Ystrad Prosper in the Mud

29 Jan

Ystrad Rhondda advanced to the next round of the Swalec Plate but they were pushed all the way by a workmanlike Fairwater outfit.

It was a game of endless endeavour on a seriously heavy pitch at Ashcroft Park with tries coming from Ystrad’s Dai Gratton and Anton Phillips for the home side. The boot of Alex Webber proved to be the difference on the day as the visitors won the game by 16 points to 5.

With a weekend of LV Anglo-Welsh competition as well as an FA Cup weekend in the world of football, it was quite apt that the South Wales clubs took a break from their gruelling league timetable to concentrate on progressing in the cup.

Wales have a unique tiered cup format whereby the teams are split into the cup, plate and bowl competitions. The more elite teams compete for the cup, those below them compete for the plate and the teams toward the lower end of the league structure play for the bowl. It means finals day is a great event as the Millennium Stadium plays host to 3 finals on the same day, culminating in the Swalec Cup which was won by Pontypridd last year.

Fairwater had won five and lost five of their previous 10 games in division 3 south-east, yet having put in a stirring performance against top of the league Llanishen last week as they went down 9-5, they were in buoyant mood going into the fixture.

Ystrad Rhondda who are a sitting at the very top of division 2 east came into the fixture as clear favourites but they did so on the back of two losses in league. Added to this the condition of the Fairwater pitch and it had all the makings of a close game.

Ystrad Rhondda’s team manager, Brad Hughes tried to shed some light on their recent blip on an otherwise perfect season,

“Against Penallta we had our second rows out [injured] so we put two back rowers in thinking we’d get away with it, but we came up short.

“We had a real off day [against Tylorstown] and confidence seemed to be low.”

Despite these two consecutive losses, Ystrad Rhondda remain top of division 2 east by a solitary point. A cup fixture was seen to be the perfect tonic to revive the players.

“We don’t see it [the game today] as a distraction as such with no game next week, but hopefully it’ll be a confidence booster for us.”

With regards the importance of the cup for the club from Cwm Rhondda, Hughes stated,

“It’s massive, I don’t think we’ll have a better chance to get there [Millennium Stadium] given our current squad.”

Nevertheless, the 2 east club were quick to point out what their main concern is this year,

“Promotion is our main priority, but with four teams going up, we’re confident that we’ll make it.

Talking of their chances against their Cardiff-based opponents, Hughes predicted,

“We’ve still got one or two boys out today but we should be good enough to win. We should have a bit too much for them today.”

As the game kicked off, the sun shone  on Ashcroft Park, but the conditions were extremely boggy under-foot. It was a cagey start with both sides trying to work each other out and when Penallta’s back row were caught offside from a Sam Hodder box-kick, it gave his opposite number, scrum-half Mike Foley the chance for the first points from 45m out. The left footer pulled the kick right in the soggy conditions and the chance went astray.

From a Fairwater scrum, the home pack rumbled into opposition territory and when Ystrad’s openside Neil Walker was penalised for not rolling away at the ruck, Foley was presented with another opportunity to register 3 points. He missed the straightforward 25m effort this time to the left and the scoreboard remained untouched ten minutes in.

From the 22 restart, the first clear chance was created by the bulky Fairwater pack. A succession of surges from the home side took them up to the Ystrad 22m line. Foley fed hooker Jack Leigh who hit a superb angle cutting in against the grain through the flapping would-be tacklers. The skipper then neatly offloaded to Nick Masters who spilled the ball forward. Had the winger caught it, he surely would have scored the opening try of the game.

The opening twenty minutes belonged to Fairwater and their dominance in the scrum was becoming clear and they started using it to their advantage. The front row of Leigh brothers Tom and Jack as well as the voluptuous Kyle Halley were carrying strongly and winning the battle of the gainline. However, despite their ascendancy in all facets of the game, they hadn’t managed to turn the pressure into all-important points in what was always going to be a low-scoring game.

Ystrad Rhondda weren’t in the game until 22 minutes when they managed to work themselves into the home side’s half. The penalty was conceded at the ruck and Alex Webber was ruthlessly accurate as he kicked his team into the lead from 42 metres. It was to be the catalyst for a period of domination for the visiting team as they set up camp in the Fairwater half.


(Bleddyn Davies breaks the stubborn Fairwater defensive line. Picture: Bill Drew)

Using the natural slope of the pitch, they spent the rest of the second half in enemy territory, but like their opponents they were unable to increase their three-point lead in spite of their territorial superiority. The last 5 minutes of the half was the most exciting set up by a counter-attack by Alex Webber. The winger caught an attempted clearing kick and set off on a long weaving run. From the resulting breakdown, Ystrad spread the ball wide and the try looked imminent. However, rather predictably and to sum up the first forty minutes, the Ystrad winger Dan John was denied a try in the corner by a forward pass.

At half time, Fairwater coach Ricky Theaker was positive despite being behind on the scoreboard,

“I think we’re doing really well considering they’re top of the division above us.

“It’s not a great game to watch skills-wise, but our guys are getting stuck in there and stopping them developing any patterns of play.”

