by Marina Gange
Aberavon returned to winning ways in the Indigo Group Premiership action after the enforced six-week break. A trip to Sardis Road to play a Pontypridd team victorious on the road against RGC last weekend was always going to be a tough assignment for Jason Hyatt and his players, but an impressive all-round performance saw the Wizards claim a rare back-to-back win at Sardis Road, having won the last fixture there back in 2019!
It was brilliant to see fans returning to rugby and the Wizards supporters travelled in numbers, hopeful that they would see Aberavon return to the form shown in the first few months of the season.
The early minutes saw both teams exchange penalties; Aberavon for holding onto the ball and Pontypridd at the scrum. The Wizards began to assert themselves at scrum-time and were rewarded for their efforts with a penalty try in the 20th minute.
Pontypridd responded straight from the restart which was not gathered by Aberavon. The try was converted and the scores were equal at 7-7.
Aberavon settled into their rhythm and started to break through the Pontypridd defence. Johnny Phillips was released into space and looked to be going in under the posts, but the play was called back for a forward pass. Shortly after, the Wizards won a penalty deep into the twenty-two, prompting calls for a yellow card for Pontypridd, but these were dismissed by referee Ben Whitehouse. Scrum-half Rhodri Cole opted to take the quick tap and looked to have been tackled within ten metres, but it was not given, and Pontypridd were able to clear.
Aberavon won another kickable penalty and this time went for the posts. Winger Chris Banfield stepped up and slotted the three points to give the Wizards the lead. Pontypridd again responded immediately, converting a penalty from the ten-metre line and once again the scores were level.
The last play of the first half saw a deft chip which found the space behind the Pontypridd defence, earning territory. Sam Williams stole the Pontypridd lineout and a couple of phases later, Chris Banfield found himself with work to do but finished skilfully with one hand whilst fending off defenders; a well worked team try. Banfield was not able to add the conversion and the Wizards went in at half time with a 15-10 lead.
Aberavon carried their momentum into the second half. Outside-half Joe Thomas made a lovely break with a show and go but the play broke down and resulted in a Pontypridd penalty.
Five minutes into the second half, the Wizards again showed their dominance in the scrum, pushing the Pontypridd pack off their ball. Number 8 Andrew Waite gathered and went over for the try. Banfield converted, much to the displeasure of the Pontypridd crowd who adjudged the kick to have drifted wide.
Aberavon had opened up a nine-point lead but one disappointing aspect for them was that they failed to secure possession after each score and allowed Pontypridd back into the match. Pontypridd were awarded a quick penalty after the Aberavon score, which they converted.
Aberavon once again worked their way back into the Pontypridd twenty-two and a penalty resulted in a lineout on the five-metre line. The Wizards were unable to secure the ball, Pontypridd opted for a lineout themselves and won a penalty which allowed them to clear their lines.
Pontypridd had lost their starting Hooker to injury early in the match and now his replacement seemed to have suffered the same fate. Passive scrums were called which nullified arguably Aberavon’s biggest weapon in this match.
Aberavon were soon back on the attack and some well-worked phases saw them approach the Pontypridd try line. Pontypridd stood firm in defence and were awarded a penalty for holding on. A quick tap was taken; Flanker Lee Purnell tacked the Pontypridd player within ten metres and was sent to the sin bin.
Pontypridd slotted a long-range penalty from the halfway line to bring Pontypridd back within one score at 16-22.
Another penalty followed after Rhodri Cole got isolated and caught in a ruck, and this time Pontypridd decided to kick to the corner. However, their lineout faltered once again, and Aberavon cleared.
A passage of broken play followed, and Pontypridd looked to have an overlap. Rhodri Cole, who seemed to pop up everywhere in defence as well as attack, made a crucial tackle. Pontypridd again launched an attack, but a poor pass saw the ball go into touch.
Aberavon’s sin bin period was up, and Purnell was replaced by club captain Joe Tomalin-Reeves; returning from a long-term ankle injury to warm reception from the Aberavon faithful.
A period of back and fro kicking saw Pontypridd kick the ball dead. The resulting scrum released Flanker Ashton Evans on a charge, and he won a penalty for the Wizards. Cole once again took a quick tap and another penalty followed, plus a yellow card for Pontypridd. Playing the advantage, the ball was shipped out wide, but the Wizards were unable to finish it off and accepted the penalty which Chris Banfield converted.
With time running out and Pontypridd needing two scores, they threw everything into attack. Andrew Waite earned an excellent turnover and penalty for the Wizards and the game was all but won. Pontypridd launched one final attack, but replacement Aled Thomas ripped the ball from one of the Pontypridd forwards to signal the end of the match.
Aberavon can be very pleased with their overall performance after six weeks without a match and will hope to carry momentum into their Indigo Group Premiership Cup quarter final match at the Talbot Athletic Ground on the 13th of February.
Pontypridd 16 – 25 Aberavon
Jonathan Phillips (rep Joe Gage 61 min); Chris Banfield, Chay Smith, Will Price (capt) (rep Aled Thomas 73 min), Stef Andrews; Joe Thomas, Rhodri Cole; Rowan Jenkins (rep Rhys Fawcett 55 min), Luke Davies (rep Ieuan Davies 57 min), Geraint James, Shay Smallman, Sam Williams (rep Rhodri Hughes 61 min), Ashton Evans, Andrew Waite, Lee Purnell (rep Joe Tomalin-Reeves 71 min).
Replacements not used:
Frankie Jones, Chris Davies.
T – Penalty Try, Chris Banfield, Andrew Waite
C – Chris Banfield
PG – Chris Banfield (2)
T – Cally James
C – Jake Lloyd
PG – Jake Lloyd (3)
Man Of The Match:
1 – Rhodri Cole
2 – Chris Banfield
3 – Ashton Evans
22 min: Aberavon – T – Penalty Try (0 – 7)
23 min: Pontypridd – T – Cally James & C – Jake Lloyd (7 – 7)
33 min: Aberavon – PG – Chris Banfield (7 – 10)
35 min: Pontypridd – PG – Jake Lloyd (10 – 10)
40+1 min: Aberavon – T – Chris Banfield (10 – 15)
40+2 min: Half Time
46 min: Aberavon – T – Andrew Waite & C – Chris Banfield (10 – 22)
49 min: Pontypridd – PG – Jake Lloyd (13 – 22)
58 min: Aberavon – Yellow Card – Lee Purnell
61 min: Pontypridd – PG – Jake Lloyd (16 – 22)
71 min: Aberavon – End Yellow Card – Lee Purnell
79 min: Pontypridd – Yellow Card – Sion Parry
80 min: Aberavon – PG – Chris Banfield (16 – 25)
80+4 min: Full Time