By Jonathan Twigg
HENDY emerged from their battle of the champions with Whitland on Wednesday (May 2) winning 22-17 on a tranquil evening at Hendy Park.
Recognised by opponents throughout the division as the two teams who deserved to be playing at a higher level they produced an encounter not short on skill, passion and drama to which both camps can take acclaim from the spectacle provided in front of an appreciative crowd.
Amateur sportsmen and clubs thrive on games where their season hangs on the outcome, those long evenings during a rain soaked winter when their respective coaching teams planned like professionals, the next step in their quest for promotion.
In their 125th anniversary year, the Centreframe sponsored ‘green and red army’ showed their cards early, turning back a straight forward penalty attempt taking a scrum in front of the posts and outside half Rhydian Morris all but squirmed over the try line, Barry based referee Tom Spurrier ruling it out as he wasn’t convinced of the touchdown.
Morris did open the scoring with a well struck penalty, the work rate in the tight areas from lock Rhodri Hughes, flanker Richard Kinnear and number 8 Gavin Thomas, drawing visiting second row Dai Ebsworth over the ball, where both sides were ‘up for the game’.
Whitland settled and hassled scrum half Gruffyd Jones into a loose pass over Morris head in the goal area, setting a scrum which drew a penalty and outside half Nico Setaro set a line out five metres out.
Ebsworth took clean ball, the well drilled ‘green machine’ running in pods to roll around before number 8 Jack Mason was driven low over the line, Setaro landing the conversion, the credentials set for a game that had no parallels in terms of league rugby this season.
Players maybe be ‘categorised’ into Division 2 but their aptitude to absorb from their coaches and peers is without precedent, epitomised by scrum half Jones whose early loose pass was his only blemish in a high intensity game.
Home coaches Dorian Jones and Chris Morgan can call upon the expertise of the Shingler brothers, Aaron, a flying Welsh back row forward with the Scarlets and his brother, Cardiff Blues pivot Steven. No pretence in the warm up; solid counsel, knowledgeable of what their charges can engross and the little details that turn games, fine-tuned.
Whitland didn’t arrive to be bridesmaids, their intention to run the ball evident with the calibre of inform winger Sean Coles lurking. Scarlets academy player Scott Lloyd and Aaron Ebsworth on the wing were defensively strong, their efforts a principle of osmosis for their team mates, Hendy momentum nullified and skipper Marc Jones the catalyst to move forward with back row colleagues Ryan Morgan and Dan Evans.
Setaro, Lloyd and centre Gino Setaro brought full back Josh Thomas into the line, where he was direct, opening gaps and creating space with the visiting front five in support.
Props Aaron Mayne and Mike Ryan are not just anchors for a scrum with the experienced Raff Williams bedding down alongside an equally venerable Ebsworth, not that short of his own half century of birthdays, but still plying his trade alongside his nephew on the wing. Setaro took control, hoisting an up and under cross field, young Ebsworth winning the battle with his opposite number Tom Havard and the ball fell into the hands of Coles, looping off his wing to score a converted try.
14-3 wasn’t a fair reflection. The home charges had chances, not taken where the pressure, even at this level showed. “Not clinical in the key areas” said Coach Chris Morgan post-match, the ball spilled at significant times, centres Iwan Mayze and Josh Davies alongside full back Jake Neuman dangerous with ball in hand. Neuman found space combining well with winger Dyfan Williams, their second wind evident, flanker Lloyd Morris strong in carrying the ball as was second row Ashley Banfield alongside Kinnear.
“We talked about territory” Morgan went on to explain about the half time huddle. “We needed to make them play where it mattered and force mistakes, squeezing the game and then back our skill levels to capitalise.” Never have truer words echoed around the village as Hendy came out with purpose in the second half.
