Huw S Thomas reports:
Llandovery – brave and fearless to a man - got to their first ever WRU final when they beat their Carmarthenshire neighbours Llanelli at Aberavon on Saturday evening.
It was their fourth win over Llanelli on the trot and their magnificent victory deprived Llanelli of a 19th appearance in the final since the Cup was launched back in 1972.
The Konica Minolta Cup semi-final kicked off at 6.05 to accommodate the S4C cameras and viewers plus spectators witnessed a full-blooded game between the two Scarlets feeder clubs.
The Drovers – tough, determined and of one mind - belied their lowly Premiership position to confirm their place at the Millennium Stadium on April 28. They will meet Cardiff who battled to a 23-16 win over Bridgend at Sardis Road.
Having taken an early 10-0 lead through a try by No 8 Jon Mills and a conversion and penalty from fly-half Simon Daniel, the Drovers trailed 16-10 after Llanelli had got tries through their fine hooker Craig Hawkins and centre Quintin Snyman plus two penalties from fly-half Craig Jones.
A penalty from stand-in fly-half Howard Thomas and try from lock and skipper Arwel Davies - converted by Thomas - restored the lead only for Jones to kick his third penalty.
And then to sighs of relief from the large and vociferous band of Llandovery supporters, Jones pulled the potential match-winner narrowly right of the posts two minutes from normal time.
The Llandovery starting XV and replacements were outstanding to a man.
Fast improving Endaf Howells, hooker Emyr Phillips and evergreen prop Andrew Jones ruled the front-row roost, the locks Arwel Davies and Tom Walker had their best game of the season as an unit and the back-row of Eifion Gwynne, Jon Mills and Gareth Williams had the better of the much-vaunted unit of Rob McCusker, Dan Godfrey and Johnathan Edwards.
Scrum-half Rob Walters was everywhere in attack and defence in his best game of the year, Mike Jones and Ioan Davies defended and attacked in quality measure and Howard Thomas was rock solid as both full-back and fly-half.
Owain Rowlands and Viv Jenkins were alert and sound wings and Simon Daniel had a good opening period with an excellent penalty and conversion to give the Drovers the confidence of an early lead.
The replacements - hooker Andrew R Jones, back-rowers Gareth Bennett and Dafydd Jones, prop Dennis Pugh and lock Steve Covington - gave it everything when they came into the pack and wing Gruff Jones had a couple of strong gallops up the touch-line.
Llanelli Director of Rugby Arwel Davies was generous in defeat. “Llandovery deserved their win as they had a wonderful commitment and team-spirit and as always played to the strength of their solid pack. As a fellow feeder club to the Scarlets, we will be rooting for them at the Millennium Stadium. If their pack plays as well as it did in the last quarter, then they will be very difficult to beat.”
Winning coach Iestyn Thomas was mobbed by fans after the game and had a smile as brood as a Cheshire cat’s. “We may be a little club from a town of just 2000 and have a small player base but it does not stop us having ambition” said the ex Harlequins and London Welsh coach. “We have a budget as small as a quarter of that of the bigger clubs but make up for it with pride in a club which helped form the Union on 1881 and commitment to try our hardest at all times.”
“There is still all to do to keep our Premiership status but we will enjoy the privilege of playing in the Cup final at the Millennium Stadium. We will have a good day out with the town behind us” smiled Thomas.
Thomas had not looked so happy half way through the second half when Llanelli controversially pulled off their tight head prop Peter Edwards for what looked more a tactical substitution rather than injury. At the time of his withdrawal, Llandovery - down 16-13 - were ready to set up a five-metre scrum with the odds on a push over try, given the intense pressure the Llanelli pack had been under.
Infuriated supporters chanted “cheats, cheats, cheats” as Llanelli called for uncontested scrums with the arrival of back row Ioan Cunningham for Edwards.
They need not have worried as a minute later, the Llanelli defence conceded a rolling maul of a try to captain Arwel Davies after Llandovery’s two best players - No 8 Jon Mills and flanker Gareth Williams – had set up a powerful back row surge.
In time added on play was frenetic but the Drovers pack kept possession expertly to seal a momentous win.