Newcastle Emlyn 18 Pontypool 23
League leaders Pontypool were taken right to the edge for the first time this season and with a bit more luck Newcastle Emlyn could have won this game.
This will go down as one of their finest ever performances and supporters will be talking about this game for many years such was the tremendous effort and determination shown with none better than man of the match Dai Bryant.
The veteran front row forward epitomised everything that was good about the hosts in that he was tough as teak in the scrum and brave on the floor and Pooler knew they had been in a tough game.
Emlyn got off to a dream start when from the kick off when the visitors looked to clear their twenty two with a long kick by their player coach Mathew Jones. The kick was fielded on the half way line by Emlyn number eight Brynmor Jones who passed inside to full back Shaun Leonard, who hoisted a high kick, arrived in time to contest the ball and deflected the kick into the hands of winger Llyr Jones. The speedster, returning from injury, needed no second invitation and accelerated away from any defenders to score a try converted by Leonard.
With Jones directing matters from the number ten position it was not long before the visitors got on the scoreboard, courtesy of a penalty goal from Jones after seven minutes. The outside half had a faultless afternoon with the boot and brought his side within a point of the home team with another penalty some five minutes later.
The first couple of scrums saw the home side shunted backwards but number eight Brynmor Jones still managed to retain possession for the home side.
The scrums did settle down, due in no small part to the hard work of the Emlyn front row of props Emrys Davies and Bryant and hooker and captain Alex Williams.
Second rows Ryan Morgans and Bleddyn Davies, along with flankers Joel James and Gareth Thomson and number eight Brynmor Jones worked tirelessly and picked out the Pooler ball carriers quickly and often drove them backwards.
Without a great deal of ball to work with the Emlyn midfield of outside half Barry Thomas and centres Dan Davies and Rhys Schiavone all put in some useful tackles. Schiavone was particularly effective in winning penalties at the contact area as he sought to turn the ball over.
As half time approached Emlyn were awarded a scrum on the half way line and the rock solid Emlyn scrum enabled lively Emlyn scrum half Mike Jones to deliver a perfect pass which found its way to full back Shaun Leonard who scythed his way over to give the home team a six point lead at half time.
The second half started with the visitors using the catch and drive from lineouts to great effect and the home side had to defend these drives sometimes from as far out as the half way line.
It really was only a matter of time before they scored despite the efforts of Gareth Thomson and Ryan Morgans to try and steal their line out throws. Pooler declined to go for the posts from a couple of penalties conceded by Emlyn, and from one drive prop Bryant found himself sin-binned for collapsing a maul close to the home side’s line. Again Pooler went for touch and from the lineout they eventually managed to execute a near perfect drive for skipper Rob Nash to be awarded the try, converted by Jones to give them a one point lead.
The boot of Mathew Jones pinned Emlyn in their half for long periods and it was no surprise when midway through the half the visitors extended their lead. Again it came courtesy of the line out and catch and drive, with this time loose head prop Jamie Jeune gaining the touchdown and Jones adding the extra points with an excellent conversion from wide out. The Emlyn coaches brought on fresh legs in the forwards, in the shape of prop Dai Jones, hooker Tom Curry, and second row Dan Havard, and there was no let-up in the intensity of the Emlyn performance.
With eleven minutes to go another Emlyn attack saw Pooler replacement centre Sion Tu’ipulotu sin binned for deliberately collapsing a maul just inside his own half and Leonard kicked an excellent penalty to bring Emlyn within sight of at least a losing bonus point.
Mathew Jones kicked another penalty to increase the visitors lead to eight points and the Emlyn faithful thought the bonus point had slipped from the side’s grasp.
A sweeping attack down the left wing saw the visitors’ concede a penalty and Leonard converted the kick to put the home side back in bonus point range.
Emlyn moved the ball wide and it was only some desperate Pooler defending that saw the ball eventually cleared to touch just inside their half as the home side went in search of their third and what would have been probably match winning try with the final move of the game.
The large crowd left Dol Wiber delighted with having viewed an excellent game of rugby with the home side’s performance something to savour.