Whitland were forced deeper into their own half and ‘the squeeze’ applied onto the key protagonists, forcing choices which the ‘green machine’ may not have had to make all season. Touch kicks went awry, handling errors occurred, the ball lost at the central turnover area. With a sniff of victory in the air the Hendy pack were on song, tight in the scrum as the front three, props Ben Bachup and Shaun Williams alongside hooker Chris Bowen came to the fore.
Whitland were wilting, unable to play their expansive game, firefighting the advancing throng, their tackle count mounting to stop ‘men of the match’ second row Hughes and centre Davies.
Momentum with Hendy, Morris missed a penalty awarded by the Championship graded referee. Spurrier was a key player in the game, being ‘seen but not heard’, emphatic in his control but empathetic to the occasion, calling misdemeanours, although Morris was unable to transfer them into points. Neuman nearly crossed wide out as the home crowd vocal presence could be heard along the M4 corridor driving Hendy on, motivation if ever their heroes needed it.
Hughes once again claimed the ball off the top at a line out, seeing it set by the marauding home forwards, Morris releasing Neuman once more on a canter, the full back freeing Havard in space and fellow winger Williams touched down wide out for 14-10.
Gareth Bennett and Dan Mason, the Whitland gurus sensed the warning signals, making changes to stem the tide and revitalise their mantra. Not shrinking violets, the duo like their counterparts Jones and Morgan are years ahead of the game, innovative but humble of their contribution to local rugby. “A bitter pill to swallow tonight” stated Bennett, “but we go again on Saturday. Credit to Hendy, they won the game, did their homework on us and we congratulate them on their victory. The title is still there for us, two wins from our final fixtures will see to that and we have a collective team spirit which drives us on.”
Their changes did force play from end to end, Whitland having opportunities whilst Hendy were not rewarded with penalty goal attempts, needing their cargo to step forward. Baccup and Hughes were ploughing an unrivalled furrow, hooker Bowen taking a pop pass back from the line out to put his side into the lead 15-14, now a true reflection of the game.
Hendy, in their quest for the title knew they needed a bonus point to go with the victory which was there for the taking. Williams, standing tall out wide and number 8 Thomas now a terrier to equal Whitland skipper Jones around the Park.
It was Thomas tenacity which set the play for Neuman to cross the whitewash as the game entered its final ten minutes, calmness personified as the full back powered over, Morris getting his name on the scoresheet with the conversion.
Whitland replacement centre Josh Thomas had an impact down the inside channel but his side had let slip their efforts during a fine first half display. One more try would see the home side take a bonus point victory and leave Whitland with nothing for their performance, something the ‘eyes up rugby’ pushed by Bennet and Mason required.
Setaro, taking in the drama that had unfolded, quiet by his standards all evening had the opportunity to glean a point, the final kick of the game sailing through the uprights to reduce the deficit to five points, taking a point for his side which could turn out to be vital come the final whistle in ten days’ time.
Hendy take on Loughor on Wednesday (May 9) knowing they need a bonus point victory and hope Whitland slip up in their final two fixtures if they harbour any aspirations of lifting silverware. The Borderers travel to Fishguard on Saturday (May 5) before hosting Mumbles at Parc Llwyn Ty Gwyn the following Saturday.
Victory on the Moors against the Seagulls ensures the destiny of the title lies with them still, although the only other side to lower their colours besides Hendy this season were the team from the ‘Gateway to the Gower’.
Expect the GD Harries sponsored grandstand to be overflowing for the blockbuster, the ‘green machine’ putting behind any mental fatigue from recent games. League title opportunities are few and far between, the opportunity to be the bride and not the bridesmaid one to savour; an occasion befitting of an epic division 2 season out west.
Five-star Old Gold sink students
AFTER Carmarthen opened their Cymru South League home programme some 12 days ago with a comprehensive victory over Llantwit Major they improved on even that performance with this crushing demolition of Swansea Uni who were kept deep under pressure in their own half for much of the match.
From the start Town launched a series of piercing attacks which the visitors struggled to contain.
