Action Replay (Pontypridd Programme Notes)
Merthyr 49-35 Aberavon
Indigo Premiership, 11th November 2023
by Paul Williams
Aberavon head coach Jason Hyatt summed the result up perfectly: “Delighted to have scored 35 points away from home, particularly with such a young team, but disappointed that our defence conceded some soft tries.”
Perhaps the main point to take away from that was the relative youth of the matchday squad. With in the region of a dozen established squad members missing for a variety of reasons (mostly injuries, some, such as skipper Joe Gage, last seasons Player of the Year Andrew Waite, openside flyer Casey Williams, and experienced scrum-half Rhodri Cole), the Wizards’ summer recruitment policy of concentrating on attracting up-and-coming young talent seems to be paying off. There have certainly been some impressive debuts thus far this season, and despite the margin of defeat in this high-scoring match, it should not be forgotten that the Wizards did earn a bonus-point as they crossed the Merthyr line that all-important fourth time when Aron Hemmings touched down after a brilliant passage of play that saw the ball move through numerous pairs of hands before the try was scored.
The opening quarter was a frenetic affair. Merthyr were quick off the mark with a first-minute try from Lennon Greggains, converted by Josh Lewis, and ten minutes later Lewis added a penalty to take it to 10-nil before the Wizards gained a foothold in home territory and quick passing across the backline ended with Chris Banfield flying in at the left-hand corner for an unconverted try.
The home side responded with a try from Ethan Lloyd, again converted by Lewis, but James Davies kicked a penalty to take the score to 17-8 before an absolute beauty of a try came from young centre Sam Jardine, who regathered Davies’ perfect kick over the midfield defence and went racing clear to score at the posts, with Davies’ conversion narrowing the margin to just two points.
Merthyr wing Teri Gee went in at the corner for an unconverted try on the half-hour mark, and although Davies pulled back another three points with a penalty, Liam Wiggins crossed for Lewis to convert, making it 29-18 at the interval.
Davies opened the second-half scoring with yet another penalty as Merthyr’s discipline began to fray at the edges, but Lewis extended the lead with a try and conversion, then added a penalty to make it 39-21, but even faced with what looked like a commanding lead, the Wizards were not done. Lock Shay Smallman, who has been consistently on superb form this season, crashed over for a try that Davies converted. The home side responded with a try from Ben Jones, again converted by Lewis, but still the Wizards refused to throw in the towel, and an attack launched from deep inside the Aberavon half saw play travel from left to right, with a storming touchline run from Rhys Thomas paving the way for Hemmings to touch down and Davies to convert.
There was still time left but, alas, the home side redoubled their defensive effort and the only further score was a penalty from Lewis ten minutes from time.
To the neutral onlooker, this was undoubtedly a spectacular match, and credit must also go to referee Dewi Phillips, who maintained order without being overbearing, and clearly enjoys his rugby. At a time when rugby union officiating is constantly under the microscope, not necessarily for the right reasons, Mr Phillips’ approach made for a refreshing change from the constant stop-start TMO interventions and referrals to “the bunker”. All that should be required are two teams to want to play rugby, and a referee who can keep order while allowing them to do so.