Llandovery hold no fears of Newport in their Schweppes Cup tie at Rodney Parade on Saturday. The men from mid-Wales hope to catch the Black-and-Ambers on the rebound after their recent poor form and player problems.
"We are going there with an open mind and the attitude that we have nothing to lose," said coach Jock Watkins. "They can do the worrying, not us."
With 33 years first-class experience as a hooker and administrator with Pontypridd and Glamorgan, Watkins has transformed Llandovery into a formidable cup fighting outfit.
"We have not been playing two games the same this season," he went on, "but we hope to put it together for this match, knowing that Newport are not playing very well and that morale is fairly low. These are plus signs for us although at the same time we realise they are a very capable side with a pretty powerful front row. The scrum is one phase where we need to tighten up. We have not done so well there this season and rather than mix it with them in that area we would hope to run at them."
Since Watkins arrived in the quiet mid-Wales market town four years ago and took over as coach, Llandovery have been buzzing in the Cup. They have beaten Pontypridd and also gained useful experience by entertaining Llanelli and Glamorgan Wanderers. In the process the players have, more or less, remained the same to become fairly seasoned cup campaigners.
Full back Geraint Williams is captaining the side for the fourth successive year, while his brother Carwyn remains in the key role of outside half where he continues to exercise a considerable influence. The only two recent newcomers are wing David Giles, a former Llandovery Town goalkeeper, and prop Eifion Davies, who has taken over from the injured David Thomas, a local policeman better known as 'Dai The Book.'
Both clubs have recently spied on each other to assess form and it is likely that neither of them have been very impressed by what they saw. While Newport were held to a dismal draw at home to Aberavon last Saturday, Llandovery were helping to give Seven Sisters a lift off the bottom of Section A by going down to a 12-4 defeat.
"We have not done so well in the league," admits their coach, who is being assisted this season by ex-captain Alan Walters. "But we have had a couple of notable achievements in beating Tumble in the league and in the Cup."
Tumble, as every West Wales league fan knows, concede defeat as rarely as Liverpool do in the Barclays League. To beat them home and away in a matter of weeks is the pinnacle of achievement. For that reason Llandovery are not to be under-estimated. They seem to suggest that when the pressure is on they can reproduce the form which has made them the current West Wales RU Welsh Brewers champions.
Llandovery: G Williams (capt), H Morgan. H Thomas. A Thomas, D Giles, C Williams, R Jones: E Davies. W Morgan. P Davies. I Jones. W Williams. E Jenkins. N Clarke. C Davies.
Llandovery's cup interest ended at Rodney Parade on Saturday where they were outplayed by a strong and determined Newport side badly in need of a cup run to boost their patchy season.
Newport went in front in the seventh minute after some quick handling and a burst from full-back Jonathan Callard laid the ground for an unconverted try in the corner by centre Chris Manley.
Much of the early play was concentrated in the Llandovery half, and Callard added a 15th minute penalty when the visitors were caught offside. Soon after, the Newport skipper Roger Powell dummied to pass outside and squeezed in for another try.
Llandovery, however, hit back smartly, number eight Nigel Clarke grabbing a touchdown which was converted by a splendidly-judged kick from Carwyn Williams.
The Newport forwards though continued to win the bulk of the loose possession, and scrum-half Tony Coombs went over for an unconverted try after a further period of pressure. As half-time approached, Llandovery were pinned back by a series of close-up scrummages which resulted in Coombs taking his second try.
As the second half began Llandovery continued to contest everything, but any thoughts of a cup upset were quickly receding, and Jonathan Callard went over for a try on the burst early in the second half following a scrummage ten yards out. A similar scrum led to Newport's sixth try, Coombs completing his hat-trick, and Callard this time slotted over the conversion to put the home side 29-6 in front.
In the closing stages, wingers Guy Putland and Marc Batten added tries for Newport and Chris Manley got his second try in the last minute to round off a comprehensive Newport victory. Llandovery though never stopped trying, and can take great satisfaction from their level of effort and work-rate.
Llandovery's hopes of springing a cup upset against Newport at Rodney Parade suffered an early set back when the Black and Ambers took the lead with a seventh minute try.
Newport were penalised in several untidy early lineouts but the Newport pack went on to win significant second phase ball and quick handling and a thrusting run by full-back Jonathan Callard pierced the Llandovery defence for centre Chris Manley to score an unconverted try in the corner.
But worse was to follow for Llandovery, who were caught offside and in the 15th minute Callard slotted over a penalty. Most of the play at this stage was in the Llandovery half and Newport stretched their lead with a second try, this time from skipper and flanker Roger Powell. He dummied to pass outside but made for the line. This gave Newport an 11-0 lead but Llandovery bounced back and No. 8 Nigel Clarke grabbed a try which outside half Carwyn Williams converted.
Newport made their pressure pay off again in the 28th minute when scrum half Tony Coombs squeezed in to get the touchdown for a try, which again went unconverted.
Llandovery scrum half Randall Jones rescued them with a touch finder from a close up lineout but his relieving kick was short on distance. Sustained pressure from a series of scrums near the Llandovery line finally paid off when Coombs swooped for his second try on the stroke of half-time.
Half-time: Newport 19pts., Llandovery 6
Perhaps one day the push-over try will be outlawed like the flying wedge. It is not so much that the push-over is dangerous to life or limb, but it is about as creative as an incinerator. Furthermore, it will always give the heavier packs of most of the major clubs an enormous advantage against the minnows of the Schweppes Cup. Newport exemplified this in overpowering Llandovery at Rodney Parade in the third round.
Certainly there is a real danger that someone one day could suffer very serious injury when front rows collapse and the momentum of the drive rolls on over them. Not all scrums are collapsed deliberately as the reluctantly retreating pack attempt to resist the pressure. There is no doubt that spectators enjoy a scrum drive as much as the driving forwards. But we also enjoyed the fierce aggression of the flying wedge. As a variation to the subtle skills of the elusive runner or the charge of the physically strong attacker on the burst, the scrum drive has its moments, to be sure; and Newport are among the teams who have employed it extensively over the years. They used it to destroy Llandovery and now Bedwas can expect to experience it in the next round.
Scrum half Tony Coombs pounced for two of his three tries from irresistible shove power as Roger Powell's pack took complete command. David Waters, as ever, was a source of regular lineout possession while his scrummaging and open drive is never less than selflessly directed. Flying Glenn George, excellent No 8 Paul Roberts and purposeful props Frank Hillman and Rhys Morgan all contrived to exert total supremacy.
Llandovery's Wyn Williams refused to recognise that Newport's pack were in command. Maybe he has seen service with the Foreign Legion because 'March or Die' appeared to be his motto and midway through the second half this second row stalwart went on a lone, long charge-about that really rocked the home defence.
No 8 Nigel Clarke surged across from a close-up lineout for the visitors' only try and Carwyn Williams added the goal points. Scrum half Randall Jones was a tireless tackler and coverer while wing forwards Chris Davies and Elfyn Jenkins never relaxed their harrying.
David Pitt caused the Llandovery defence considerable concern with his midfield energy while full back Jonathan Callard produced one burst of bewildering dodging and swerving that had us thinking nostalgically of some such marvellous moments by Roy Burnett of yesteryear.
Alas, the golden days of Newport's brilliant back divisions are long gone and until they return we must expect the forward steamroller to see them through as the caretakers of a once-great team. Coombs (3), Chris Manley (2), Roger Powell, Jonathan Callard, Guy Putland and Marc Batten scored the nine tries and Callard converted one and put over a penalty goal. But goal-kicking is another lost art at Rodney Parade these days so they won't want any legislation curbing their push-over power.