NEWPORT 52 LLANDOVERY 33
What a match and what a great advertisement for Premiership rugby at a time when the future status of semi pro clubs is so uncertain writes Huw S Thomas.
Both sides put on a fine display of open, attacking rugby and regardless of this result will be hoping to meet each other in the Premiership final on May 21.
The Drovers led 33-31 with a quarter of an hour to go but yellow cards for flanker Lloyd Pike and wing Aaron Warren weakened the defence so much that Newport pulled away with three late tries to give the scoreline a false look.
In the last game of the regular season, Newport outscored the Drovers by seven tries to five in an 85 point game that swung back and fore in the most exciting of fashions before ending in favour of the Black and Ambers.
It was a game that would have done a final proud but both clubs will now go in search of a final spot next Sunday when Newport travel to Cardiff and Llandovery entertain Merthyr in the semi-finals.
The 22 match regular season Premiership finished with Cardiff claiming top spot on 90 points but the Drovers – despite defeat – finished clear in second position on 84 points after Merthyr had lost 39-7 at Cardiff.
Merthyr finished third and Newport fourth in the table.
Cardiff were confirmed as regular fixtures champions with 19 wins out of 22 matches but Llandovery ran them close on 18 wins.
Both of this week’s semi-finals will be played on Sunday May 14 with 5.15 kick offs at the request of television broadcasters.
At Rodney Parade, the Black and Ambers are a formidable unit and under the clever direction of fly half Matt O’Brien, they proved that they will provide Cardiff with a huge challenge at the Arms Park.
The Drovers who included ex-Wales prop Samson Lee at tight ahead started with a bang when scrum half Lee Rees side stepped and sniped over to set the tone of non-stop end to end rugby.
Newport soon answered with a powerful drive off a short range line out fashioning a try for hooker Jack Gillard to once again expose Llandovery defence of the driving maul.
Newport wing Lloyd Lewis showed class and speed to expose unusually frail tackling with a brace of tries but fly half Ioan Lloyd and flanker Osian Davies answered to make it 21-21.
Then came a key turning point in the first half.
Just as the visitors looked ready to score near the break, a loose pass was picked up by home full back Ioan Davies who outstripped the cover from 80 metres.
With Matt O’Brien and Jack Maynard not missing a conversion, it meant that the Black and Ambers led 28-21 at half time..
O’Brien put over a penalty to nudge his side further ahead before the Drovers hit a purple patch of attacking rugby.
The effervescent Rees got his second try after chasing and expertly dribbling a kick ahead by wing Harri Doel before the Drovers went ahead 33-31 through an excellent outstretching finish from Aaron Warren – his 11th try of the Premiership.
If the Ioan Davies try at the end of the first half was a defining moment in the game, then what followed in the space of two minutes was to prove pivotal.
Disaster struck when a rather harsh yellow card for replacement flanker Lloyd Pike for sliding into Lewis was soon followed with a penalty try after Aaron Warren had knocked down a try scoring pass.
Reduced to 13 men, a tiring Llandovery were powerless to stop replacement Geraint O’Driscoll sweeping over and despite a brave break out by replacement scrum half Dafydd Land, home victory was sealed when replacement scrum half Luke Crane finished off a clean break by wing Jon Morris.
The immaculate O’Brien finished a faultless display with a 100% conversion rate and a personal tally of 15 points.
***Attention now switches this Sunday to the Indigo Premiership semi-final play-off when Merthyr will be the visitors to Church Bank (KO 5 15 pm)
The two clubs have played each other three times this season with the Ironmen winning twice, once in the WRU Cup and once in the league.
The key will be up front where Merthyr will field a big, heavy and physical pack in the hope of controlling play and limiting the Llandovery backs to as little possession as possible.
The reward for the winners will be a final spot against either Newport or Cardiff on Sunday May 21.
Tries: L Lewis (2), J Gillard, I Davies, pen try, G O’Driscoll, L Crane
Cons:M O’Brien (6)
Pen: M O’Brien
Tries: L Rees (2), I Lloyd, O Davies, Aaron Warren
Cons: J Maynard (4)
Newport: I Davies; J Morris, C Foster-Smith, A Owen, L Lewis; M O’Brien, C Hope; T Workman, J Gillard, D Suter, J Verrier, C Hudd, J Reid, B Roach, K Tayler
Replacements: H Palmer, T Davies, L Yendle, A Ashton, R Jenkins, L Crane, M Bancroft, G O’Driscoll
Llandovery: J Maynard; H Doel, Adam Warren, R Jones, Aaron Warren; I Hughes, L Rees; J Hughes, C Thomas, S Lee, J Jones (capt), G Evans, O Davies, I Rees, S Worrall
Replacements: R Guest, D Dallavalle, L Green, L Pike, J Evans, R Wall, K Jones, D Land
Mixed day for Llandovery’s Aaron Warren whose second half try put him second in the Premiership try scoring chart but who was also yellow carded for a deliberate knock on.