On paper, this clash between Aberystwyth, who finished fourth in Division One West, and Pembroke, a side who have been playing two divisions below them, should have been a one-sided formality.
The Scarlets, however, have had a very successful season in being crowned champions of their own division, and reaching the final of the WRU Bowl, before losing narrowly to Porthcawl.
Aber have closed their season with a string of impressive results, but the blue and blacks expected a hard fight, and had to be at their best to win the cup for the first time in many years.
The two packs were comparable in height and weight, but Aber’s superior technique enabled them to dominate scrummages and gain an advantage in the line-outs and mauls too.
Behind the scrum, Pembroke were a constant threat, and often created gaps in Aber’s defence. In the absence of injured skipper Lee ‘Truck’ Evans, Aber were captained by Carwyn Evans, who led by example with two tries.
The first of these came after Matthew Hughes had made a typical weaving run through the middle, before feeding Evans to score under the posts. Steffan Rees converted for a 7-0 lead.
Their second try soon followed after an Arwel Lloyd charge. When he was stopped, Llyr Thomas dummied his way over the line from the ensuing ruck, and Aber were 12-0 up.
Pembroke then showed what they were capable of and attacked strongly down the middle into Aberystwyth’s 22 metre area. Good support and offloading saw impressive full-back Tom Harding-Jones cross over in the corner for a try that was very well converted by outside half Toby Smith to close the gap to 12-7.
Aber hit back with more good breaks by Lloyd and Carwyn Evans. They found touch on Pembroke’s 22m line and were awarded a penalty, which Steffan Rees put over for 15-7.
This lead was increased just before half-time, after more good breaks by Lloyd with Tom Evans and Bryn Shepherd, and continued with a 30 metre run by Matthew Hughes. He offloaded to the ever-supporting Owen Bonsall who charged on for another 20 metres to score.
The try was well converted by Rees, and the teams changed ends with Aber 22-7 up.
The first 10 minutes of the second half were closely contested, with both sides fighting hard for possession and territory. Aber broke the deadlock after another break from Carwyn Evans. He fed Hughes, up in support from full-back, and rounded the defence for a try which Rees converted, to extend Aber’s lead to 29-7.
Aber seemed to be coasting to a comfortable win; but as Pembroke showed in the Bowl final, they are very capable of fighting back.
This started when they won a scrum 35m from the Aber line and after some close inter-passing, scrum half Tom Lewis scored a try under the posts, converted by Toby Smith.
Steffan Rees then extended Aber’s lead with another penalty, but Pembroke would not give up and from a line-out 10 metres out, winger Luke Harland went over on the corner. Smith then again converted to close the gap to 32-21.
Aber then upped the pace and Carwyn Evans crossed for his second try of the game, with Rees’ conversion taking the score to 39-21.
The final try came after Evans made another blistering break before feeding Hughes to score his second try, closing the score at 44-21.
The highlights of the game up front were Aber’s devastating scrummaging and the powerful breaks made by the forwards in the loose, Arwel Lloyd in particular. Behind the scrum, penetrating bursts by the centres and by Hughes at full-back were a constant threat.
Pembroke produced a very impressive team performance and with their never-say-die approach they were always a threat in this match, and both sides also fielded strong benches.
Undoubtedly the star of the show was Pembroke’s young, diminutive full-back Tom Harding-Jones. Playing just his third game for their 1st XV, he made a number of dangerous breaks down the middle that split Aber’s defence and created scoring opportunities.
Aber can now relax and look back with satisfaction on a season that has had its ups and downs, but has finished with a healthy fourth placing - and the bonus of some silverware.