Aberavon 45 – 14 Bridgend
by Paul Williams
The Wizards had far too much firepower for Bridgend, gaining a four-try bonus point before the interval and running in a further three after the interval.
The early exchanges saw the home pack dominate the set pieces, and while the scoreboard remained blank for more than ten minutes the Wizards clearly had the upper hand until the deadlock was broken by centre Joe Gage, who kicked ahead from close range and touched down in the right-hand corner for fly-half Rhys Jones to convert.
Five minutes later the large crowd were treated to a moment of true quality when the Wizards sent the ball wide. Gage linked with co-centre Joe Thomas, who produced a sublime dummy before passing inside to the speeding Jonathan Phillips, who went racing clear for an unconverted try.
Not to be outdone, the Aberavon forwards then took matters in hand and a driving maul from a lineout resulted, almost inevitably, in hooker Luke Davies emerging from beneath a pile of bodies having scored his team’s third try, with Jones’ conversion attempt drifting just wide to leave the score at 17-nil.
As half-time approached, the Wizards went further ahead when Joe Gage was illegally tackled while attempting to gather a pass intended to put him clear with the line at his mercy. A discussion amongst the match officials ended with a penalty try being awarded and a yellow card being shown to the transgressor. That took the half-time score to 24-nil with Bridgend having barely had an opportunity to threaten the home line.
The Wizards began the second half clearly in no mood to take their collective foot off the gas, and Stef Andrews was next to cross the whitewash after swift passing had created just enough space for the wing to dive over in the left-hand corner. A fine conversion from Jones moved the score past the 30 mark, and ten minutes later Gage was in for his second try of the afternoon, showing off his footballing skills by dribbling the ball over the line and touching down. Jones again added the conversion.
New signing Bradley Roderick raced in for the seventh home try after replacing Joe Thomas at outside centre. It was his second try for the Wizards, having touched down for an injury-ravaged Aberavon team in an end-of-season thriller against Llandovery at Church Bank in his only previous appearance for the club.
With a quarter of an hour remaining, victory was assured, but somehow the visitors managed to raise their game in the final few minutes with replacement hooker Evan Yardley and replacement wing Mike Powell, ironically both former Aberavon players, grabbing consolation tries that were both converted by fly-half Luke Price.
From an Aberavon viewpoint it was a satisfying all-round performance, with newcomer Dan Baker showing up well at number eight and the scrummaging prowess of the entire pack instrumental is providing a solid platform off which to attack. Rhys Jones slotted in well at fly-half and Joe Gage, having had something of a nomadic existence in the Wizards’ back division for several years, now looking every inch the inside centre to succeed Will Price and Rheon James. Jonathan Phillips put in another solid performance in attack and defence, it was pleasing to see wing Frankie Jones, despite not getting on the scoresheet, show the kind of form that made him something of a sensation when he first arrived at the Talbot Athletic Ground a few short years ago.
Aberavon 45 – 14 Bridgend
Jonathan Phillips (rep Aled Rees 60 min); Frankie Jones, Joe Thomas, Joe Gage (rep Bradley Roderick 63 min), Stef Andrews; Rhys Jones, Iwan Temblett (rep Rhodri Cole 60 min); Rowan Jenkins (rep Rhys Fawcett 57 min), Luke Davies (rep Cameron Lewis 60 min), Geraint James (rep Chris Davies 57 min), Shay Smallman, Sam Parris-Williams (rep Sam Pailor 63 min), Ashton Evans, Dan Baker (rep Andrew Waite 60 min), Joe Tomalin-Reeves (capt).
T – Joe Gage (2), Jonathan Phillips, Luke Davies, Penalty Try, Stef Andrews, Bradley Roderick
C – Rhys Jones (4)
T – Evan Yardley, Mike Powell
C – Luke Price (2)
Man Of The Match:
1 – Joe Gage
2 – Rhys Jones
3 – Jonathan Phillips
04 min: Aberavon – T – Joe Gage & C – Rhys Jones (7 – 0)
17 min: Aberavon – T – Jonathan Phillips (12 – 0)
25 min: Aberavon – T – Luke Davies (17 – 0)
40 min: Bridgend – Yellow Card – Liam Tobias
40 min: Aberavon – T – Penalty Try (24 – 0)
40+3 min: Half Time
46 min: Bridgend – End Yellow Card – Liam Tobias
48 min: Aberavon – T – Stef Andrews & C – Rhys Jones (31 – 0)
58 min: Aberavon – T – Joe Gage & C – Rhys Jones (38 – 0)
66 min: Aberavon – T – Bradley Roderick & C – Rhys Jones (45 – 0)
73 min: Bridgend – T – Evan Yardley & C – Luke Price (45 – 7)
76 min: Bridgend – T – Mike Powell & C – Luke Price (45 – 14)
80 min: Full Time