Drovers are the Champions and take the lot

DO NOT USE AGAIN - Huw Evans Agency pic

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Llandovery crowned a wonderful season in adding the Premiership title to their WRU National Cup win when they beat Newport at a packed Church Bank writes Huw S Thomas (by kind permission of Brecon and Radnor Express).

In also finishing top of the Premiership league table, they completed a Triple Crown of triumphs, a feat done only by Pontypridd in the 20 year history of the semi-pro Premiership.

In their annus mirabilis the Drovers won 27 games in 29 league and Cup outings, playing with an adventure and ambition that few could match

There was regret that their inspirational captain Jack Jones was ruled out of the play off final against Newport after suffering a bad neck injury in the semi final against Cardiff but his team did him proud in a thunderous contest of the highest quality.

The two best sides in the Premiership, a clear first and second in the table, slugged it out, toe to toe, in a fine finale before next year’s revamped Elite Development Competition takes centre stage.

For two players – Llandovery pop Berian Watkins and Newport fly half Matt O’Brien – it was the perfect scenario to celebrate 200 appearances for their clubs, wonderful servants over a decade or more.

WRU Executive Director of Rugby Nigel Walker was a man delighted at what he had seen.

“The speed and intensity of the game must be the template for our new EDC league” said Walker.

“Skill levels, fitness and tempo were high and it was a great example of where the semi pro game will benefit the regions.”

“Hats off to both teams, there was little in it all the way with the Llandovery defence magnificent in restricting Newport to the one try.”

For coach Euros Evans and his assistants and back room staff,  it was the proudest of days

“What a game to finish the season, nothing in it, skill and bravery equal all the way with our defence keeping out swarms of Newport attacks”said Evans

“Everyone watching will remember this for a long time and I m delighted for the players, my coaching and back room staff, supporters and committee men to end the season on such a high note.”

“When we won the Premiership play off last year after finishing second in the table, we set ourselves the tak of finishing top this year and winning the play off.”

“To do that and add the Cup into the mix has taken a mighty effort from the squad – heroes all, and for many the zenith of their careers.”

Former Drovers of all vintages included those who had been in the 1984 side that shocked Pontypridd in the old Schweppes Cup, the heroes of the 2007 Cup win over Cardiff and the 2016 win over Carmarthen Quins had come from far and wide to support the side.

1984 scrum half Randall Jones  who had flown over from Canada,  prop Endaf Howells who scored the winning try back in 2007 and 1977 captain and full back Tony Williams were just a few of the old timers present.

They saw a bruising contest that had everything to thrill the biggest home gate for a decade

There were two tries disallowed  by the TMO – one for each side -, a yellow card, a long range penalty hitting the upright, sweeping attacks, magnificent turn overs under the posts and scintillating running.

A10th minute try by Newport prop Josh Reynolds, converted by influential fly half Matt O’Brien was cancelled out by a home score for centre Adam Warren, converted from the touchline by fly half Ioan Hughes.

A surging Llandovery line out had all but brought a 19th try of the Premiership season for hooker Taylor Davies but a quick pass from captain Lee Rees allowed the faultless Warren to gracefully slip a tackle.

A yellow card for flanker Osian Davies’s high tackle on Newport prop Nathan Evans boded ill but in a key ten minutes the Drovers held out, helped by a crucial decision by O’Brien to refuse a kick at goal in favour of field position.

One brilliant run by Black and Amber full back David Richards was only denied by a fine tackle from flanker Stuart Worrall to leave the scores tied at 7-7 at the break.

If play had been frenetic in the first half, then the second half was bewilderingly frantic.

A blind side thrust in which Rees, Hughes and Worrall sent centre Rhodri Jones diving in wide out for a try, converted by Hughes, gave the Drovers the lead

What followed was a fulminating series of attack and counter attack from all directions.

Both Warren and Black and Ambers skipper No 8 Ben Roach had tries over turned by a vigilant TMO.

Warren’s try was cancelled out for an earlier knock on and Roach’s touchdown fell foul to crossing some 40 metres out.

The big Newport pack kept charging to the home line only to be thwarted by some miraculous tackling.

It would be unfair to single out anyone as every man Jack was committed to the cause but Man of the Match Stuart Worrall was exceptional in his work at the breakdown, winning turn overs in vital areas and at vital times.

It reflected well on contact coach Nic Cudd whose work in the tackle area has become a key part of operations with defence coach Tom Hancock

In being named Man of the Match, the Cardigan based flanker made history after also being named Man of the Match in the WRU Cup win over Merthyr

Centres Rhodri Jones and Adam Warren were as brave as lions in their defensive chores – Jones winning  a turnover in the shadow of his posts – whilst full back Harri Doel’s covering was top drawer as befitting a former Worcester Warrior.

The tackle of the day came from wing Aaron Warren- a bone cruncher on the unfortunate Carwyn Penny which not only hit the replacement back a yard but earned a turnover.   

All the replacements injected new life into proceedings, Nathan Hart, in particular, sparking new life in the loose but Newport still looked likely to pull level.

A surging line out take and drive was somehow stopped, Worrall won a magnificent turn over to relieve constant pressure and it was now a matter of whose fitness was the better at the end of exhausting phases of play.

With five minutes to go, Hughes’s long range penalty attempt to take the Drovers two scores ahead came back off the upright to the sound of a communal groan from the aficionados of the Llandovery “Shed”

But it mattered little and it was hugely appropriate at the end that the bundle of energy that is skipper and scrum half Lee Rees marshalled his forwards to keep possession for a good three minutes.

It stopped Newport having a last chance to save the game but as the Duke of Wellington once said of the Battle of Waterloo it had been “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.”

Euphoria broke out on and off the field but the celebrations were tinged with a sadness, touching on anger, that the talent of Lee Rees, Stuart Worrall, Adam Warren and Rhodri Jones had never been recognised or appreciated by their own region.

 

Llandovery

Tries: Adam Warren, R Jones

Cons: I Hughes

Newport

Try: J Reynolds

Con: M O’Brien

 

Llandovery: H Doel, M Page, Adam Warren, R Jones, Aaron Warren; I Hughes, L Rees (capt);  J Hughes, T Davies, B Watkins, E Scragg, C Long, J Powell, O Davies, J Powell, S Worrall

Replacements: D Dallavalle, H Thomas, L Green, N Hart, J Evans, K Abraham, J Maynard, (D Land)

Newport:  D Richards; L Lewis, C Foster-Smith, J Westwood, E Frewen; M O’Brien, C Hope; J Reynolds, H Palmer, N Evans, R Landman, B Langton-Cryer, J Skinner, B Roach (capt), J Reed

Replacemnets: W Langley, T Workman, G Harris, E Ferriman, K Taylor, D Buckland, C Penny, J Morris