LLANDOVERY 16 MERTHYR 13
The Premiership semi final went narrowly the way of the Drovers and it is they who will now meet Cardiff, the winners of the other semi final, at the Arms Park next Sunday evening writes Huw S Thomas.
The expected battle between the powerful Merthyr forwards and the inventive Llandovery backs provided the background for a tight battle which was only ended late on in the most tense of circumstances.
Down by three points with a minute left on the clock, Merthyr were awarded a penalty 40 metres out and within the range of the big boot of centre Josh Lewis.
A penalty to tie the scores or a kick to the corner to gamble on the driving maul was the conundrum for lock and captain Craig Locke.
A kick to the corner was the decision but although they won the ball, Merthyr then lost possession and their goose was cooked.
The key to the Llandovery win was the outstanding defence of both forwards and backs who had to withstand the constant close range probing of the big Merthyr pack, well led by the vastly experienced Locke.
“We could not be happier in getting a shot against Cardiff in the Premiership final” said coach Euros Evans.
“We will go as underdogs to the Arms Park but we ran them close in the league 26-29 and we have a fighting chance to take the title.”
“That’s all we can ask for and it will be great experience for the boys to end the season in a final – win or lose.”
“The invention of the backs has won us a lot of games this season but it was the bravery of all the players against huge physicality that won the day.”
“Our defence won us the game.”
In front of a 1,500 crowd the Drovers – wind at their backs – had much the better of the first half.
A try from nuggety flanker Osian Davies and eight points from the boot of ever dependable full back Jack Maynard had trumped a lone penalty from Lewis.
It could have been worse for the visitors after a yellow card for prop Dave Whiting had added to Merthyr’s woes but they hung on to keep the score to 13-3 at the break.
Three minutes into the second half, the Drovers were unlucky not to be further ahead as wing Aaron Warren lost the ball in the act of scoring but the Ironmen used the wind well to get good field positions.
The pack battered away at brave home tackling but Lewis brought it to 13-6 with a penalty and although Llandovery fly half Ioan Hughes dropped a neat goal, Merthyr’s forwards got clearly on top.
A driving maul from a close range line out fashioned a try for replacement hooker Dan Wall, converted by Lewis with 15 minutes to go.
Home defence was magnificent, skipper Jack Jones pinching two Merthyr throws and Hughes gathering two high up and unders in vital positions.
Scrum half Lee Rees all but brought relief for the Drovers with a chip and chase effort that all but secured a try but it was Merthyr who finished much the stronger.
They had that controversial decision to make right at the end of the game but they failed to control the ball and let the Drovers on their way to Cardiff next Sunday.
** Cardiff beat Newport 21-7 in the other semi final to earn the right to face Llandovery on Sunday evening
Try: O Davies
Con: J Maynard
Pens: J Maynard (2)
DG: I Hughes
Try: D Wall
Con: J Lewis
Pens: J Lewis (2)
Llandovery: J Maynard; H Doel, Adam Warren, R Jones, Aaron Warren; I Hughes, L Rees; J Hughes, C Thomas, B Watkins, 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
Merthyr: B Jones; T Gee, M Sieniawski, J Lewis, D Thomas; G Thompson, J Soanes; L Jones, R Williams, D Whiting, C Locke (capt), L Ashley, J Perkins, T Daley, O Davies
Replacements: D Wall, R Jones, J Rogers, T Jeavons, P Rees, T Knoyle, M Meaclem, R Davies