Glamorgan Wanderers can be sure of one thing when they visit Llandovery in the Schweppes Cup on Saturday – Jock Watkins will have done his homework on them. The former Pontypridd hooker who coached the West Wales side to an historic cup win over Pontypridd two years ago has assessed the Wanderers and made plans to counter them. As a result Llandovery, beaten only once this season, have altered their forward formation and plumped for a “horses for courses” pack. Weight and experience is given priority in the front row where 31-year-old policeman Dai Thomas is recalled to share the propping duties with Phil Davies. Between them they provide a 33 stone cornerstone for the Llandovery scrummage unit.
“Dai the Book” and “Phil the Beast,” as they are locally known, are a formidable pair. Dai cut his teeth as a scrummager with Abercrave and New Dock Stars while Phil, slightly the heavier of the two at 17 stone, learned his trade with Waunarlwydd. Unlike his teammate Davies was not a member of the side that beat Pontypridd, but since joining Llandovery last year he has added a considerable physical presence to the pack.
The second row is also readjusted by the reintroduction of the 6ft 4in, 16 and 1/2 stone Wyn Williams to provide extra height and bulk in the line out. This means sacrificing 37-year-old veteran Noel Page, a great stalwart who shared the second row with Williams in the cup two years ago. This time Williams is partnered by Ian Jones who has already made a couple of appearances for Ebbw Vale, and is considered a fine prospect.
“We have the strength in our line out,” explained the Llandovery coach. “The Wanderers have three rather tall forwards, and we have to do something to try to combat them. The front row had to be changed to give us the weight and strength we need. We must aim for at least 50 per cent of the ball. Then we have got a chance of taking them on. I think our pack will give them a go. We shall do our best to live up to the West Wales tradition.”
Llandovery include seven of their cup heroes of two years ago. Two notable absentees are no longer with the club. Carwyn Davies has become one of Llanelli’s top try scoring wings and David Wigley is now with Aberavon as a back row forward. However, the coach is confident that the players who have replaced them will not let the side down.
Tim Williams, on the wing, is a product of Llandovery College and Nigel Clarke is a well built six-footer at No 8 with plenty of experience. He was on the reserves bench for the visit of Pontypridd. The talented Geraint Williams, with Newbridge experience, is still captain but is no longer at centre, having switched to full back. His brother Carwyn remains at outside half as a leading scorer who could make a significant contribution at the Wanderers’ expense.
Secretary Roland Griffiths admits to being a bit apprehensive about the outcome but chairman Ernie Prosser is full of optimism. “We are doing very well in the league where we are top of the B Section, and the boys are confident,” he said. “They know they are up against a good side, but our pack of forwards is as good as any in West Wales. I have great faith in the boys to do well.”
According to Wanderers’ skipper Paul Prickett, second row Lyndon James owed him a good game. But what the promising young lock served up was beyond all expectations. His exceptional lineout work was the platform on which his side built their win and fittingly it was his try which eventually put the Wanderers back into the lead. Quite simply, he had the sort of game that dreams are made of. He took a dozen or more two-handed catches in the middle of the line, was never far from the ball in the loose and found energy to sprint away for the crucial try.
It certainly needed an inspired effort to steer the Wanderers through to the next round of the Schweppes Cup and James’s performance made the difference between the two sides. The lineout apart, in every other phase of the game the well-drilled Llandovery side were every bit as keen and competitive as their visitors. On the same pitch where they defeated Pontypridd two years ago, thoughts of another famous victory were very much in mind.
Having been beaten only once in the build-up to the cup game Llandovery were quite rightly full of optimism. The Wanderers’ first-minute try knocked their hopes somewhat, but even so they battled back magnificently to put themselves ahead four minutes into the second half.
Their front row of Dai Thomas, Wyn Morgan and Phil Davies stood up resolutely to the pressure put on them at the scrums and back row men Nigel Clarke and Elfyn Jenkins were a bundle of trouble in the loose. Behind the scrum, the two Williamses – outside half Carwyn, and skipper and full back Geraint – master-minded the rearguard action.
With their guidance, the home side were able to turn a seven-point deficit into a 9-7 lead by the early stages of the second half and at that stage there were some anxious looks on the faces of Wanderers’ supporters. But whereas a few years ago the side might have dropped their heads and let the game slip away from them, these days they are blessed with a far stronger constitution. There was no panic and by concentrating on what they do well they were able to retrieve the situation.
