Tries by Deon Smith, Amosa Nove, Ieuan Jones and Joel Mahoney.
Conversions by Matthew Jarvis (4).
Penalties by Matthew Jarvis (2).
Tries by Sion Crocker (2), Nicky Griffiths and Aled Brew.
Conversions by Steff Williams (2).
Penalties by Steff Williams (2).
Pooler triumph in tight top-of-the-table thriller
Before the game, Pontypool Rugby Football Club remembered long-time and loyal club supporter Ann Gwatkin who recently passed away along with the club’s former captain, Wales skipper and British Lion Eddie Butler with a minute’s applause, writes Ray Ruddick.
Edward Thomas Butler played around 250 games for Pontypool, mainly as a number eight but an occasional second row, making his debut against Pontypool & District Rugby Union on September 1st 1976 and scored 60 tries. He captained the club from 1982-1985 winning the Schweppes WRU Challenge Cup in April 1983 (he didn’t play in the final due to injury) and won the Welsh Clubs’ Championship, Whitbread Welsh Merit Table, Daily Mail Pennant Anglo-Welsh Table, Sunday Telegraph Anglo-Welsh Merit Table & Sunday Telegraph Welsh Merit Table in both 1983-84 and 1984-85.
In the three seasons Eddie was captain, the club played 145 matches, 126 were won, 4 drawn and 14 lost with one game abandoned, points for 4424, points against 1380 - undoubtedly the most consistent club team in the British Isles at that time. Apart from his club career, Eddie played 16 times for Wales, 6 as captain and was a British Lion in 1983. He played in three Varsity matches (1976-1978) and also represented Monmouthshire and the Barbarians. The Six Nations will not be the same without Eddie’s commentary – a wonderful wordsmith. The thoughts of everyone at Pontypool RFC are with the families of Ann and Eddie at this very sad and most difficult of times.
There have been many battles in previous Pontypool versus Neath encounters over many years and this WRU Admiral National Championship clash at Pontypool Park was no exception. It was a match between two unbeaten sides and it didn’t disappoint with both teams going toe-to-toe in an action-packed, eight-try thriller.
Picturesque Pontypool Park looked glorious and the pitch in near perfect condition for this, the first match of the season played on this famous ground, after Pontypool’s comfortable wins at Maesteg Harlequins and Cross Keys . Neath kicked off attacking the scoreboard end of the ground on a fine, dry and sunny afternoon, in front of a crowd of well over 1,000. The visitors were on top in the early exchanges as Pooler started slowly. In the 12th minute Pontypool conceded a penalty at a ruck near their 10-metre line to the right of the posts. Pooler back-chatted the referee and was marched back a further 10 metres so up stepped outside-half Steff Williams to put his side into the lead with a successful shot at goal (0-3). Halfway through the first half Pontypool were penalised at a scrum 35 metres from their goal line in midfield but the kick at the posts went wide. Five minutes later Pooler were on the attack thanks to a good run by wing Amosa Nove. Neath were penalised for a no-arms tackle 25 metres from their goal line, 20 metres in from the right touchline and outside-half Matthew Jarvis levelled the scores with a successful penalty kick, despite the touch judges disagreeing, the referee awarded the goal (3-3).
On 27 minutes Pontypool started an attack inside their half. The ball reached centre Deon Smith who kicked ahead and the bounce favoured the youngster as he gathered to cross for a try five metres in from the left corner. Matthew Jarvis slotted a fine conversion (10-3). On the half hour Neath replied with a try by scrum-half Nicky Griffiths, after a powerful drive by the Neath forwards. This score was converted by Steff Williams (10-10). Just before the interval, Pontypool were guilty of an offence at a ruck in front of their posts and Steff Williams put the visitors ahead at half time with another successful penalty goal. Half time – Pontypool 10 Neath 13.
