John Kendrick reports:
Former Cup winners Llandovery bowed out of this year's competition with their heads held high despite the 38 points Newport scored against them.
Speaking to his players after the game Coach Rob Appleyard praised their efforts and said he couldn’t have asked for more: “You can be proud of your efforts today”. He went on to highlight the sin binning of prop Owen Evans when the Drovers were leading by 18 points to 17 as the turning point in the game.
Certainly the home side had the better of the early exchanges and were pinned back in their own half for much of the time. An 8-0 penalty count in the first 20 minutes of the game prevented the Drovers from establishing any sort of attacking platform and it was no surprise when full back Dan Griffiths opened the scoring with a penalty goal after 6 minutes. At the end of the first quarter the home side extended their lead. A penalty kicked to touch set up a line out deep in the Drovers half and when the ball was spread wide Griffiths entered the line to create space for winger Mike Poole who crossed in the corner. Griffiths converted to establish a 10-0 lead.
During this period of pressure their failure to score more points was partially down to some wayward goal attempts by Griffiths but the main reason was the outstanding defensive capabilities of the whole of the Drovers team with not one player shirking his tackling responsibilities.
When eventually the home side were penalised in the 24th minute Llandovery’s young outside half Dan Ettridge kicked a magnificent 47 metre penalty goal to reduce the arrears. However better was to come for the visitors when they established an attacking platform in the Newport half. Centre Rhys Williams made a decisive outside break and put a neat chip kick into the path of Owain Rowlands. The winger in full flow grabbed the ball to cross for a well executed try. The conversion hit the post and with the score standing at 10-8 at half time both sides felt they had a chance of progressing to the quarter finals.
The opening five minutes of the second half were explosive with 17 points being scored and the lead changing hands three times. First up it was the Drovers to take the lead when once again centre Rhys Williams became the provider for an Ifan Evans try. Setting up the Drovers wing with clear space to run Evans made the most of his opportunity, kicking ahead he outpaced the defence in the race for the touchdown and with Ettridge converting the Drovers led 15-10.
This lead was short lived when Newport outside half Mike Schropfer, who had a fine game throughout, burst through the defence to set up centre Tom Riley for a try under the posts converted by Griffiths. Within a minute Ettridge had kicked a second penalty and now the Drovers held the upper hand 18-17.
Unfortunately this was the high point for Llandovery. In the 53rd minute a Newport scrum drive pushed back the Drovers eight, wheeled past 90 degrees and disintegrated in confusion. The referee awarded a penalty to Newport, turned to Llandovery prop Owen Evans one of the few players on his feet and showed the yellow card for, “attempting to collapse the scrum”.
This seemingly harsh decision was certainly the turning point with the home side taking full advantage of the missing man and rattling up 14 points from two converted tries. Both of the tries originated from scrums, the first falling to Newport Number 8 and captain Andrew Coombes and then a second for centre Tom Riley. Griffiths converted both.
This put Newport into an unassailable position and when restored to the full fifteen try as they might the Drovers couldn’t penetrate the home defence. Opening up at every opportunity a handling error presented Newport with a soft try and a second for wing Mike Poole once again converted by Griffiths.
This final score of 38-18 was flattering to the home side and gave a false impression of the tremendous fight put up by Llandovery who were thankful to escape the game without any injuries as they prepare for next week's fixture against Pontypool at Church Bank. With the sides sitting in 13th and 14th places in the Premiership it is a battle to stave off relegation and the loser will have a very big hill to climb.