Huw S Thomas reports:
Llandovery went down to yet another cruel defeat – this time at the hands of the league leaders Ebbw Vale who had to come back from a 21-7 deficit to snatch a late win.
To be champions, Alex Codling’s men will have to win their last home game against Llanelli and then hope that Newport, Neath and Pontypridd slit each others throats in the coming weeks. As for the Drovers, their Premiership survival now looks dependent on Beddau and Bonymaen denying Newbridge and Carmarthen Quins getting promotion from Division One.
To further confuse the situation, there were rumours abounding yesterday that the WRU might even scratch relegation this year and not only scratch relegation but increase next year’s Premiership to 16 teams!!
The Drovers looked far the better side for three-quarters of the game at Eugene Cross Park, all their 21 points coming from Man of the Match Howard Thomas and it was only late on that the Vale pack took control. The Steelmen were outplayed for long periods by an adventurous Llandovery side who had two Scarlets in their back division in Welsh international full-back Garan Evans and wing Darren Daniel.
To their credit, the pretenders to the Premiership title rallied splendidly in the last quarter, with the strength of the pack turning the game on its head.
The line-out work of evergreen lock Neil Edwards and promising debutant Will Jones brought streams of possession with and against the throw and a trio of tries did for the brave Drovers.
Coach Alex Codling was full of praise for his opponents as much as for his own side. “Llandovery showed in the first half they are a good footballing side and put a lot of pace into the game to have us really worried at half-time. It also showed how really competitive the Premiership has become when you see the bottom side more than hold their own with the top side.
"We had to pull out all the stops to turn the game around” said Codling “and it was the sterling work of the pack that got us eventually into the driving seat.”
His words were of little comfort to Llandovery coach Iestyn Thomas. “It is the story of the season - we keep putting ourselves into strong, winning positions, fail to pull clear and then see the opposition rally to snatch the spoils” said a crestfallen Thomas. “We will keep fighting in the league to the end we and have a Konica Minolta Cup semi–final on Saturday. On current from, anything can happen.”
Fly-half Howard Thomas was the Man of the Match. The Llandeilo product scored all Llandovery’s points with two marvellous individual tries – one from 90 metres – a conversion and three penalties from 35, 40 and 45 metres to trump a first-half Vale try from Loughborough College debutant lock Will Jones, converted by fly-half Sam Mills.
The Drovers led 14-7 at half time but should really have been clear by another fifteen points or more. Wing Owain Rowlands ran elusively up the left touch line only to be hit into the corner flag in the act of scoring, flanker Eifion Gwynne was dubiously penalised for a double movement on the Vale line and then three Drovers over ran the ball when it would have been easier to drop on the ball in the Vale in-goal.
They still led 21-7 up well into the last quarter but their weakness at the line-out and Vale’s extra strength in the rolling maul changed the game’s complexion. The Vale scrummage, too, exerted increasing pressure and as the momentum built so did Llandovery’s defence start to creak.
Centre Kristian Owen sliced through a try and when Llandovery centre Ioan Davies was yellow carded with 10 minutes to go, Vale forward strength proved vital. A try from wing Simon Hunt, converted by Mills tied the scores and then two minutes from time, a classic line-out take and surge got hooker Matthew Williams over to send Llandovery crashing to their 16th defeat in 23 games.