Preview: Merthyr v Aberavon

On Thursday evening, Aberavon (3rd – 48 pts) travel to the Wern to take on Merthyr (5th – 41 pts) in the Indigo Group Premiership, kick-off at 7:30 pm.

Merthyr have won eight of their twelve league games this season. They started their league campaign with a win over RGC 1404 before losing to Llandovery. Two wins followed with the Ironmen seeing off Bridgend and Swansea – both bonus point wins. In the middle of October, they picked up two points in their loss at Aberavon, before winning their next two games – a bonus point win over Carmarthen Quins and then a win at Pontypridd. A try bonus point was picked up in their loss to Newport before they completed the double over RGC 1404. At the start of this year, Merthyr picked up a losing bonus point against Cardiff before they won their last two games, both with bonus points, both away from home – against Llandovery, and Swansea.

Looking at the Premiership, in “attack”, Merthyr have scored 26.5 points on average per game (ranked 4th) and 3.8 tries (ranked 3rd). In “defence” they have conceded 20.1 points on average per game (ranked 4th) and 2.3 tries (ranked 4th). Aberavon have scored 29.9 points per game (ranked 2nd) and 4.2 tries (ranked 2nd), and conceded 22.2 points (ranked 7th) and 2.6 tries (ranked 6th).

Head-to-head, Aberavon and Merthyr have met each other 18 times in the Welsh National League (including playoffs), with the Wizards leading the series 13 – 5. At the Wern, Aberavon lead 6 – 3 and have won their last three league games with Merthyr at the ground (44 – 43 in 2021-22; 29 – 22 in 2019-20; 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 eleven minutes 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 Thursday’s game, which will be shown live on S4C Clic (S4C Clic player, S4C Facebook Live page and S4C YouTube page), is Adam Jones, aided by Simon Rees, Amber Stamp-Dunston and Tony Davies, with TMO Wayne Davies.