Action Replay (Newport Programme Notes)

Action Replay (Newport Programme Notes)

Aberavon 20-10 Pontypool
WRU Premiership Cup, 23rd September 2023
by Paul Williams

The Wizards got some redress for the league defeat suffered at the hands of the same opponents a week earlier, progressing to the quarter-final round of the WRU Premiership Cup after emerging victorious from a hard-fought encounter with the relative defensive performances of both teams largely to the fore.

The Wizards made the early running, with Aled Thomas landing two penalty goals despite the wind blowing across the field that seemed to get the better of Thomas’ opposite number Josh Malson, whose attempts on goal repeatedly fell wide of the mark.

The visitors, however, kept battering away at the home defence, and eventually got off the mark when, just before half-time, hooker Peter Lloyd was driven over for an unconverted try, taking the score to 6-5 at the interval.

Following the restart, the Wizards again were quicker to gain the upper hand, but the Pontypool defence proved equal to the challenge and, much to the frustration of the home contingent, a defensive mix-up presented the visitors with possession from which a perfectly weighted cross-kick by Malsom, aided by a kind bounce of the ball, enabled wing Ewan Rosser to go sprinting in at the right-hand corner. The conversion attempt on this occasion was entrusted to replacement Matt Bancroft but he, too shot wide of the mark.

Trailing by four points well into the final quarter, the Wizards somehow found it within themselves to up their game yet again. Locks Rhodri Hughes and Shay Smallman seemed to set things in motion by stealing a series of lineouts against the Pontypool throw-in. Facing intense pressure, the visitors’ discipline began to waver and a series of penalties gave the Wizards a foothold in the Pontypool 22. Eventually good work by the forwards dragged in the defence for quick ball to be quickly sent wide, with replacement fly-half James Davies delivering a superb pass to Stef Andrews, flying up on the left wing to touch down near the posts. Davies duly converted and suddenly the whole picture had changed as 6-10 became 13-10.

The best, however, was yet to come. A lineout just inside the visitors’ half was duly won by Hughes, and the ball found its way to Joe Tomalin-Reeves in midfield. He drove hard and straight to commit three defenders before delivering quick ball that found its way to centre Brad Roderick. A superbly timed short pass found co-centre Frankie Jones running onto the ball at top speed, scything through the defence before changing pace cleverly to leave two defenders flat-footed as he went clear for a superb try in the right-hand corner. Davies then iced the cake with a magnificent touchline conversion kick.

Pontypool, predictably, were in no mood to throw in the towel, preferring instead to throw caution to the winds as they sought to regain the initiative. A bold attack from deep in their own half looked promising as left-wing Walker Price was put clear, but teenager Scott Delnevo, a half-time replacement for Jay Baker, appeared out of the blue to put in a perfect tackle, driving Price into touch on halfway.

While Frankie Jones, predictably, got the Man of the Match vote from the home supporters after his spectacular result-securing try, there were heroics right across the field. Blind-side flanker Ben Gregory, like Delnevo a summer recruit to the Aberavon squad, got through an enormous amount of defensive work while covering just about every blade of grass, while alongside him Rhys Thomas, a lock currently plugging the gap at number eight while Andrew Waite is sidelined, wasn’t far behind him. The current squad at the Talbot Athletic Ground is, in terms of average age, probably the youngest in the club’s recent history, but the signs are that the future is bright. While there is much debate around how best to develop young talent in Wales, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that playing competitive rugby at club level can pay huge dividends.

The draw for the quarter-final round of the cup sees the Wizards facing a challenging trip to Church Bank to take on Llandovery on December 9th.