Action Replay (Pontypridd Programme Notes)

Aberavon 22-8 Swansea
Indigo Group Premiership, 7th January 2023

Aberavon completed a league double over Swansea following the bonus-point win they recorded at St Helen’s back in September. It was a closer affair on this occasion, although the scoreline doesn’t reflect the fact that the Wizards were at no time in danger of losing this match, and in fact the visitors had barely threatened the Aberavon line until the last play of the game saw them grab a breakaway try.

The Wizards were minus a number of experienced squad members for one reason or another, while the All-Whites, paradoxically clad entirely in maroon, had the services of a couple of Ospreys senior squad members plus a number of regional academy players, including Dan Edwards from Cwmafan who, less than a year ago, thought he was following his father’s footsteps into a regular place in the Aberavon squad. Inevitably this gave rise to a degree of resentment among the home faithful, who wasted no time in making their feelings known.

With steady rainfall and a strong wind blowing across the field it was never going to be a day for exhibition-style rugby, and not surprisingly the large crowd were treated, if that is the right word, to a battle for territory that was won, hands-down, by a home side that dominated the first-half forward exchanges with half-backs Rhys Jones and Rhodri Cole providing momentum with accurate tactical kicking.

Jones was narrowly off-target with an early penalty attempt, but soon afterwards got the scoreboard moving after a grubber-kick into the Swansea in-goal area had almost led to a try for Gabe Lacey. The visitors’ defence just managed to scramble back and minor the ball, and the ensuing goal-line drop-out was fielded on half-way by the fly-half, who coolly strolled forward before sending a 45-metre drop-kick between the posts for three points after eight minutes.

A penalty goal from Edward levelled the scores during a rarer-than-hens-teeth visit into the Aberavon half by Swansea, but the visitors’ desperate efforts to keep their line intact finally came to grief when a copybook lineout drive ended in typical style with the Aberavon hooker, on this occasion Luke Davies, crashing over for a try. Jones added the conversion with a fine kick from out wide on the left.

The second-half began in much the same fashion, with the Wizards setting up camp deep inside Swansea territory. Less than ten minutes after the interval came a score that had something of a familiar ring to it. Centre Callum Carson sent through a grubber kick with full-back Jonathan Phillips comfortably winning the chase for an unconverted try that was pretty much a carbon-copy of the one created and scored by the same duo against Cardiff a month earlier.

It was followed soon afterwards by another powerful lineout drive from the Wizards’ pack, from which Andrew Waite, a constant thorn in Swansea’s collective side, emerged to power over the line for Jones to add the conversion, making light of the conversions with a magnificent kick from close to the right-hand touchline.

Thereafter it was very much a return to the forward battle, and while Swansea did enjoy a little more success in establishing the occasional foothold in Aberavon territory, they lacked the cutting edge to breach a resolute home defence.

The visitors were, however, to have the last word. With the Wizards throwing caution to the winds and running the ball almost from their own goal-line in search of a fourth try, a thrilling display of handling and running that surely deserved some reward came to an abrupt end when a final pass went to ground. The visitors seized the opportunity to break upfield and wing Harri Houston was able to run in a consolation try to make the final score 22-8.