John Kendrick reports:
Llandovery scraped through to the fifth round of the Konica Minolta Cup by a mere four points in a rousing, well contested game in which sixty points were recorded. Caerphilly, relegated from the Premiership at the end of last season, have been forced to re-build their side following the departure of most of their squad when they fell to Division 1. On this evidence they have done a good job and will be a force to be reckoned with.
In fact the First Division side came close to achieving a giant killing act and were unlucky not to have scored a couple more tries when they enjoyed a long period of territorial advantage over the Premiership team. An injury to Drovers outside half Tomas Marks necessitating full back Gareth Morgan taking over his duties in that position and as kicker had a large influence on the eventual outcome.
In their task they were greatly helped when Caerphilly’s influential flanker, Peter Harrison, was yellow carded for striking an opponent just before the interval. At this point the home side were leading 15-10, but when he returned after half time the score had been turned around to 25-15 in favour of the Drovers.
The first try, of the eight scored, came after only 2 minutes. Following a scrum on their own 10m line lively Caerphilly scrum half Geoff Goodswen broke down the blind side. When his opposite number Iwan Mainwaring slipped Goodswen found his way clear. He sprinted 50 m downfield before a covering tackle from winger Ifan Evans brought him down. When the ball was re-cycled player-coach Christian Ferris was on hand to dive over and open the scoring.
Within minutes the Drovers were back on terms. Following a 5m scrum the ball was flipped out to winger Mark Bowen who used all his strength and size to power over in the corner despite the attentions of two tacklers.
Full back James Balfrey then restored the Caerphilly lead with a well struck penalty which was soon added to when flanker Peter Harrison broke through some weak tackles to score a second try for the home side. Balfrey converted to take the home side into a 10 point lead.
With half time approaching and the ‘Cheesemen’ holding the Drovers in a vice like territorial grip a relieving kick took play into the home half. Here good work by forwards Vernon Cooper and Gareth Bennett paved the way for flanker Ceri Davies to force his way over for a try which went unconverted.
There was still time for Caerphilly to come close to increasing their lead and on two occasions they could count themselves unlucky not to score. In the first instance a driving maul crossed the line but the Referee ruled that the ball was held up, and then a splendid cross kick by outside half Mark Withey found three unmarked attackers. Unfortunately for them the bounce of the ball went back over their heads as they followed up and the home side had to be content with a 15 points to 10 lead at the interval.
Caerphilly down to 14 men at the start of second half with the sin-binning of Harrison found the more experienced Drovers side a handful and within 4 minutes of the re-start Number eight Gareth Bennett had crashed his way over from a five metre scrum to once again equal the scores. Gareth Morgan, taking over the kicking duties, now put the drovers into the lead for the first time in the match when he slotted a 35m penalty.
It was Morgan again who was instrumental in setting up the Drovers fourth try. Receiving the ball from a lineout he made a searing 50m break before sending centre Jacobus Van Wyk over for a try with a well timed pass. Morgan converted the try to give the Drovers a 10 point lead.
At this stage the Drovers should have been able to close the game out but Caerphilly had other ideas and were not about to give up thoughts of a giant killing act. When a miss-pass move amongst the Llandovery backs was intercepted just short of his own line Caerphilly centre Phil Price raced 70m deep into opposition territory where the Drovers conceded a penalty to give Balfrey the chance to reduce the arrears. When the full back kicked his third penalty only a minute later the game was very much open at 21-25.
Gareth Morgan was once again to play an influential role in the tie. A breakdown amongst the home backs spilled the ball and Morgan booted it downfield, gave chase and secured it from under the noses of the defenders. Wing Ifan Evans speeding up in support was able to take a pass and cross for a fifth Drovers try. When Morgan converted the score stood at 32-21 with only a few minutes left.
However in this game nothing was to be taken for granted and back came the home side. Following a quickly taken penalty replacement prop Feao Vunipola forced his way over under the posts to record a third try for the home side. It was too little too late because as the conversion sailed over Referee Mr David Bodily blew the final whistle to end this pulsating tie and ease the Drovers into the next round. The sighs of relief were audible all around the ground.