By Jonathan Twigg
WHITLAND emerged from their local derby with a 23-17 victory over Carmarthen Athletic at Park Llwyn Ty Gwyn on Saturday (Jan 6), in a game which saw the sides share five tries whilst both had a player yellow carded by Trimsaran referee Alan Emmanual.
On a pitch, described as spongy at best to a quagmire in places and where a biting Northerly wind made handling errors more pronounced, the game was won in the last ten minutes when Whitland capitalised on outside half Nico Setaro’s rebounded penalty attempt from the upright.
Having just conceded a converted try to lead 17-16 the green machine showed true character to take play deep into their visitor’s territory and glean a penalty when down to 14 men after winger Liam Price was side lined for being off side at the ruck.
Setaro’s kick from in front of the stand fell nicely into the hands of flanker Ryan Morgan following up the kick. He set up a ruck situation which allowed the ball to be recycled by replacement scrum half aaron Ebsworth to Setaro who put his skipper Marc Jones on a straight angle in space.
As he was tackled the ball was popped up to supporting second row Micaiah Jones who crashed over wide out, capping a fine all round performance from the youngster alongside his boiler house partner Raff Williams.
Promotion chasing Whitland had led throughout the game after Setaro had opened the scoring just after a quarter of an hour when hi slotted over his second penalty attempt after good work by scrum half Adam Davies had made ground down the blindside with his winger Liam Price before the penalty for offside was awarded.
The referee’s whistle was a predominant feature of the opening period with the black and red shirts running a close line on infringements which Setaro had decided to nurture into touch until he was comfortably within his kicking range.
The plethora of home penalties’ had come as the outside half ran an array offensive of lines, incorporating inside centre Josh Thomas on the heavy ball down the middle interlinked with missed passes from which Price and fellow winger Scott Candler benefitted from.
Number 8 Jack Mason, like his opposite number Richard Bloomfield was excellent carrying from the base of the scrum, setting up second phase from which Davies and Setaro could stream quick ball.
The opening try came after a free kick for delaying the scrum was kept alive by prop Aaron Mayne taking a quick tap penalty; Davies and Setaro found their skipper Jones in midfield and the hooker made ground with Kirk who put centre Johnny Thomas in the clear to score in the corner.
Whitland had the upper hand, having more than parity in the scrum set piece but for all their game time dominance they weren’t clinical in turning the possession into points.
Prop Dafydd Bowen scored an excellent try for the Athletic after second row Williams caught the ball in an offside position as they got a foothold in the game.
Centre Gethin Francis had put in a thumping tackle on Thomas in midfield, as young skipper Dan Evans and second row Llyr Owen came to the fore alongside Bloomfield.
From the penalty given for Williams offside the visitors set up a line out, won by James Williams and his pack got a head of steam in the maul to destroy the home defence, with Owen touching down for an unconverted try.
The first half ended 8-5 with the visitors reduced to 14 men after hooker Paul Gravell took a yellow card after Emmanuel’s tolerance gave way, but it was a catalyst for the Athletic to start the second half with tenacity and spirit. Full back Robbie Davies was adventurous when running the Setaro line kicks back upfield linking well with his back row and scrum half Nick Rees.
Mason, for the green machine and his backrow colleague Ryan Morgan were doing a lot of unsung work on the floor and Mason set up the second try as the hour mark approached.
He won the wrestle for the ball as it went to ground, allowing Setaro to free Johnny Thomas and Price to make haste down the field. Young centre Josh Thomas had held pace with the fast moving break up field to arrive on a definitive angle where his strength carried him over by the posts for a converted try and a 15-5 lead.
Whitland were off colour with their finishing, perhaps the upshot of playing back to back derby games had clouded their focus as they lacked a spark and fizz from their back division.
Carmarthen were back in the game thanks to the opportunism of winger Josh Watson, after the flyer received the ball from Bloomfield.
Prop Carwyn Francis and Evans created the platform before Watson saw a half gap appear and he didn’t need a second invitation to put on the afterburners to leave his opponents failing in his wake, for Tom Gravell to convert.
