CHRIST COLLEGE 17 LLANDOVERY COLLEGE 16
By Huw S Thomas
(Photo of Brecon hero Rhys Pearson whose late penalty sealed a famous win)
In a game dubbed Wales’s own “Varsity” match by the Western Mail’s legendary rugby correspondent JBG Thomas, Christ College gained a famous victory – their first since 1998 – in beating their old and fierce rivals writes Huw S Thomas
Centre Rhys Pearson claimed heroic status when he got the crucial score five minutes from time with a finely judged angled penalty from 35 metres.
It was only the Brecon school’s 29th win in a series that goes back to 1879 when the two of the oldest rugby playing schools in Wales first played each other at neutral Builth Wells.
Having provided the British Lions with nine players apiece, there are no schools in Wales with such heritage and although the latest clash may well have been nothing more than a schoolboy encounter for some, the contact area was exciting, thunderous and at times mental in commitment.
Fixtures between the two schools had been halted after Llandovery’s 46-10 win in 2012, following a number of mismatches, but revived last year when Llandovery won narrowly 24-19.
Saturday’s 126th encounter was another tight game, as dramatic as it was frenetic or as the celebrated Times journalist VGJ Jenkins once described – “fierce, frantic and wonderful”
Making light of the absence of some key players because of representative commitments, Llandovery looked to have sneaked home five minutes from time – 14-13 – thanks to a fine penalty by fly half Osian Jones.
The Brecon forwards then forced a penalty but Pearson – son of a proud Christ College Headmaster Gareth Pearson – was short from 45 metres.
Llandovery then gave away another penalty in a similar position but foolishly threw the ball away in frustration.
Referee Neil Hennessy marched the Lilywhites back 10 metres and it gave Pearson the chance to stroke over the kick from 35 metres.
The drama was not over as Llandovery earned a penalty near half way but it was out of Jones’s range on the sticky surface.
In a desperate throw of the dice, Jones found touch deep into the Brecon half and from the line out his forwards drove furiously to the home line.
In the final play, they battered away, time and time again and just as it looked that they would cross to snatch the game out of the fire, outstanding Brecon No 8 Nick House forced a penalty at the breakdown.
Llandovery coach Nathan Thomas took the close defeat on the chin.
“Congratulations to Christ College on their well deserved win.” said the former Wales flanker
“They disrupted our flow of play with their physicality at the breakdown.”
“We struggled to deal with it but came back well after the break and we thought we had done enough to get out of jail once in the lead”
”Credit to Brecon though as they did not lose hope and managed to pull off an excellent penalty kick to take the lead once more.”
“With one last chance, we felt we could still come back to sneak the win as the team has faced so many one score games throughout the season and come out on top.”
“Great defence by Brecon at the breakdown finally did for us”
Nick House and back row men Tom Lowry and Louis Szestaeb were the stars of the day for the winners, bruised tireless and brave and in the often brutal contact area.
Prop Dafydd Roberts was another fine ball carrier and tackler whilst the midfield battle between the Brecon centre pairing of Pearson and Rhys Conquer and Llandovery’s powerful duo of Dylan Rowe and Owen Francis produced some shuddering moments.
The Llandovery forwards battled just as hard as their opponents with flanker Ollie Lewis a force at line out and the loose where his captain and fellow flanker Owain Scholey was omnipresent.
There was nothing to choose between the two teams from first to last but the heroic Brecon defence in the final minutes made that slight difference at the end of the day.
Christ College Director of Rugby Dan Parry was full in his praise.
“Our last gasp defence edged us home and I cannot speak highly enough of the boys’ commitment and never say die attitude.”
“It’s a game they will always remember, our first won over Llandovery for a long time and one to savour for many a year.”
“No matter the winner, this was a game that recalled the unique atmosphere that the Brecon-Llandovery brings and long may it last.”
Not that it was all about the Christ College forwards, their left wing Lewis Howells producing the highlight of the game when he left tacklers in his wake with a flashing run and finish from 40 metres.
Llandovery fly half Jones opened the day’s scoring with a good penalty before the home forwards , spurred on by lock Ollie Rose surged upfield from a line out for House to claim the try under a heap of bodies.
Pearson’s conversion from wide out gave his side a 7-3 interval lead before Howells finished off a blind side attack with his slalom run that took him under the Llandovery posts.
Down 14-3 and stung into action, the Llandovery had their best patch of the game, their forwards now winning the 50-50 ball and creating more room for the backs.
Jones kicked a penalty before huge and relenting pressure on the Brecon line eventually paid off despite massive resistance.
Dylan Rowe flashed in under the posts to outflank the cover and with Jones converting and adding another excellent penalty with minutes left, the Lilywhites looked home and dry.
And then came the nail biting end to an ultra competitive game in the great tradition of this unique fixture.
Tries: N House, L Howells
Cons R Pearson (2)
Pen: R Pearson
Try: D Rowe
Con: O Jones
Pens: O Jones (3)