The Drovers had the the cup of victory raised to their lips only for it to be cruelly snatched away from them in the dramatic and controversial last moments of the game at The Wern writes Glan Gwilliams.
They led 31-30 before Merthyr full back Matthew Jarvis kicked a 35 metre penalty to take the Ironmen to a win that seemed most unlikely seconds earlier.
Llandovery had fought back brilliantly to take the lead for the first time with just one of the seven minutes of injury time remaining – replacement flanker Shaun Miles twisting his way over for a try which was coolly converted by fly half Jack Maynard.
There was enough time for Merthyr to restart the game and all Llandovery had to do was gather the kick, retain possession and put the ball over the touchline.
To the agony of players, coaches and supporters alike, the ball was nudged forward and fell accidentally into the hands of a supporting Drover but referee Dewi Phillips applied the strict letter of the law and ruled a deliberate off side rather than an accidental one.
Up stepped Jarvis to make his tally1 to 18 points for the night and although Llandovery were able to restart, Merthyr collected the kick off and booted it off the park in relief.
Skipper Richard Brooks bemoaned the way his side had started the game, conceding a first minute try and a third minute penalty to give themselves a mountain to climb against the defending Premiership champions.
“You can’t give Merthyr a 10 point start at home and I am just proud of the way the boys fought back to match them try for try and almost snatch the spoils at the end.
“Poor concentration, sloppy tackling and ill discipline cost us early on ” said Brooks “ but once we got ourselves together we gave as good as we got.”
“”We have to be content with a losing bonus point but the spirit in the camp is high so we will go away and recharge the batteries ready for a visit to the All Whites on Saturday.”
Tries from wings Sam Jones and Ashley Norton plus booted Jarvis points racked up 20 home points in the first half but Merthyr too infringed aplenty to allow Maynard to excel with four penalties on a wet and windy night.
The 20-12 half time scoreline could have been worse as the Ironmen spurned numerous close range opportunities as well as see Jarvis hit a post with a straight penalty when Llandovery were down to 14 men after the yellow carding of scrum half Dafydd Land.
It did get worse soon after when outstanding Merthyr flanker Jack Perkins forced a turnover before Norton came off his wing to send centre Adam Thomas through, Jarvis converting for a 27-12 lead.
Staring a heavy defeat in the face, the Drovers rallied with wonderful resolve and adventure under leader Brooks, locks Jack Jones and Joe Powell and flanker Stuart Worrall
Second to the Ironmen at the breakdown for long periods, the Llandovery forwards and replacements now got the edge and with better possession the backs looked infinitely more dangerous, scrum half Land and full back Harri Doel catching the eye.
The game changed its shape when replacement Merthyr hooker Rhys Williams got sin binned in front of his own posts and a retreating scrum gave Llandovery the penalty try.
Although Jarvis licked a penalty for a 30-19 lead with some 20 minutes left, Merthyr then lost Thomas to another yellow card.
Replacement hooker and old war horse Ricky Guest powered over to and it was all Llandovery now, forcing the Ironmen to concede penalty after penalty in the danger area.
Referee Phillips might well have dished out a card or two more but Llandovery still looked to have won it late on before the heartbreak and controversy of the dying seconds.
Tries: S Jones, A Norton, A Thomas
Cons: M Jarvis (3)
Pens: M Jarvis (4)
Tries: Pen try, R Guest, S Miles
Con: J Maynard
Pens: J Maynard (4)
*** This Saturday (Nov 23) Llandovery play Swansea at St Helen’s in the Indigo Premiership (KO 2 30 pm)