Preview: Merthyr v Aberavon

Aberavon (3rd – 32 points) play their last game of the season this Saturday when they travel to the Wern to take on Merthyr (8th – 29 points) in the Indigo Group Premiership, kick-off at 1:30 pm. The game will decide who finishes third in the table – A win or draw for the Wizards will see them finishing third, but a Merthyr win will see things come down to bonus points and try count to see if Merthyr or Aberavon finish in third place.

In the Premiership this season, the Ironmen have won five of their ten games. Their wins have come against Ebbw Vale, Swansea, Bridgend, Llanelli and Newport with them losing to RGC 1404, Llandovery, Pontypridd, Carmarthen Quins and Cardiff. At home, Merthyr have beaten Ebbw Vale and Llanelli, but lost to Llandovery and Carmarthen Quins.

In the Indigo Group Premiership Cup, Merthyr finished the pool stage of the competition in third place in the East division after winning five of their ten games. They faced Aberavon at the Talbot Athletic Ground in the quarter-final stage back in February with the Wizards narrowly winning 17 – 16.

Looking at the Premiership, in “attack”, Merthyr have scored 28.6 points on average per game (ranked 3rd) and 3.9 tries (ranked 4th). In “defence” they have conceded 22.2 points on average per game (ranked 4th) and 3.4 tries (ranked 8th). Aberavon have scored 27.8 points per game (ranked 4th) and 3.8 tries (ranked 5th), and conceded 20.0 points (ranked 3rd) and 2.5 tries (ranked 2nd).

Head-to-head, Aberavon and Merthyr have met each other 16 times in the Welsh National League, including playoffs, with the Wizards leading the series 11 – 5. At the Wern, Aberavon lead 5 – 3 with them winning on their last two visits to the ground (29 – 22 in 2019/20 and 22 – 14 in 2018/19).

Looking back to when the sides met at the Wern in a midweek game in May 2002. The Ironmen were already relegated from Division One whilst the Wizards were competing with Pontypool for the Division One title and needed to win and score at least nine tries. In that game, the home side had first use of the slope and went ahead with a penalty in the second minute of play – outside half Robert Downes with the kick. The Wizards hit back with a try by wing Sam Greenaway and a penalty by outside half Jamie Davies to make the score 8 – 3 after 20 minutes of play. Centre Scott Leighton scored a try late in the half with the New Zealander’s conversion making the score 15 – 3 at the interval.

In the second half, the Wizards knew they needed a further seven tries to go back on top of the Division above Pooler. Now playing down the Wern slope the Wizards started well when lock Dafydd Owen scored in the corner at the start of the half. Hooker Jason Hyatt was next on the scoresheet as the Wizards stopped taking conversions as they chased the tries. The score was 25 – 3 as the game approached the final quarter with the Wizards still needing five tries. Those five tries came in an eleven-minute spell when tries were scored by centre Paul Morgan, lock and captain Steve Rees, then both Morgan and Owen scored again before back row Gareth Newman touched down for Aberavon’s ninth try. That score put Aberavon back on top of the table with ten minutes left to play. The Ironmen then hit back with a try of their own as wing Kristian Owen intercepted inside his own 22 and sprinted clear for a try that Downes converted (Owen went on to sign for the Wizards after the season finished). Aberavon had the last word though when Greenaway scored two more tries before replacement wing Jonathan Williams touched down in the last move of the game to make the final score 65 – 10 to Aberavon.

The Wizards team that day was: Matthew Back; Sam Greenaway, Paul Morgan, Scott Leighton, Nicky Bonham (rep Jonathan Williams); Jamie Davies, Daniel Hawkins; Rob Price (rep Mike Harris), Jason Hyatt, Andrew Clatworthy (rep Greg Dix), Dafydd Owen, Steve Rees (capt), Natano Tiatia (rep Richard Morris), Gareth Newman, Andrew Thomas (temp rep Kevin Allen)

The referee for Saturday’s game is Ben Breakspear, aided by Elgan Williams and Kelvin Shorte.