The second half began disastrously for the home team as Ystrad player-coach Dylan Jones chipped over the midfield in his own half for the advancing Dai Gratton. The much travelled full-back was the first to the ball and hacked forward towards the 22m metre line. Gratton’s opposite number Tom Cotter wasn’t able to deal with the slippery ball and the Ystrad man controlled his second kick perfectly as it sat in-goal for him to beat the retreating defenders to touch down left of the posts. Webber added the extras to stretch the visitors lead to 10.

The next ten minutes were quite uninspiring with a lot of errors coming from both sides until Fairwater managed to trudge through the mud into their opponents half and were awarded a kickable penalty for a high tackle. The decision to kick to touch was a brave one and one that looked like paying off.

A succession of scrums on the Ystrad 5m line saw the referee give two penalties for illegal scrummaging and Fairwater looked destined to score. Such was the home side’s control during this period, Ystrad were reduced to fourteen men when flanker Neil Walker was removed from the action for an infringement at a ruck. The fourth scrum was pushed all the way over the line and it just needed number eight Ryan Evans to put a fingertip on the ball, but somehow he knocked on and Ystrad cleared from the resulting scrum.

Evans was spared his blushes when he was pivotal in the best attack of the game. He picked up at the base of the scrum on halfway and fended the attempted tackles of the back-row before offloading the ball to his scrum-half. Foley then sniped behind the scrum and set off down the blindside. The busy scrum-half then drew the last man Gratton before releasing Anton Phillips down the left wing to score in the corner in the 64th minute. Foley couldn’t add the extras from out wide following his good work, but the home side were back in the game with fifteen minutes to go and just five points behind.

Just as Fairwater got themselves back into the game, within five minutes they found themselves drifting once more. The home side were mounting another attack through their forwards when they conceded a penalty for not releasing. 39 metres out, Webber lined up another difficult kick and he never looked like missing. It sailed through the posts to put the visitors 13-5 ahead.

This prompted the Ystrad Rhondda management to make some changes to close the game down. Dylan Jones and Sam Hodder were replaced at fly-half and scrum-half respectively and there was more structure to the home side’s game in the last ten minutes than there had been in the preceding seventy.

Replacement outside-half Rhys Ruler kicked smartly in open play and used his runners effectively. His territorial percentage play restricted Fairwater to try to chase the game from deep inside their own half. It eventually resulted in an Ystrad penalty when they were suffocated into conceding a penalty as they defended tirelessly on their own line. Webber knocked the penalty over for a 16-5 winning margin in a bruising encounter.

At the final whistle, Brad Hughes was relieved to come away with the win,

“I thought the score at the start of the second half would be enough to push us clear, but to be fair to them, they showed a lot of character to come back into it.

“They had us under a lot of pressure in the scrum and we were pleased that we managed to keep them out. After all that hard work, to concede in the way that we did was poor on our part.”

At the heart of everything good Fairwater did was loose-head prop Tom Leigh, who had a positive outlook on his team’s afternoon,

“Today was a good game considering the woeful conditions of the pitch. They were a well organised team but I think we showed that we have the players at Fairwater to compete at a higher level.

“Our scrum dominated and it came down to the luck of the bounce for their first try. Not taking anything away from them they controlled the game towards the end and shut us out.”

Indeed, given the conditions, it was an enjoyable game with the Fairwater pack completely dominating in the close quarters. The front three were very evident throughout and the giant second row Tom Foley carried gallantly all game. Enterprising scrum-half Mike Foley controlled the tight game well and was very prominent.

The visitors had to be competitive at the breakdown and they were led in this department by blindside flanker Carl Facey. He forced a number of turnovers at the ruck and tackled efficiently during his team’s defensive shifts. The stand out player was Alex Webber, who gathered a personal tally of 11 points for the afternoon. He was solid under the high ball and took the correct option on every occasion. His counter-attacking skills were admirable and his evasiveness quite brilliant given the heaviness of the pitch. His kicking was second to none as he landed four out of four in horrid conditions to keep his opponents at an arms length.

Ystrad will go through to the next round on their quest to reach the Millennium Stadium finals day as well as returning to their weekly task of maintaining their promotion chase in division 2 east. Meanwhile Fairwater will hope to use this performance against superior opposition to boost performances in division 3 south-east as they hope to climb the table from 7th to join the league pace-setters.

Fairwater: Tom Cotter, Nick Masters, Ian Jones, Vivian Rees, Anton Phillips, Gary Cleaver, Mike Foley, Ryan Evans, Luke O’Brien, Mike Andrews, Patrick Ellis, Tom Foley, Kyle Halley, Jack Leigh, Tom Leigh .

Tries: Anton Phillips

Ystrad Rhondda: Dai Gratton, Alex Webber, Bleddyn Davies, Andrew Hutchings, Dan John, Dylan Jones, Sam Hodder, Masin Al Azzawi, Neil Walker, Carl Facey, Nathan Hughes, Ian Edwards, Craig Griffiths, Carl Williams, Neil Jones.

Tries: Dai Gratton

Cons: Alex Webber

Pens: Alex Webber (3)

Man of the Match: Alex Webber

Pictures courtesy of Bill Drew.

 
 
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