Setaro extended the lead to 18-10 thanks to another penalty but the Athletic had an attacking axis as Carwyn Evans and Chris Howells set up a line out deep in the Whitland 22 metre area.
The catching line out had been an attacking platform all game and the visitors from up the A40 saw this as their D day.
Formed as a Club on June 6, 1944 they went through over a dozen phases of play where the forwards made small and direct gains, with Bloomfield the centre of the cyclone. Liam Price was dismissed and with a man advantage at the scrum the no 8 and Evans set up an opportunity for fellow back row man Rhydian Walters to score and Gravell convert.
Credit to Whitland who knuckled down to win the game when perhaps in seasons past the opportunity would have passed them by.
“We maintained our belief and mental toughness despite facing a storm in the final onslaught” said a delighted home coach Gareth Bennett.
“We showed tremendous character to come away with a victory and the players heads are down as they felt it should have been more comfortable than what it was in the end. We play with a smile on our faces and will work on the learning points in training this week.”
Whitland head to bottom of the table Llanybydder on Saturday (Jan 13) welcoming Loughor in a needle encounter the week after before heading to Hendy at the end of the month.
“One game at a time” chortled Bennett. “Let’s enjoy today’s result but both Dan (Mason) and I know where we have to improve and will be nurturing the players along this week towards our goal, promotion back to Division 1 West.”
Carmarthen Athletic next welcome St Clears to Trinity Fields with the confidence shown by their young side allowing them to fear no opponents in the Division.
Sometimes the difference between winning and losing is miniscule or on the ball falling kindly.
If the Setaro penalty hadn’t fallen back into a team mates hands the Athletic boys may have been waking up ‘Early in the morning’ and looking back on a win as opposed to just the losing bonus point they achieved in the Swansea Building Society sponsored match.
Hendy hit back in second half
HENDY secured their fourth win of the season on Saturday (Oct 13) as they beat second placed Gowerton 26-15 after a fine second half.
The win moves Hendy up to third and they now sit just a point behind Gowerton.
Hendy’s Rhydian Morris got the home side on the board with a try but he couldn’t add the conversion.
Morris did add a penalty but Gowerton hit back with a converted try and a penalty to lead 10-8 at the break.
Hendy stepped up in the second half and Jake Newman put Hendy back in front with a good try.
Steffan Howells then grabbed Hendy’s third while Morris was successful with one of his three conversion attempts.
Morris also added two further penalties to all but seal the win for the home side.
Gowerton hit back with a late try but it wasn’t enough to affect the outcome of the game and Hendy saw it out.
On Saturday (Oct 20), Hendy are away as they take on fourth placed Llanelli Wanderers in what promises to be an exciting game.
Scarlets beaten at the death
A LAST gasp penalty try for last season’s Heineken Champions Cup finalists Racing 92 condemned Scarlets to a single point defeat in their opening game of this season’s competition.
Storm Callum played his part in the pre-match preparations with rain and gale force winds keeping people away from the Parc.
The Scarlets, unaffected by the storm, prepared for an opening titanic clash against the French side.
The home side got the first points on the board after Racing were penalised on a couple of occasions leading to a penalty for Leigh Halfpenny to send through the posts.
Racing then began to put pressure on the Scarlets and Finn Russell thought he had scored but play had been called back for a knock on.
Scarlets then came close to scoring a try but a knock on gave possession back to the visitors who then went back on the attack.
The home side lost concentration and that allowed flanker Baptiste Chouzenoux to run in for a try under the posts and Russell then added the extras.
That gave the French side a 3-7 lead at the break but the Scarlets came out for the second half determined to get back into the lead.
Ten minutes in they had a scrum close to the line and it was Gareth Davies who picked the ball before spotting a gap and going through to score. Halfpenny’s conversion was only inches away but Scarlets led 8-7.
Moments later Scarlets were back on the attack and after working through the phases the ball came to Jonathan Davies who kicked ahead for Johnny McNicholl to run onto and touch down. Again the conversion was missed.
The French side looked to respond but some good defending from saw them clear the ball downfield which Steff Evans did his best to retrieve.
