Aberavon 30 – 23 Cardiff
by Paul Williams
With Aberavon’s injury problems beginning to ease, so came their return to winning ways at the expense of hitherto unbeaten Indigo Group Premiership leaders Cardiff. In an absorbing encounter between two quality teams on a bitterly cold Thursday evening the Wizards found something like the form that had seen them make a flying start to the season, matching the Blue & Blacks around the field but, crucially, having a distinct upper hand in the scrummaging department.
The visitors kicked off and were quickly on the offensive, with the home defence looking solid, soaking up the pressure and repelling the Cardiff attack, but they were for some time unable to gain a foothold in Cardiff territory and, eventually, conceded a straightforward penalty opportunity that was goaled by experienced fly-half Dan Fish.
Rhys Jones responded in kind for the Wizards to level the scores, and during the second quarter the tide began to turn in Aberavon’s direction, with the visitors’ pack finding itself being forced backwards time and time again at the set scrums. Jones kicked his second penalty to put the Wizards ahead, and in the run-up to half-time the scrummaging again took its toll. As the Cardiff eight were being shunted backwards at a rate of knots, scrum-half Rhodri Cole picked up the ball, darted around the blind-side and handed on to Jay Baker. The big winger will never score an easier try, receiving Cole’s pass a metre from the goal-line and able to head around to ground the ball some way infield, making Jones’ job just that little bit easier as he added the extras.
On the stroke of half-time Fish sent over his second penalty to reduce the arrears to 13-6, but at that stage, from an Aberavon viewpoint after a disappointing few weeks, the signs were positive.
Jones added another penalty shortly after the restart, but then Cardiff were able to raise their game and two short-range tries from Fish and flanker Alex Mann, both converted by replacement Harrison James, had the visitors ahead 20-13, but midway through the half a forward drive down the left-hand touchline tied in a substantial proportion of the Cardiff defence only for quick passing to create space out wide on the right. Centre Callum Carson put through what can only be described as the perfect grubber kick, with full-back Jonathan Phillips able to race through unopposed, regather and score, with Jones again converting.
James responded with a penalty goal to level the scores at 23-all, but the Wizards were far from done. Another forward drive, this time in the right-hand corner, was brought to ground inches from the goal-line with Ieuan Davies looking odds on to score one of his trademark tries, but while he was denied that personal satisfaction, referee Ben Whitehouse singled out replacement Cardiff hooker Alun Rees as the culprit, sending him to the sin-bin after awarding the Wizards a penalty try.
As time marched on, the visitors desperately sought the score that would level things and came closest three minutes from time when a charged-down clearance was regathered by Mann. The former Wales U20 skipper looked nailed on to score in the corner, but Stef Andrews pulled off a magnificent cover tackle to bring him down just short of the line, with Mann subsequently adjudged by both TMO Jonathan Mason and Mr Whitehouse to have illegally tried to roll to the line and ground the ball. The ensuing penalty saw Jones send the ball well out of the danger zone, and eventually a scrum on half-way saw the same player receive the ball and jubilantly hoof it off the field to bring an end to a thrilling match.
The positives for Aberavon were almost too many to list. Returning from injury were centres Callum Carson and Joe Gage, along with the hugely popular Ashton Evans, who had a fifteen minute run-out off the bench replacing flanker Lloyd Evans. The team performance as a whole must surely have pleased the coaching staff, with so much confidence visibly returning. The pack were, frankly, superb, particularly when one considers the fact that Cardiff started sending on replacements from early in the second half. The front-row of Rowan Jenkins, Ieuan Davies and Geraint James were simply magnificent, with only James coming off to warm applause from the home crowd as he was replaced by the solid Chris Davies late in the second half. Emulating Jenkins’ and Davies’ eighty-plus minute appearances were locks Shay Smallman and Sam Pailor, along with number eight Andrew Waite and Aberavon skipper Joe Tomalin-Reeves. Behind them Rhodri Cole, replacement scrum-half Liam Seaward and Rhys Jones controlled things superbly while the outside backs defended well and all had their moments with ball in hand.
Aberavon 30 – 23 Cardiff
Jonathan Phillips (rep Gabe Lacey 74 min); Stef Andrews (rep Aled Thomas 80+11 min), Callum Carson, Joe Gage, Jay Baker; Rhys Jones, Rhodri Cole (rep Liam Seaward 60 min); Rowan Jenkins, Ieuan Davies, Geraint James (rep Chris Davies 80+2 min), Shay Smallman, Sam Pailor, Joe Tomalin-Reeves (capt), Andrew Waite, Lloyd Evans (rep Ashton Evans 74 min).
Replacements not used:
Jamie Cox, Rhys Thomas, Cerith Davies.
Liam Seaward appeared from Morriston RFC; Gabe Lacey appeared from Porthcawl RFC; Jamie Cox appeared from Trebanos RFC; Cerith Davies appeared from Neath Athletic RFC;
T – Jay Baker, Jonathan Phillips, Penalty Try
C – Rhys Jones (2)
P – Rhys Jones (3)
T – Dan Fish, Alex Mann
C – Harrison James (2)
P – Dan Fish (2), Harrison James
Man Of The Match:
1 – Ieuan Davies
2 – Geraint James
3 – Rhys Jones
08 min: Cardiff – PG – Dan Fish (0 – 3)
18 min: Aberavon – PG – Rhys Jones (3 – 3)
29 min: Aberavon – PG – Rhys Jones (6 – 3)
40 min: Aberavon – T – Jay Baker & C – Rhys Jones (13 – 3)
40+3 min: Cardiff – PG – Dan Fish (13 – 6)
40+3 min: Half Time
43 min: Aberavon – PG – Rhys Jones (16 – 6)
46 min: Cardiff – T – Dan Fish & C – Harrison James (16 – 13)
55 min: Cardiff – T – Alex Mann & C – Harrison James (16 – 20)
59 min: Aberavon – T – Jonathan Phillips & C – Rhys Jones (23 – 20)
64 min: Cardiff – PG – Harrison James (23 – 23)
69 min: Aberavon – T – Penalty Try (30 – 23)
70 min: Cardiff – Yellow Card – Alun Rees
80+2 min: Cardiff – End Yellow Card – Alun Rees
80+12 min: Full Time