On 5 minutes a sweeping move along the right-flank began with Jordan Vickers sprinting upfield and then playing the ball on to Liam Thomas who threaded a fine pass across to Matthew Delaney – from the corner of the penalty area he struck a fierce angled shot that goal-keeper Ben Edwards, at full-stretch, turned aside.
Yet soon afterwards the Old Gold took the lead. After 9 minutes Vickers passed the ball across Jamie Rickard who instantly sent it on to Thomas, inside the penalty area, and Town’s all-time top scorer clinically converted the opportunity.
Then on 12 minutes Delaney, from the right-wing, sent a fine long cross into the goalmouth where Scott Tancock saw his close-range glancing header fly just wide of the goal.
At this stage Town were dominating the game with their pace and movement. On 22 minutes Rickard threaded an excellent pass to Thomas on the edge the penalty area but with defenders nearby his hurried shot went marginally off-target.
In the 25th minute Vickers, a particular constant threat to the opponents’ defenders, fired an inviting cross into the goalmouth where Noah Daley was just unable to reach the ball for a simple tap-in opportunity.
The visitors, during all this time, had managed little in terms of creating a serious attacking threat. However on 30 minutes George Sellick broke clear from the centre-circle and struck a 25 yard volley which Carmarthen ‘keeper Ifan Knott, having raced some way out of his goal, first blocked and then claimed the loose ball.
But that was just a brief interruption to Town’s search for more goals and the certainty of three League points.
On 36 minutes Daley embarked on a remarkable solo run – having taken possession of the ball on the edge of the centre-circle he proceeded to pass 3 defenders and move into the penalty area then dismissively go around Edwards and drive the ball in to the empty net.
Soon afterwards, in the 39th minute, the Old Gold scored again when Thomas, on the half-way line, played a fine pass forward to Bradley Gibbings who raced free towards the penalty area where he neatly side-stepped Edwards, who was bereft of any defensive cover for the second successive time, and slid the ball into the net.
Then, to conclude a most productive 45 minutes a superb long pass out of defence was chased by Jaime Rickard deep into the visitors’ half – as Edwards came well out of his penalty area to challenge him Rickard neatly crossed the ball to Daley who converted an easy tap-in goal.
After the interval, with Carmarthen having such a commanding lead, neither team appeared to show much urgency in the blistering heat of the day. Yet in the 60th minute Town extended their lead with a well-worked move.
Vickers sprinted along the right flank before sending a deep cross to the far side of the goal area where Daley arrived with perfect timing and planted a powerful header past Edwards and into the back of the net.
The Old Gold continued to hold the advantage over the University team, in terms of both possession and territory, but the only further goalmouth action arose after 80 minutes – following a free-kick Rickard struck a promising 20 yard drive that Edwards, at full-stretch, turned around the post.
This was a most welcome result, not only in terms of the quality of the performance but also in that Town have now moved up into 5th place in the League table.
The Old Gold’s League programme now continues with a visit Goytre United on Friday, August 19, k/o 7.30pm.
Wanderers win to keep promotion hopes alive
CARMARTHEN Wanderers earned a big win on Saturday (Aug 13) as they beat Ynysygerwn by 162 runs.
The win keeps them in third place in Division 2 of the South Wales Premier League, 29 points off the top two. However, their next fixture is at home against league leaders Ynystawe.
On Saturday, Ynysygerwn won the toss and chose to field and they saw the Wanderers rack up 262-8 from their 50 overs.
Owen Bailey hit three early boundaries (1 six, 2 fours) before being run out on a score of 16 and Tom Davies reached a score of 25 before falling lbw to Emyr Lawrence.
Owain Binding made 17 before being stumped as the Wanderers were reduced to 82-3.
Gareth Thomas and Robbie Crawford took over and they shared 87 runs for the fourth wicket.
Thomas hit seven fours and two sixes in his score of 63 from 58 balls but he was then caught by Adam Davies off the bowling of Nathan Davies.
