John Kendrick reports:
Bridgend, equal on points with Premiership leaders Neath, had to battle until the 80th minute before they scored a late try to ensure victory over the battling Drovers.
Llandovery, involved in the relegation battle at the foot of the table, were a match for the home side in all aspects of play and had the edge in the tight. In the open, fast game, with both sides taking their opportunities to run the ball on a hard dry pitch, the Carmarthenshire side played some of their best rugby of the season.
Speaking afterwards a desperately disappointed Llandovery coach Iestyn Thomas highlighted three significant incidents that he felt turned the game and resulted in Bridgend snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. “The freak bounce of the rugby ball, indiscipline in talking back at the referee and the seemingly arbitrary use of the yellow card all contributed considerably to our defeat”.
The Drovers took an early lead when, following good interpassing involving both backs and forwards, No 8 Gareth Bennett used his strength to force his way over for a try which went unconverted. Bridgend replied when they scored a try through their number 8 Andrew Williams and took the lead with a Matthew Hutchins conversion.
From the kick off the ball reared up on its point from the hard ground and sailed over the heads of the chasing forwards, landing in the hands of a retreating Bridgend player who, finding himself in space, sprinted into Drovers' territory where he found centre Ryan Howells and outside half Mark David up in support for the latter to cross in the corner. Llandovery, leading 5 nil within 3 minutes, found themselves trailing 12-5.
Worse was to follow when talking back to the ref after a penalty for a high tackle cost 10 metres and put the kick within the range of Hutchins who kicked the goal to increase the home lead to 10 points.
With half time approaching the Drovers pulled the deficit back to only three points when lock Tom Walker, supporting good play by the threes, crossed for a second Drovers try converted by Tomas Marks.
With the wind in their favour in the second half the visitors were optimistic that they could inflict a rare defeat on the high flying Bridgend side.
The home side, under pressure, resorted to illegal tactics at the ruck and maul to nip promising attacks in the bud and prevent the Drovers increasing their try count. Hands in, collapsing the maul and offside all resulted in penalties and each time the referee was seen to give a talking to the offending player. Tomas Marks was presented with five goal attempts and was successful with four, taking the Drovers tally to 24 points.
With much of the game taking place in Bridgend territory it was against the run of play that they broke out and, with their speedy backs combing in an excellent move, full back Hutchins was able to make the extra man and breach the defence for an unconverted corner try.
As the game approached its finale Bridgend mounted one last attack. A penalty kick gave them a 5m lineout and kept the pressure on with a series of driving mauls. The Drovers now resorted to illegal means to stop the attack and this time there was no talking to the player - a yellow card was given to scrum half Rob Walters. With one short in defence replacement centre Roger Davies, who last season was seen in Llandovery colours, found a gap and crossed under the posts for a try converted by Hutchins.
There was only injury time for the kick off before the full time whistle was blown and a desperately frustrated Drovers had to concede to an undeserved victory by a highly relieved Bridgend side.