Racing were penalised for not rolling away but Scarlets conceded possession with a knock on and the visitors came forward once more.
Scarlets defended well initially but referee Matthew Carley spotted an infringement and went under the posts for a penalty try and also sending Gareth Davies to the sin bin.
The home side had little time to respond and although they went upfield they were unable to add to the score.
Scarlets will be disappointed to have suffered defeat and will need to pick themselves up for Friday’s (Oct 19) game, also in the Heineken Cup, this time away to Leicester Tigers at Welford Road.
Reds made to pay for missed chances
A WET and windy evening (Fri, Oct 12) at Stebonheath ended in yet another loss for the Reds who have now accumulated just a measly point from their five home games to date.
But yet again, as has been the case in earlier matches, they could and should have wrapped up matters prior to the break, but failure to convert a number of gilt-edged chances cost them dearly in the long run.
James Loveridge was the main culprit by failing to finish off a number of moves when through on goal, and these misses were to prove crucial when the visitors struck twice in the second half after being comprehensively outplayed in the first.
Manager Andy Hill has also the additional worry of even more injuries to contend with, with Jordan Davies having to be replaced by Lenny Evans six minutes after the restart following a challenge on halfway, while Chris Thomas also came off with Anton Nelson taking his place.
Just to add to the overall dispiriting picture, the Reds were again reduced to ten men just before the final whistle when Scott Tancock was red-carded – their third dismissal in as many games, and Tancock`s second in just five weeks, following his sending-off at Bala Town.
With resources already stretched to breaking-point, more and more reliance is being placed on academy players to fill the gaps, and to their credit they are shaping up well against far more experienced and physical opponents.
Jamie Owen, Nelson, Evans and Tristan Jenkins were all involved at some stage against the Met. and certainly did not let the occasion get to them, and at least the future of the club seems to be moving in the right direction with these talents available.
The first half was dominated by the home side, with Loveridge having an early chance which was just wide of the near post.
Daniel Alfei, making his home debut, then set up another chance for the striker, but this time goalkeeper Alex Lang brought off a great save to divert Loveridge`s finish around the upright.
Constantly on the front foot, and playing some decent attractive football in atrocious conditions, the Reds had their opponents pinned back for long periods, and they were lucky to survive another attempt from Loveridge which beat Lang and was heading for the net before Dylan Rees somehow contrived a clearance off the line.
The Met keeper was being kept fully occupied, and again brought off another important save from Loveridge when he got clear on goal, but with the number of chances which had come his way, the home striker would know he should have converted at least a couple.
Another Reds` chance came from a Chris Jones corner which was met by Carlos Indja at the far post, but he steered his finish just off target.
Despite their overall dominance, the hosts had still failed to break the deadlock at the interval, and it was still all to play for in the second half.
It was then that the tide began to turn in favour of the visitors who were far more involved than in the opening forty-five minutes, and Oliver Davies in the home goal, who had been a virtual spectator, was at last called into some meaningful action.
A run down the left by Adam Roscrow culminated in a ball across the face of the home goal which failed to pick out a colleague, while Sam Snaith narrowly failed to connect with his header from a Elliot Evans delivery.
When the Reds countered, another Loveridge effort was hacked out of the goalmouth, before almost inevitably the Met opened the scoring on 79 minutes when Harry Owen met a ball into the box close to goal, and despite Davies managing to parry his shot, he could not prevent it squirming from his grasp into the net
He then pulled off a fine save from Roscrow when he was set up by Ben Bowler, but with the final whistle approaching, Tancock was dismissed by referee David Morgan for a foul on the same player just outside the box when homing in on goal.
The subsequent free kick was taken by Evans, who rifled an unstoppable strike into the top corner leaving Davies helpless in the 88th minute to effectively put the contest out of the Reds` reach.
In stoppage time, Davies was again in action, this time turning around another attempt on target by Roscrow.
More heartache for the Reds, who have another difficult game awaiting them at Jenner Park on Friday evening (Oct 19) when they take on Barry Town United. Kick-off is at 7.45pm.
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