Aberavon 39 – 32 Merthyr
by Paul Williams
The Wizards made it six from six in the Indigo Premiership but were made to work hard by a Merthyr outfit that Man of the Match Joe Gage later described as “the best side we’ve played this season”. Gage was an influential character right from the word go, sending a delicate chip over the visitors’ midfield and into the in-goal area for co-centre Brad Roderick to touch down for a second-minute try that Gage himself converted.
Merthyr were quick to strike back, however, with flanker Osian Davies prominent in the loose exchanges, and experienced number eight Phil Rees reduced the arrears by touching down out wide, but fly-half Gareth Thompson’s conversion attempt drifted wide in the gusting, cross-field wind that was to foil several other kicks at goal by both sides.
An untidy passage of play then ended when Rhys Jones, on at fly-half to replace the injured Callum Carson, received the ball on the visitors’ ten-metre line. With no opportunity to launch an attack, Jones made light of the conditions by sending over a forty-metre drop-goal to make it 10-5. Almost directly from the restart, however, the scores were levelled as Merthyr skipper Craig Locke was driven over for an unconverted try.
There then followed a fifteen-minute spell during which the visitors threatened to run away with the match. Lock Callum Bradbury crossed for an unconverted try, and then centre Morgan Sienawski intercepted and raced clear to touch down for Thompson to at last succeed with the conversion. But just as many a team might have dropped their heads at such a barrage of scoring the Wizards showed themselves to be made of sterner stuff. Lock Rhodri Hughes was instrumental in claiming possession just inside the Aberavon half, and skipper Joe Tomalin-Reeves launched an attack down the right flank that involved wing Jay Baker and namesake number eight Dan before the irrepressible Gage was on hand to take the inside pass and touch down for Jones to convert.
Thompson then added a penalty goal before Gage was at it again on the stroke of half-time. Once again Hughes was instrumental, charging down a Merthyr clearance kick, with Ashton Evans following suit to foil a second attempt to clear. Gage was quickest to react, gathering the bouncing ball and touching down alongside the left-hand goalpost for Jones to convert and take the score to 24-25 at the interval.
The second half began with the Wizards noticeably increasing the tempo, with Rhodri Cole bringing the big ball carriers in his pack into play and switching the direction of attack back and forth. Almost inevitably the visitors’ defence transgressed under pressure, and Jones made the most of a penalty award by finding touch some five or six metres from the Merthyr line. Sam Williams, on his 200th appearance for the club, secured the ball and the ensuing driving maul splintered the Merthyr pack with Luke Davies the beneficiary, touching down beneath a pile of bodies for a typical hooker’s try. Back again, however, came Merthyr, breaking out of defence with a sudden counter-attack that ended with centre Dafydd Thomas scoring for Thompson’s conversion to make it 29-32 just seven minutes into the second half.
The final quarter, however, belonged very much to Aberavon. First of all, something of a gamble saw the Wizards replace the support-running, handling and defensive skills of skipper Tomalin-Reeves with the explosive ball-carrying of Andrew Waite. A tiring Merthyr defence suddenly found themselves facing an onslaught from a trio of the most effective ball-carrying back-row forwards in the premiership in Waite, Ashton Evans and Dan Baker, with the remaining Aberavon forwards also getting in on the act. As an Aberavon attack down the right foundered, close to the line, a set scrum with Merthyr to feed came to grief when the home eight, with props Rowan Jenkins and Geraint James making light of having been on the field since the start, drove the visitors off their own ball for Baker to pick up and power over for an unconverted try to make it 34-32.
There was now little respite from the onslaught as Cole continued to send big runners at the visitors’ defence. Big left-wing Aled Rees was bundled into touch just short of the corner flag, but the coup-de-grace was not long in coming as Roderick broke through in midfield and handed on to Phillips. The full-back sent a rolling kick into the in-goal area, and Rees finally got his reward by beating everyone to the touchdown. Jones’ conversion attempt drifted just wide, but the final whistle sounded immediately afterwards.
Aberavon 39 – 32 Merthyr
Jonathan Phillips; Aled Rees, Bradley Roderick, Joe Gage, Jay Baker (rep Frankie Jones 54 min); Callum Carson (rep Rhys Jones 06 min), Iwan Temblett (rep Rhodri Cole 31 min); Rowan Jenkins, Luke Davies (rep Ieuan Davies 65 min), Geraint James, Rhodri Hughes (rep Sam Pailor 65 min), Sam Parris-Williams, Ashton Evans, Dan Baker, Joe Tomalin-Reeves (capt) (rep Andrew Waite 60 min).
Replacements Not Used:
Jordan Walters, Rhys Fawcett.
Sam Parris-Williams made his 200th appearance for the club.
T – Joe Gage (2), Bradley Roderick, Luke Davies, Dan Baker, Aled Rees
C – Rhys Jones (2), Joe Gage
D – Rhys Jones
T – Phil Rees, Craig Locke, Callum Bradbury, Morgan Sieniawski, Dafydd Thomas
C – Gareth Thompson (2)
P – Gareth Thompson
Man Of The Match:
1 – Joe Gage
2 – Sam Parris-Williams
3 – Andrew Waite
02 min: Aberavon – T – Bradley Roderick & C – Joe Gage (7 – 0)
10 min: Merthyr – T – Phil Rees (7 – 5)
13 min: Aberavon – DG – Rhys Jones (10 – 5)
14 min: Merthyr – T – Craig Locke (10 – 10)
23 min: Merthyr – T – Callum Bradbury (10 – 15)
30 min: Merthyr – T – Morgan Sieniawski & C – Gareth Thompson (10 – 22)
33 min: Aberavon – T – Joe Gage & C – Rhys Jones (17 – 22)
36 min: Merthyr – PG – Gareth Thompson (17 – 25)
40+1 min: Aberavon – T – Joe Gage & C – Rhys Jones (24 – 25)
40+3 min: Half Time
43 min: Aberavon – T – Luke Davies (29 – 25)
47 min: Merthyr – T – Dafydd Thomas & C – Gareth Thompson (29 – 32)
62 min: Aberavon – T – Dan Baker (34 – 32)
80+2 min: Aberavon – T – Aled Rees (39 – 32)
80+3 min: Full Time