At the start of the second period, Mike Herbert replaced Cameron Regan in the back row for Pontypool. Within three minutes of the restart, play was in the Neath 22 and, after a few drives towards the visitors’ line, wing Amosa Nove barged over for a try close to the posts, which Matthew Jarvis converted (17-13). In the 50th minute Dan Babos replaced Owain Leonard at scrum half and three minutes later wing Mathew Powell made way for debut-making Ewan Rosser for Pontypool. Soon after Pooler were on the front foot and taking the game to Neath. After several attempts to cross the visitors’ line, number eight Ieuan Jones crashed over for a try under the posts and Matthew Jarvis added another two points from the tee (24-13).
In the 59th minute Neath were on the attack and almost scored under the posts but was brought down just short of the goal line. However, Mike Herbert transgressed at the ruck and was shown a yellow card. Neath kept the pressure on the Pooler defence and eventually scored a try through replacement hooker Sion Croker on the hour mark. Steff Williams converted (24-20). Pooler skipper and second row Ashley Sweet took a knock and was replaced by the returning Cameron Regan. Five minutes later Pooler made another substitution with Peter Lloyd making way for Tom Piper at tight head prop. In the 68th minute Pontypool’s other second row Adam Brown was sin-binned after the home side gave away several consecutive penalties inside their 22. Shortly after and with Pooler down to 13 men very briefly, Sion Crocker crossed for his second try of the afternoon, touching down 10 metres in from the left corner. The conversion attempt failed (24-25). Pooler made a further change with Kyan Best replacing Kelvyn Williams at loose head prop.
In the 74th minute, Pontypool were on the attack in the visitors’ 22 and testing the Neath defence. The ball went left and centre Joel Mahoney scored the bonus-point try near the posts. Matthew Jarvis converted (31-25). Three minutes later Neath were penalised at a ruck 20 metres from their goal line, 15 metres in from the right corner but the attempt at goal went wide. From the drop out Pooler number eight Ieuan Jones jumped up to field the ball but was taken out in the air on Neath’s 10-metre line, 20 metres in from the right touchline and this time, the reliable Matthew Jarvis made amends and made no mistake with a well-struck kick to put his side two scores ahead (34-25). Going into injury time, Ieuan Jones came off and was replaced by the returning Mathew Powell with Amosa Nove going into the pack at number eight. Then in the 85th minute former Wales international wing Aled Brew scored Neath’s bonus-point try 10 metres in from the left corner after concerted Neath pressure. The conversion attempt failed and with one minute left to play, Pooler managed to hold on to secure a well-deserved victory in a pulsating and exciting game. Final score – Pontypool 34 Neath 30.
Pooler’s discipline was very poor as they gave away far too many penalties and talked back to the referee on several occasions as well as receiving two yellow cards, so this needs to be addressed. Having said that, this was a great triumph for Pontypool against a very good and determined Neath outfit as they showed great character to record an important win. Pontypool will be home again on Saturday when Trebanos will be the welcome visitors, kick-off 2.30pm.
Pontypool: Huw Anderson, Mathew Powell (replaced by Ewan Rosser), Deon Smith, Joel Mahoney, Amosa Nove, Matthew Jarvis, Owain Leonard (replaced by Dan Babos), Kelvyn Williams (replaced by Kyan Best), Sam Scarfe, Peter Lloyd (replaced by Tom Piper), Adam Brown, Ashley Sweet (captain, replaced by the returning Cameron Regan), Cameron Regan (replaced by Mike Herbert), Callum Davies and Ieuan Jones (replaced by the returning Mathew Powell).
Neath: Lewis Evans, Ryan Griffiths, Ryan Evans (captain), Ben Atkins, Aled Brew, Steff Williams, Nicky Griffiths, Gareth Lloyd, Josh Clark, Tim Ryan, Sam Langford, Jon Barley, Jacob Blackmore, Owain Morgan and David Griggs. Replacements: Sion Crocker, Jack Powell, Sam Martin, Macauley Griffiths and Aaron Bramwell.