Huw S Thomas reports:
Llandovery gave notice that they are determined to avoid relegation with this gritty win at Church Bank on Friday night over Gwent visitors Cross Keys.
Victory was based on a sound forward platform with both scrum and line out solid and steady and a fine display by half-backs Tom James and Gareth Morgan.
The front row of Phil John, Emyr Phillips and the veteran Andrew Jones gave their opposite numbers a hard time at the scrum with John putting inexperienced Cross Keys prop Nathan Buck under such increasing pressure that the youngster was taken off in the final quarter.
The line-out functioned far better than it has done for some time with Phillips consistently finding flanker and stand-in captain Gareth Williams at the tail whilst the bulk of the three heavyweight home forwards - John, lock Tom Walker and No 8 Gareth Bennett - assured a good return from the contact area.
All this allowed the half-backs to dictate events and they did it in some style with 18 year-old James – the Llandovery College captain - showing a judgement and maturity way beyond his years. The occasional pass might have gone astray and there is room for improvement in his kicking game but his quick reactions and eye for the gap, his competitiveness and courage, belligerence and confidence shone through in only his second league game. And it is to his great credit that the Drovers did not even miss their captain and scrum-half Rob Walters who was away on an educational visit to Lesotho.
James will lead the College’s challenge in some top schoolboy sevens for the rest of the term but coach Iestyn Thomas will be hoping that the young man from Aberystwyth will be available for most of Llandovery’s 10 remaining league games.
James shone but, as impressive as he was, he was outshone by his partner Gareth Morgan whose coolness and control at fly-half were what the Drovers have been lacking all season. His arrival at Church Bank, on loan from Guinness Premiership club Worcester, has been the biggest single factor in Llandovery’s improvement in recent weeks. His option taking was exemplary and his kicking for position quite outstanding, rarely allowing Cross Keys the chance to counter attack through their very dangerous full-back Leon Andrews and pinning Keys back with unfailing regularity.
Morgan’s influence on the game has given his forwards encouragement, his backs space and time and the supporters went away from Church Bank with a new-found belief that relegation can be avoided.
The Tregib CS product also contributed four penalties on 16, 31, 40 and 50 minutes to get the Drovers into a 12-5 lead, Keys having scored a first-half try through hooker Lloyd Burns after the home defence had been caught napping at the front of the line-out. Morgan, a former Welsh Schools U18 cap, also converted a 60th minute penalty try after the Keys pack – down to seven men after the sin-binning of flanker Tom Lampard – had conceded a penalty try.
It was only the third win of the season for the beleaguered Drovers but few could have argued with the result.
Iestyn Thomas and his coaching team of Lyndon Lewis and Jeff Roach looked and spoke like different men after the decisive win. "We have kept working hard at all areas of the game and know that the side has the ability, guts and resolve to keep the club in the Premiership" said Thomas. "There are great battles of survival ahead but if the boys can reproduce this form and the supporters get behind them, I am confident that we can keep ahead of Maesteg."
With the good news that Maesteg had lost at home 39-27 to Newport, the victory moved the Drovers off the foot of the table and above the Old Parish. Llandovery have now played 16 and are on 16 points, Maesteg have played 17 and are on 15 points.
Of Llandovery’s ten remaining games, five are at home - v Ebbw Vale, Bridgend, Swansea, Glamorgan Wanderers and Newport and five away – v Neath, Maesteg, Glamorgan Wanderers, Aberavon and Llanelli.
Maesteg have only nine games left but six of these are at home – v Swansea, Llandovery, Bedwas, Cardiff, Aberavon and Glamorgan Wanderers and three are away – v Bridgend, Cross Keys and Pontypridd.
It does not take much working out that the clash at Llynfi Road on Friday March 14, the eve of the Wales v France match, will be crucial to both clubs and Llandovery officials are asking local fans to turn up in droves to support the club. If there is enough demand, a supporters bus will travel to Maesteg for the 7.15 kick off, details and registration via the club office on 01550 721110.