Aberystwyth Athletic 31 Newcastle Emlyn 2nds 31
WRU Scarlets Region Plate
What a game! It had everything a final should have – two very competitive, evenly matched teams, a willingness to play open, entertaining rugby, fightbacks by both sides, and a score in the dying seconds to give a result that both sides’ supporters agreed was fair. And in addition of course, it took place at a prestigious venue – Parc y Scarlets.
The opening quarter of the game was fiercely fought and there were injuries on both sides. Aber had the better share of possession and territory but it was NCE who took the lead with a well taken try by winger Davies after a good counterattack. This was converted by outside half James for a –7 lead.
Aber hit back when No 8 Llewelyn Evans crashed over from a ruck after Aber had outscrummaged their opponents near their line. Outside half Sam Davies added the conversion for Aber to draw level at 7-7 after 20 minutes. NCE regained the lead after an Aber forward had been caught offside and James put over a simple penalty to bring the score to 7-10.
Although they were winning most of the possession, Aber made too many handling errors to launch strong attacks. Their young back line would have benefited from a wise old head in their midst to calm things down and control the game better. Twice Aber knocked the ball forward in open play, once from a charge down and once from an interception, when they had a clear run for the line.
Aber took the lead for the first time after another dominant scrum, five metres from the NCE line, earned them a penalty. No 8 Evans took a quick tap and burst over the line for his second try. Davies added the conversion and brought the score to 14-10 at the 35 minute mark.
This lead looked like being shortlived as NCE crossed for a good try after some smooth carries and offloads. But in racing to ground the ball under the posts, the carrier was tackled by an Aber flanker and his team were awarded a knock on. After taking play into the NCE half Aber were awarded a penalty at a ruck. Scrum half Dylan Benjamin increased his side’s lead with an excellent 40m kick to take the score at the interval to 17-10.
Aber had benefited from their powerful scrummaging in the first half but the lineouts on both sides had been untidy with the ball being slapped back too often for attacks to be launched. In the loose, NCE had protected the ball well and had retained possession as a result. Behind the scrum their greater experience gave their passing more smoothness and fluidity. Aber had carried well but some of their offloading was too hurried and inaccurate to launch good attacks.
Kicking off the second half, Aber could not have made a better start as No 8 Evans went over for his third try of the afternoon after his side had completed some powerful rucks. Davies again added the conversion and at 24-10 Aber were in a comfortable position.
With their tails up they again took play down deep into the NCE half but an unfortunate misunderstanding between their scrum half and No 8 saw them lose possession as their opponents took play upfield for a scrum near the half way line. Although Aber won the scrum they lost ground as a result of handling mistakes which NCE capitalised on to cross for a converted try near the posts. At 24=17 they were back in the game.
Aber seemed to lose cohesion at this stage and continued to make handling errors after the restart. NCE, on the other hand, sensing that they were now in with a good chance, turned on the pressure to take Aber back into their own half. Having dominated the scrums earlier and held parity in the loose play, Aber were now being out-scrummaged and outfought in the loose and it was entirely with the run of play that NCE crossed for an easy converted try to draw level at 24=24 after some good work by their forwards.
They emphasised their domination again when they fielded an Aber 22m restart and broke through some weak tackling attempts to score easily under the posts. The conversion put NCE ahead by 24 -31 and, with less than 15 minutes of the game remaining, it looked bleak for Aber. But this Athletic team does not give up without a fight. And what a fight they put up at the end!
They won a penalty and kicked to touch for a lineout on NCE’s 22m line. Dorian Jones caught the lineout ball cleanly and Aber’s pack drove their opponents to within a metre of the try line. Solid defending kept them out and forced them back upfield. A second lineout on the same spot had the same result – a clean catch by Jones and a powerful 20 metre drive by the pack again stopped just short of the line.
It seemed that Aber had now run out of chances; but after a series of rucks and drives and a tap penalty, it fell to scrum half Dylan Benjamin to cross for a well deserved try. He now had responsibility for taking the conversion kick which, if successful, would give his side a hard fought draw. The importance of the kick, the awkward angle and the nervous exhaustion he must have been feeling were enough to make it a very difficult challenge, but he calmly put his kick over to draw the game and for Aber to share the spoils and the Plate with NCE.
The whole Athletic squad, their coaches and team managers deserve congratulations for this performance. No one watching most of the second half would have given them any hope of avoiding defeat, but they found the spirit, the fight and the energy to pull it off in the final minute of the game. Altogether a fine achievement.
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