Huw S Thomas reports:
In a roller coaster of a game in which the lead changed hands seven times, Llandovery held their nerve to beat the holders and 13 times former winners of the Welsh Cup.
It was an injury time drop goal by fly half Tomas Marks and interception try from replacement Rob Walters that took the Drovers into the 4th round of the Konica Minolta Cup.
The win only served to emphasise for the Drovers what Dickens famously wrote as “the best of times and … the worst of times.”
A small market town club, Llandovery have reached the once unimaginable heights of a Premiership place, have excellent facilities and Saturday’s win was an achievement that ranks second only to the famous Cup win over mighty Pontypridd in 1985!
Yet there they are rooted to the foot of the Premiership with one win in 12 league outings and threatened with disastrous relegation.
They recently persuaded former coach Iestyn Thomas to return in a caretaker role and, since his return, Llandovery have lost narrowly to Bridgend and now produced their most resolute performance of the season.
The match itself had few moments of quality but it was rugged, tense and exciting and full of incidents and side issues.
Before the game Thomas had accused some players of “disgraceful under-achievement” and a promise to sack them unless they started producing the goods.
And after a game of squabbles and niggle, both clubs called on the WRU to nominate qualified touch judges in Cup matches, in place of toothless club officials.
Llanelli’s Coaching Director Kevin Williams and Thomas also had a heated exchange outside the referee’s changing room at half time involving allegations and counter allegations of attempts to influence referee Phil Connett.
The home victory was a triumph for former Llanelli player Marks whose late conversion had clinched last year’s 25-24 Cup Final win over Pontypridd.
The diminutive Marks was released in the summer and exacted revenge on his old club by converting the hard work of his pack into 19 points from four penalties, two conversions and a vital drop goal.
In a tough and physical encounter as demanded by the occasion, there was nothing to choose between the sides other than commitment and it was in that area that Llandovery had the upper hand. Re-energised and re-motivated by the return of their old coach, Iestyn Thomas, the Drovers pack played with huge gusto, their impact and support work in the contact area giving them an edge in the roller coasting second half.
Iestyn Thomas paid tribute to their effort – “harsh words were said to the players before the start of the game but everyone accepted them and answered them with a very brave and gutsy performance. We now need to transfer this promise into the league and have two absolutely vital games over the next two weeks.” said Thomas. “We need to beat Ebbw Vale and Pontypool who are not far above us in the league if we are to survive.”
The game against Llanelli was finely balanced at the break. A try apiece – hooker Craig Hawkins from a rolling maul for Llanelli, wing Deian Augustus for Llandovery from a pass by big centre Jacob Van Wyk - plus 8 kicked points each from the fly halves Marks and Ceiron Thomas had the teams tied 13-13.
Llanelli attacks behind the scrum lacked their usual fluency and the dangerous looking Paul Mackey in the centre was starved of prime ball but in the second half the Llandovery forwards were dominant in terms of possession and territory.
Craig Hawkins, locks Tristan Bowen and Dave Duley tried hard for Llanelli but they were up against a determined home pack who had big performers in prop Dennis Pugh, flanker Gareth Thomas, locks Tom Walker and Arwel Davies and there was a vastly improved performance from No 8 Gareth Bennett.
The game swung back and forth as the score went 16-13, 16-18, 19-18, 19-21 after two Marks penalties had been shaded by a second Hawkins try from a driving maul and a Thomas penalty
The Llandovery forwards then surged to the Llanelli line in injury time for Marks to snap over a close range drop goal for a 22-21 lead.
And when Llanelli threw caution to the wind in search of another score, replacement scrum half Rob Walters intercepted to gallop in from the half way line, leaving the last word to Marks who smiled over the conversion to remind Llanelli of happier Cup days.