Carl Holding was also stumped and Liam Rogers fell on a score of 10 when he was caught and bowled by Nathan Davies.
Crawford then reached his half century as he and Eddie Byng added 34 runs for the seventh wicket but Byng became the third batsman to be stumped.
Ian Hughes was out for a third-ball duck before Crawford and Harry Conick finished unbeaten.
Conick hit a late six to finish not out on 8 while Crawford was unbeaten on 71 after hitting six fours and two sixes.
Ynysygerwn were in trouble early on in their reply as they slipped to 16-3. Ryan Sylvester made a score of 29 before falling lbw to Owen Bailey.
Adam Davies made a score of 15 for the home side but it wasn’t enough as they were bowled out for 100.
Binding was the pick of the bowlers as he finished with 5-22. Chris Turrell, Ian Hughes, Tom Davies and Owen Bailey all picked up a wicket each.
The Wanderers’ game with leaders Ynystawe starts at 12:30pm on Saturday, August 20.
Ammanford seal place in top flight
AMMANFORD sealed their place in next season’s top flight with a thrilling one wicket victory over Bridgend at the Park.
Bridgend won the toss and batted first, losing three quick wickets to the excellent bowling of Matthew Davies (2-20) and Dan Roberts (1-30).
However, captain Tom Baker joined opener Sam Wood at the crease and these two provided Bridgend’s main partnership of 81.
The hard track and fast outfield promised a big score but Ammanford’s bowlers stuck to their task and dismissed the visitors for 199 in their penultimate over.
Xavier Clarke bowled well for his 2 for 31 and Owen Davies cleaned up at the end with 3 for 61.
Ammanford got off to a poor start, losing regular wickets until, at 56 for 4, Rhys-Huw Davies joined opener Kurtis Marsh to provide a steadying half century partnership.
However, with the departure of Marsh for 42, three wickets fell for the addition of a single run, and Ammanford were staring down the barrel of another disappointing defeat.
Enter skipper Alun Evans, coming in at number 9 after recovering from a long afternoon in the field.
Evans and Davies added a quick 21 runs before Davies departed for an invaluable 33.
Ammanford were now well into the tail, 8 wickets down and still 68 runs short of their target. Their two last batsmen faced the daunting task of staying in with their skipper while he tried to knock off the runs.
Which, to their credit, is exactly what they did. First, Owen Davies (18) added 33 priceless runs with his captain while last man Matthew Davies (9no) courageously stuck in until the winning runs were scored. Evans finished a true captain’s innings unbeaten on 49.
Ammanford are now safe in 7th place, 60 points clear of bottom club Clydach whom they welcome to the Park next Saturday.
On Wednesday evening, Ammanford travel to Port Talbot to play the semi-final of the SWCA T20
knockout cup. Wickets pitched at 5.45pm.
Ammanford seconds lose by 67 runs
Ammanford seconds lost by 67 runs to Carmarthen Wanderers at Trinity Fields. Carmarthen batted first and were dismissed for 177 in the 42nd over
Top scorer was skipper Giles Thomas (41), supported by Oliver John (27) and James Connick (24).
Tomos Roach was Ammanford’s top wicket taker with 4 for 20. Cian Roach and Iwan Matthews picked up a couple of wickets each.
In reply, Ammanford’s batsmen just couldn’t stay in long enough to make an impression on the scoreboard. Cian Roach (27) and Steffan Williams (22) did their best but the overall response simply
wasn’t good enough and they were all out for 110 after just 25 overs.
Third XI lose by eight wickets
Ammanford thirds went down by 8 wickets to Llandarcy.
Ammanford reached 150 for 9 in their 40 overs, thanks to opener Steve Hagget (45) and skipper Neville Pritchard (35). Llandarcy’s Jon Pryce took 4 for 18.
Despite losing two early wickets, Llandarcy took just 22 overs to pass the Ammanford total, with unbeaten half centuries from David Noall and Gareth Richards.
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