The Wern has not been a very happy hunting ground for the Drovers in recent years but on Friday they came close to upsetting the odds against the Premiership league leaders writes Huw S Thomas
The Ironmen consolidated their lead at the top of the Premiership with this bonus point win but had to play to the top of their form against a Llandovery side that caused them plenty of problems behind the scrum.
And this, despite the absence through injury of No 8 and skipper Richard Brooks and vice captain and scrum half Lee Rees.
Merthyr eventually clinched victory through the power of the pack in which skipper and second row Craig Locke and No 8 Phil Rees were hefty and outstanding ball carriers.
At one stage the Drovers looked heading for certain defeat when they conceded a penalty try to go 24-7 behind six minutes into the second half.
Lock Tom Price was yellow carded in pulling down the maul that led to the penalty try but the home crowd was shocked to see the visitors then go on to score two converted tries inside five minutes.
Good handling, close support and decisive finishing by the Llandovery backs saw wing Aaron Warren and then full back Gavin Thomas cross and with fly half Jack Maynard adding the conversions it was suddenly just 24-21.
Skipper Locke steadied home nerves with a close range try before the Drovers threw everything into attack in search of one, possibly two bonus points.
With three minutes to go, Merthyr killed the ball at a ruck in front of their own posts but referee Dewi Phillips awarded no more than a penalty.
Llandovery had a difficult choice – kick the goal to bring them within seven points of Merthyr or go for a fourth try and the possibility of two bonus points.
The contentious choice was to take the kick and Maynard duly obliged from point blank range to bring it to 31-24 with three minutes to go.
Referee Phillips was again involved in controversy in penalising Llandovery replacement Shaun Miles for challenging for the high ball and colliding with Jarvis
Full back Matthew Jarvis – playing his 100th game for the Ironmen – robbed the Drovers of their losing bonus point with a huge penalty from half way and the final whistle went a minute later.
Coaches Euros Evans and Simon Davies were not happy men at the end of a very close game.
“We came here with high hopes and gave them plenty to think about but some crucial decisions went against us in the final stages” rued Evans.
“I am not saying we should have won but one, even two points were nothing more than the boys’ efforts deserved.”
“Two defeats away from home against the top two – 18-16 at Pontypridd and 34-24 at Merthyr – and just one point is poor reward for our competitiveness.”
“But we have yet another tough away game to negotiate at Cross Keys on Saturday and we’ll have to put the disappointment quickly behind us in the search for more points.”
“The return of Richard (Brooks) and Lee (Rees) will be very welcome at a ground where we have always found it hard to win.”
Merthyr – in front of their millionaire backer Sir Stan Thomas – got a very early try from lock Louis Jones, converted by Jarvis but the Llandovery response came almost immediately.
Very good approach work from Maynard and swift handling saw centre Ryan Evans hurtling over, Maynard converting.
A Jarvis penalty restored the home lead to just 10-7 before Maynard narrowly missed with two penalties.
With the not unhappy prospect of going into the break just three points behind, Llandovery leaked a crucial score when a relieving kick failed to find touch.
Jarvis counter attacked brilliantly to put wing Jay Baker in for Merthyr’s second converted try and a rather flattering 17-7 scoreline.
The second half saw the sides share 34 points with the power of the Merthyr eight balanced by the free flowing adventure of the Llandovery backs but it was scant consolation for the brave losers.
The defeat and RGC’s bonus point 39-19 win over Llanelli means that Llandovery slip down to eighth place in the cut throat Premiership table