In fact, their preparations for one of the most daunting cup trips of the day were meticulous. They watched Llandovery twice, gave themselves plenty of time to travel and change and exempted themselves from the preliminary rounds next season by sticking to their game plan.
They got off to a flying start thanks to two mistakes by the home side. Mark Hembury’s deep kick-off was retrieved infield and that allowed the visiting full back to kick to the opposite corner and force Llandovery to throw in to a lineout a yard from their line. Ian Jones failed to catch cleanly at the front and, quick as a flash, hooker Mark Shugar was there to pick up the tap and claim a sucker-try. Hembury’s conversion attempt went wide, but 10 minutes later he punished another home mistake with a penalty.
Those seven points must have settled the visitors’ nerves, but they failed to rattle Llandovery. They finally managed to set up a position in the Wanderers’ 22 and from a rare lineout win Carwyn Williams dropped a goal. That at least gave them some hope of getting back into the hunt and when Wyatt had a kick charged down behind his own line a five-yard scrum gave the home side the opportunity they had been waiting for.
To add to the situation, Wanderers’ hooker Shugar surprisingly left the field with a knee injury at the crucial moment, forcing them to pack down a player short. Prickett dropped the first scrum, but at the second attempt No 8 Nigel Clarke was able to pick up and drive over for a try. Carwyn Williams’s conversion took Llandovery into the lead and the battle was really on.
For quarter of an hour they kept their noses in front, but with the canny Gerald Williams constantly inching his side forward the Wanderers were able to hit back. Using their back row of Paul Marley, Owain Williams and Huw Thomas to spearhead their attack they first combined to send James racing clear for his try and then worked Owain Williams away for an injury time score. Two Hembury conversions added to the relief and Llandovery were left to dream of what might have been – and what nearly was.
Despite a magnificent effort from their pack Llandovery bowed out of the Schweppes Cup, but the West Wales side emerged with great credit. In the end it was the Wanderers’ greater experience and tactical awareness that made all the difference – but Llandovery ran them closer than the final score-line suggests. The home side were ahead for a period in the second half and a shock looked a distinct possibility.
The dominant feature of the game was Lyndon James’s lineout play. The six feet eight inch forward gave as good a display of lineout jumping as has been seen at Llandovery, but the Wanderers also had a controlling influence at scrum half. The former Welsh international Gerald Williams is still a class player and his kicking late in the game kept Llandovery on the defensive.
The visitors’ three-quarters were a disappointment – the two wings had so little possession they must have thought they were playing for Pontypool! The centre combination of Eamon Holland and Nick Ward produced nothing of note. The class player was full back Mark Hembury who was very effective when he ran into the three-quarter line, and had the ability to kick the ball enormous distances.
In the scrummages Llandovery easily held their own. Props Dai Thomas and Phil Davies held their opponents comfortably, while in the back row Elfyn Jenkins was again in excellent form and was awarded the National Westminster Bank Trophy as Llandovery’s ‘man of the match’.
Llandovery had the worst possible start, conceding a try within forty five seconds of the kick off. Wyatt kicked off for the visitors but Llandovery failed to return the ball to touch and full back Hembury kicked the ball deep into Llandovery territory. Llandovery put the ball into the lineout, the ball was tapped back and the Wanderers’ hooker Mark Shugar was through in a flash to touch down.
This was the start Llandovery didn’t want – hardly a Llandovery player had yet touched the ball. Hembury’s conversion was wide but he soon stretched his side’s lead with a penalty from 35 metres.
To their credit Llandovery came roaring back into the game – their forwards produced a fine display and Carwyn Williams reduced the arrears with a drop goal minutes later.
Llandovery had just the tonic they needed shortly after half-time. Nigel Clarke scored from a pushover and Carwyn Williams converted to give the home side a 9-7 lead. But shortly afterwards, with the Wanderers’ pack in retreat near the half way, line danger suddenly emerged. The scrum wheeled slightly towards the touch line and No. 8 Owain Williams picked up before flicking the ball to Gerald Williams. He returned the ball to the No. 8 who made progress towards Llandovery’s line. Full back Williams took the No. 8 out but Lyndon James was up in support to score. Hembury converted.