Pontypool’s warm up for the new season continued with a match at the Park against long-time rivals Llanelli. The added spice for this so called friendly was that Pooler had defeated the Premiership side last season in the Cup.
Right from the start it was clear that Llanelli were keen to exact revenge and the spice level was at least vindaloo. Llanelli dominated the early exchanges which were punctuated by several bouts of fisticuffs. They eventually outflanked the Pooler defence for Evans to score an unconverted try in the corner to take an early lead (0-5).
Pontypool got a foothold in the game which was clearly going to be a robust encounter with both sides fully committed. Pontypool equalised when second row Gibson suddenly shot out of a ruck and galloped thirty metres or so to score wide out (5-5). This stung Llanelli into action and they retook the lead with a try by Reyland after concerted pressure (5-10). Back came the home side with an unconverted try after a clever kick by Matthew Jones led to a try by Luckwell In the corner bringing the scores level (10-10).
Pontypool then took the lead when another expertly weighted kick by Jones was fielded at full pace by Hurley who raced twenty metres to score. The successful conversion gave Pontypool a 17-10 lead. Despite tremendous Llanelli pressure and being reduced to fourteen men by a yellow card, Pontypool managed to hold on to this lead until half time. This was a really competitive and enjoyable half of rugby with Pontypool certainly not suffering in any way in comparison to the Premiership team.
Llanelli had the edge in the opening exchanges in the second half with Pooler still down to fourteen men. Pontypool’s defence was strong and uncompromising but eventually it cracked and Llanelli closed the gap to 17-15 with another unconverted try by Evans.
Llanelli continued to press but Pooler struck with a fine try when Luckwell crossed under the posts after clever inter-passing following a turnover (24-15). Llanelli were far from finished and, as the inevitable substitutions, were made their three quarters started to look more and more dangerous. Pooler’s chances were not helped when they were reduced to fourteen men again after a yellow card for a high tackle. The gap in the scores was narrowed to 24-22 when they scored a converted try and with ten minutes to go it was anyone’s game.
Pontypool worked their way into a promising position and were awarded a lineout close to the Llanelli line. Then, disaster, the lineout went horribly wrong and Llanelli took full toll as they moved the ball wide and, with the home defence splintered, went the length of the field for Jenkins to score in the corner. The conversion failed but the West Walians had taken the lead at 24-27.
Pontypool tried to bounce back from this blow but to no avail and a match that was there for the taking had slipped through their grasp.
Pontypool have every reason to be optimistic for the new campaign as they matched their opponents from the league above in virtually every aspect of a highly competitive game. Indeed for large periods they bossed the game and can consider themselves rather unfortunate to lose. Of course there is work to do and the high penalty count and those two yellow cards are a cause for concern but overall this was a very satisfactory outing. It was certainly nice to witness a competitive “friendly”.
Well done Pooler!