Huw S Thomas reports:
The Drovers were very unlucky on Saturday to go down to Swansea who had to withstand enormous second-half pressure before gaining their 11th consecutive league win.
Time and again in the second half Llandovery were within reach of the tries that might have inched them ahead only for Swansea to survive through a mixture of lady luck, gritty defence and some hesitant refereeing.
For the relegation threatened Drovers there was the extra disappointment of letting slip a losing bonus point, disappointment that was compounded by the news that bottom placed Maesteg had earned a losing bonus point at Pontypridd. That point brings the Old Parish to within two points of Llandovery, to set up the most tense and dramatic of struggles to avoid relegation.
The Tywi Valley side are on 24 points and have three games left – Llanelli away on Saturday followed by two home games against Glamorgan Wanderers on April 29 and Newport on May 3. Maesteg are on 22 points and have two home games left – against Glamorgan Wanderers on May 3 and against Aberavon on May 7. Betting on who is relegated is finely balanced, with local bookmakers quoting 5/6 on either team.
Llandovery coach Iestyn Thomas, who steps down at the end of the season, was dejected at seeing his charges let slip a losing bonus point. "When your backs are against the wall, things go against you" bemoaned the former Harlequin and London Welsh coach. "Twice we were held up in the Swansea in-goal, twice the Swansea pack pulled down mauls down near their own line and a Swansea boot kicked the ball out of our scrum."
"When we recovered to 21-15, I thought we could snatch it but the Swansea defence somehow held us out - but we live on and tomorrow is another day. The future is in our hands – if we win two of our last three games, then Maesteg cannot catch us."
That said, few gave the Drovers hope at the break when they trailed 14-9 despite the advantage of a fierce wind. They had shipped two tries to centre Adrian Thomas and wing Chris Shelmerdine, both converted by fly-half Dan Biggar. The Drovers had got their points through three penalties from fly-half Gareth Morgan.
The All Whites, who were streets ahead of the Drovers in invention, looked ready to run away with the game after the break when Shelmerdine sliced through for his second converted try. And they certainly would have with some ball but the home pack so monopolised possession that all energy was devoted to defence.
Morgan kicked a penalty before Swansea No 8 Marc Popham was yellow carded to signal renewed pressure from the home forwards. Lock Haydn Pugh won the line-out battle hands down whilst Emyr Phillips and Marc de Marigny were outstanding in gaining ground to set up fine attacking positions near the Swansea line.
No 8 de Marigny and flanker Gareth Williams were both refused tries in in-goal before a fifth Morgan penalty brought the Drovers into bonus-point territory.
But it was a bruised and battered Swansea who showed the greater resilience to claim a bonus point of their own when a break-out of defence saw lock Sam Kiley crash over in the corner with time nearly up.
The Drovers are hoping to have two of their most experienced forwards return for the game at Stradey Park on Saturday. Prop Andrew Jones – away at the Joe Calzage fight in Las Vegas - and the injured No 8 Gareth Bennett will boost the Llandovery challenge against a side that has lost its last six Premiership games