream the event live on the internet, hopes of a spectacular display were not high, and the early exchanges were somewhat error strewn with both teams apparently striving to reach top gear without quite getting there. Thus we were fifteen minutes into the match before Swansea fly-half James Davies put over a simple penalty to open the scoring.

That seemed to spur the home side on to better things, and the Wizards’ superior forward power, particularly in the set scrums, began to take its toll. As pressure on the All-Whites’ defence began to mount, so the visitors’ discipline seemed to melt away, and lock Matthew Dodd found himself in hot water after blocking a tap-penalty attempt by Rhodri Cole, earning himself a ten-minute spell in the sidelines watching the home pack turn up the heat.

A string of scrummaging offences saw the Wizards lay siege to the visitors’ line, and eventually, after countless lectures and warnings, referee Dewi Phillips’ patience evaporated and a penalty try gave the home side a lead they were never to lose.

Dodd’s return to action coincided with tight-head prop Kaid o’Neill replacing him in the sin-bin. The young South African, signed on a three-year contract by the Ospreys, found himself up against a formidable opponent in Rhys Fawcett, and the Aberavon man, one of this season’s new recruits at the Talbot Athletic Ground, game him a thorough lesson in the dark arts of the front row.

There was, however, no further scoring from the Wizards in the first half, with just Davies’ second penalty narrowing the gap to a single point just before the interval.

With the strong wind now at their backs, the Wizards began the second half in positive fashion, and another powerful scrum drove the visitors off their own ball, with the ever-impressive Ashton Evans, operating at number eight, picking up and cleverly breaking clear before offloading to Rhodri Cole, who eluded two defenders to dart in for a corner try. Chris Banfield converted with a superb kick.

With the bit now firmly between their teeth, the Wizards kept battering away at the Swansea defence, varying play between the forwards driving powerfully and the backs going wide. Eventually something had to give, and it was hooker Ieuan Davies, a constant thorn in Swansea’s collective side, who came charging around the tail of a lineout to sprint over for his team’s third try, emerging from the melée wearing a broad grin.

Banfield again converted to make the score 21-6, but the visitors dug deep and found themselves able to reduce the arrears following a rare spell of concerted pressure when wing Josh Carrington crossed for a corner try that was converted by Davies.

The finale was yet to come, however, and time was nearly up when replacement full-back Joe Gage, making his 100th appearance in an Aberavon jersey, fielded a kick deep inside his own half, made ground up to halfway and then offloaded out of the tackle to replacement scrum-half Rhodri Lewis. The 17-year-old prospect went from a standing start to top speed in a couple of paces, slicing through the first-up defence before producing a bewildering series of side-steps that left the last two defenders clutching at thin air as he shot past them en-route to the try line. It was a moment that Aberavon supporters will remember for a long, long time, and no doubt one that, no matter where his rugby future may take him, Rhodri will surely never forget.

Having twice succeeded from way out in the wide open spaces of the Talbot Athletic Ground, Banfied made no mistake with the conversion from close to the posts.