John Kendrick reports:
A highly entertaining Konica Minolta Cup third round tie came to a thrilling end when in the 79th minute wing Vivian Jenkins crossed in the corner to seal a victory for the Drovers and ensure their place in the hat for the fourth round draw.
In an absorbing game of rugby, with both sides scoring four tries the cup holders held their nerve to come from behind to save themselves the embarrassment of falling at the first hurdle in their defence of the trophy.
It was the student underdogs of division 1 who took the game to their Premiership opponents and with some sparkling running rugby ended the first quarter of the match having opened up a 19 points to 3 lead.
The opening try came after only 5 minutes when open side flanker Guy Thompson stole away from a maul and finding the blind side undefended raced over for a try in the corner. Worse was to follow when the Drovers debutant outside half Gareth James hit the post with a penalty kick, the ball was grabbed by the students' full back Alan Awcock as he raced out from behind his own line.
With the Llandovery players watching the flight of the ball slow to turn and recognise the danger Awcock reached half way without a hand being laid on him. A long kick and chase downfield was won by Awcock to record an outstanding individual try. The extra points for the conversion were added by Simon Humberstone and within 10 minutes of the start the students were 12-0 ahead.
A second penalty attempt from James was successful and the visitors were finally on the scoreboard although this was not the end of their first half misfortunes. Lock Tom Walker, a tower of strength in the Drovers set up, had to leave the field with a suspected fracture to the hand and soon after the students ran in their third try. Again it was flanker Guy Thompson who took advantage of some weak tackling to cross for his second try. Simon Humberstone added the extra points and with 20 minutes gone the home side had established a commanding 19-3 lead and an upset looked to be on the cards.
Keeping cool heads and securing a score before half time were essential if the Drovers were to avoid what would be a headline defeat and when Number 8 Marc De Marigny dived over following a line out for the opening try, with Gareth James adding the conversion there was some hope that the cause was not lost. Doubts were again raised, however, when prop Andrew Jones was yellow carded for ‘over-vigorous’ rucking and Humberstone kicked the penalty to establish a half time lead of 22-10 for UWIC.
A great second half display was required if Llandovery were to avoid becoming the first Premiership side to lose to a club from a lower division for over two years and to their credit they rose to the occasion. Prop Phil John was outstanding in his efforts for his team and in this he was most ably supported by young open side flanker Wayne Williams, both players carrying the ball disrupting UWIC play. The pair were also responsible for the second and third Drovers tries.
Phil John peeled off from a maul, made a good 25 metres before slipping a pass to Williams who had a clear run to the line. A second penalty by James really opened the game up at 22-18 and then in the 65th minute the Drovers took the lead for the first time in the game. Once again it was Phil John to the fore, breaking away from a maul he forced his way through the student defenders to gain the touch down. Justin Lewis converted and the Drovers led by 3 points.
With the Llandovery pack producing good ball for the backs Cambridge Blue Steffan Thomas at inside centre was prominent in breaking the gain line to set up a string of attacks but drama was not far away and against the run of play in the 70th minute UWIC pounced for their 4th try. Blatant crossing in the centre, seen by all at the game except for Referee Huw David who allowed the move to continue, disrupted the Drovers defence and left wing Rhys Crane was free to touch down. Humberstone added the conversion and with 5 minutes on the clock the visitors once again found themselves trailing by 29 points to 25.
Then in the 79th minute the final twist in the tale – as once again Steffan Thomas broke the gain line, fed co-centre Mike Jones who ghosted through the smallest of gaps to free wing Vivian Jenkins to sprint for the corner outpacing the defence and secure the try. Justin Lewis added the conversion although Llandovery had to endure 3 minutes of nail biting extra time before they could begin their celebrations from a very narrow escape.