Llandovery 12 Pontypridd 11
Pontypridd were unlucky to lose to second placed Ebbw Vale the previous week and again bemoaned their fate when losing by a point to the defending champions and Premiership leaders writes Huw S Thomas.
The Drovers lost just four games in the whole of the 2023 calendar year in which they won the Indigo Premiership and that achievement will take some emulating.
They did at least kick off the New Year with another Premiership win but had to fight for their lives to come away with the spoils against a doughty side that has always given them trouble and problems, home or away.
With 13 wins from 14 league games, the Drovers head the table on 61 points and seven clear of second placed Ebbw Vale who slipped up 23-9 at home to the improving Cardiff
The game against Ponty was shrouded in controversy under the control of referee Adam Jones.
At the end of the first half he penalised Llandovery five times at five metres scrums, yellow carded two home props in Llyr Green and Berian Watkins for scrum infringements but refused to reward Pontypridd with a penalty try.
Non contested scrums then played to Llandovery advantage and they were also left off the hook when Ponty full back Josh Phillips knocked on on with the try line beckoning.
More head scratching followed in the second half when in a tense finale, referee Jones correctly whistled for time, in contradiction of the electronic scoreboard which had stopped when Ponty centre McCauley Rowley was having a seven minute attention to a double fracture of the jaw.
Ponty controlled the first half, winning the contact area and largely depriving the Drovers attack of the quick ball that their backs thrive upon.
Not that Llandovery had their chances only for good field positions to fail to deliver the goods against tough tackling and covering.
Despite the Drovers scoring an early try from prop Jamie Hughes following a break by teenage centre Macs Page and inside pass from wing Aaron Warren, the visitors took a half time lead with a penalty from full back Josh Phillips and an opportunist sprint to the line by wing Liam Lloyd.
A box kick from scrum half Harvey Nash exposed the Llandovery cover and allow Lloyd to finish off in style.
The 8-5 lead could have been greater and certainly would have been if the controversial scrums had ended differently. The Drovers also owed a huge debt to centre Gabe McDonald who brought off a great cover tackle on wing Dale Stuckey.
To their credit, down to 13 men Llandovery played really well in the opening stages of the second half, retaining the ball better and tackling hard in all areas until they returned to a full complement.
Although Phillips stretched the away lead with an easy penalty, a close range line out worked to the Drovers favour, hooker and leading try scorer Taylor Davies getting his seventh Premiership try of the season.
A fine conversion from fly half Jack Maynard snatched a point lead before replacement scrum half Lee Rees saved a certain try with a magnificent cover tackle on Phillips when all seemed lost.
When Pontypridd replacement flanker and Canada international Sion Parry was yellow carded for an off ball incident on the intervention of the touch judge, Llandovery swarmed to the attack under the prompting of replacement half backs Lee Rees and Ioan Hughes and came desperately close to stretching the lead.
Rowley’s serious injury stopped play for a good seven minutes but Phillips had a difficult chance to regain the lead, only for his 45 metre penalty to drop short.
Llandovery were on the attack hoping for enough time to get the two more tries needed for the bonus point when Jones whistled for full time.
There was more relief than celebration in the crowd at the narrowest of home wins, the news of second placed Ebbw Vale’s defeat at the hands of Cardiff receiving the loudest
cheer of the day.
** The Cardiff game at the Arms Park has had to be postponed because of ground unavailability so that Llandovery’s next game will be at home to Ebbw Vale on January 20
Tries: J Hughes, T Davies
Con: J Maynard
Try: L Lloyd:
Pens: J Phillips (2)
Llandovery: T Lewis; K Abraham, M Page, G McDonald, Aaron Warren; J Maynard, D Land; J Hughes, T Davies, L Green, J Jones (capt), E Scragg, O Davies, N Hart, S Worrall
Replacements: C Thomas, H Thomas, B Watkins, J Powell, L Giannini, Adam Warren, I Hughes, L Rees
Pontypridd: J Phillips; L Lloyd, M Rowley, G Smith, D Stuckey; B Burnell, H Nash; B Stephens, R Jones, T Harper, M Cook, C Dicomidis, Cai James, K Parker (capt), Cally James
Replacements: C Greenslade, T Devine, M Bosanko, J Miles, S Parry, J Raikes, J Scrivens, K Lewis.