by Paul Williams
As the scoreline suggests, this was a match that had everything – tough forward exchanges, spectacular carefree running, breathtaking tries and no small amount of controversy.
There is always something of an ‘edge’ to matches between these two sides, with past events stoking the need for both sides to atone for events in the recent history of the fixture. No-one, however, could have predicted this particular finale to the 2021-22 season.
Aberavon kicked off, and within a minute had taken the lead when, having gained an immediate foothold deep in Merthyr territory, Luke Davies thundered over from close range to claim the first try, with Dan Edwards slotting over the conversion from out wide.
Seven minutes later, a clever kick from Edwards was gathered on the bounce by Cori Lewis-Jenkins despite the attentions of two defenders, and the young left-wing was able to claim the Wizards’ second try, with Edwards again adding the conversion from the touchline.
Almost immediately, Merthyr struck back to open their account, with centre Aaron Pinches thundering over for Gareth Thompson to convert.
The watching crowd were then given ten or so minutes to catch their breath before the next bout of scoring, and it was the Wizards who forged further ahead in spectacular fashion. First, Lewis-Jenkins proved to all and sundry that he had far more to offer than just chasing down kicks as he popped up in midfield to show terrific strength and speed to beat several defenders en-route to his second try. Two minutes another Aberavon attack ended with Iwan Temblett crossing at the posts after clever play by Ashton Evans, for Edwards’ conversion to take the score to 7-26, with the Wizards already in possession of a try bonus-point after just 20 minutes.
It was then Merthyr’s turn to respond with a quick one-two, narrowing the gap to 19-26 with tries from back row man Tom Daley and wing Sam Jones, with Thompson converting the latter.
The almost inevitable controversy then followed, when a scuffle broke out that had the Aberavon contingent protesting loudly, having seen skipper Joe Tomalin-Reeves hurled forcefully to the ground and several other players pushing and shoving. What had sparked it off was unclear, but the visitors were understandably aggrieved to see Tomalin-Reeves shown a red card with his opposite number, Merthyr skipper Craig Locke, only getting ten minutes in the sin-bin.
The Wizards, however, were next to score. Centre Joe Gage, in irrepressible form, had time and time again torn huge holes in the home defence, and was at it again just before the interval, beating man after man before handing on to right-wing Aled Rees who crossed at the posts for Edwards to yet again convert, making the half-time score 19-33.
The Wizards’ lead was further extended early in the second half when a clever line-out move saw Lloyd Evans and Luke Davies make ground up the touchline before Ashton Evans took the final pass to crash over for an unconverted try.
Merthyr continued to throw all they had at the depleted Aberavon defence, but initially found it tough going until Sam Jones went in for his second try of the afternoon, followed soon afterwards by Locke crashing over. Thompson converted both and it was now ‘game on’ with the score standing at 33-38 going into the final quarter.
Aberavon replacement Aled Thomas put over a penalty to add some daylight between the teams, but that was cancelled out as Pinches and Jones put Merthyr ahead for the first time with the clock rapidly running down.
The Wizards, however, were in no mood to let this one slip, and as they redoubled their efforts, with a huge defensive effort by all concerned repelling the home side’s collective desperation to get back on terms, they managed to work their way into Merthyr territory where a penalty was forthcoming and duly kicked by Thomas to put the Wizards back ahead, albeit by a single point. It was, however, enough. Merthyr were unable to establish any kind of attacking platform in the few remaining minutes, Thompson sent a penalty attempt well wide and, from another penalty awarded to the Wizards, Stef Andrews took a tap-kick before kicking the ball out of play to bring down the curtain on an absorbing encounter.
Merthyr 43 – 44 Aberavon
Stef Andrews; Aled Rees (rep Aled Thomas 59 min), Joe Thomas (rep Will Price half-time), Joe Gage, Cori Lewis-Jenkins; Dan Edwards, Iwan Temblett (rep Rhodri Cole half-time); Rowan Jenkins (rep Rhys Fawcett 44 min), Luke Davies (rep Cameron Lewis 53 min), Chris Davies, Ashton Evans (rep Sam Williams 59 min), Rhodri Hughes, Lee Purnell (rep Ben Williams 59 min), Lloyd Evans, Joe Tomalin-Reeves (capt).
Replacements not used:
Cori Lewis-Jenkins & Dan Edwards appeared from the Ospreys; Ben Williams appeared from Gilfach Goch RFC.
T – Cori Lewis-Jenkins (2), Luke Davies, Iwan Temblett, Aled Rees, Ashton Evans.
C – Dan Edwards (4)
PG – Aled Thomas (2)
T – Sam Jones (3), Arron Pinches (2), Tom Daley, Craig Locke.
C – Gareth Thompson (4)
Man Of The Match:
1 – Joe Gage
2 – Lee Purnell
3 – Cori Lewis-Jenkins
01 min: Aberavon – T – Luke Davies & C – Dan Edwards (0 – 7)
08 min: Aberavon – T – Cori Lewis-Jenkins & C – Dan Edwards (0 – 14)
11 min: Merthyr – T – Arron Pinches & C – Gareth Thompson (7 – 14)
18 min: Aberavon – T – Cori Lewis-Jenkins (7 – 19)
20 min: Aberavon – T – Iwan Temblett & C – Dan Edwards (7 – 26)
25 min: Merthyr – T – Tom Daley (12 – 26)
27 min: Merthyr – T – Sam Jones & C – Gareth Thompson (19 – 26)
30 min: Aberavon – Red Card – Joe Tomalin-Reeves
30 min: Merthyr – Yellow Card – Craig Locke
38 min: Aberavon – T – Aled Rees & C – Dan Edwards (19 – 33)
40+2 min: Merthyr – End Yellow Card – Craig Locke
40+2 min: Half Time
46 min: Aberavon – T – Ashton Evans (19 – 38)
56 min: Merthyr – T – Sam Jones & C – Gareth Thompson (26 – 38)
62 min: Merthyr – T – Craig Locke & C – Gareth Thompson (33 – 38)
66 min: Aberavon – PG – Aled Thomas (33 – 41)
73 min: Merthyr – T – Arron Pinches (38 – 41)
76 min: Merthyr – T – Sam Jones (43 – 41)
78 min: Aberavon – PG – Aled Thomas (43 – 44)
80+3 min: Full Time