A grey autumnal day in Pontypool Park greeted Skewen RFC for their Championship match. This was going to be a tough challenge for the West Walians as Pontypool have made a commanding start of the season with six straight victories. For Pooler, it was all about maintaining their momentum as they continue in their quest to win the league.
The trees around the Park provided a stunning backdrop with the leaves showing their autumn tints as Skewen kicked off playing down the slope. Pontypool made a tremendous start and soon had the visitors under pressure. The power and pace of their attacks stunned Skewen and within the first fifteen minutes Pooler had scored two converted tries to lead 14-0. The first came after some excellent approach play had led to a scrum five metres from the visitors’ line. Quick sniped after Sparks had made ground to score near the posts. The second followed a break by Hancock that resulted in Kent crossing the whitewash for the second time in two weeks.
As the finally gained some possession, Skewen did manage to get a foothold in the match and showed that they had strong ball carriers to go with a resolute defence. Pontypool, however, were in no mood to give away any tries and thundered into the tackles thwarting most of the attacks on the gain line. Skewen did manage to get on the scoreboard through a penalty when Pontypool gave away a penalty at a scrum (14-3) after fifteen minutes spent almost exclusively in the home half.
The driven lineout has become a weapon of choice for Pontypool and a reliable source of points. They turned to it to reassert their authority and from a lineout close to the Skewen line, Nash scored after a textbook drive. The try went unconverted but Pooler held a solid 19-3 lead at the interval.
The heavens opened during half time and the rest of the match was affected by heavy rain which rather dampened both teams’ attempts at attacking rugby. Pooler set off in pursuit of the bonus point try but there followed a scrappy period of play with neither side able to make much headway against well organised defences. After about a quarter of an hour of frustration, Pontypool won a lineout just inside the Skewen 22. The lineout was won and the forwards drove fully twenty metres for Smith to score the try. The successful conversion gave Pooler a comfortable 26-3 lead.
Both sides made a series of substitutions in the third quarter and Skewen continued to frustrate the home side with good defensive work at the breakdown. For their part, Pooler continued to tackle fiercely with Tu’ipulotu to the fore and, hard as they tried, Skewen were prevented from scoring a try. It was one such Tu’ipulotu tackle that resulted in the ball coming loose near the halfway line. Thorley scooped up the ball and outpaced the cover defence to score near the posts (33-3).
Pontypool continued to attack but the combination of the dogged Skewen defence and the slippery ball proved too difficult to overcome and the score remained 33-3 at the final whistle.
Although the match did not really have the tension of the match against Tata Steel last week, make no mistake this was a tough encounter. Skewen never gave up and certainly provided a stern challenge. Pontypool were always in charge, however, and produced a workmanlike performance to deliver a bonus point win. Their lineout drive has become a potent weapon and takes us old codgers back to the days of the rolling maul with Bobby Windsor at its heart.
Talking of the past, it was great to see that Pontypool feature prominently on the new Lions’ website. It is almost forty years ago but it brings a tear to the eye to remember those heady days when Pooler were the best and most consistent team in the UK and provided a string of players for Wales and the Lions. It seems pretty unlikely that we will ever see that again but you can still dream!
Wonder of wonders, the Welsh Regions had a great start to the European rugby competitions. All four Regions recorded good victories – admittedly only the Scarlets in the Champions Cup. Let’s hope that they continue with the good work and avoid a Wexit at the pool stages.
Next up for Pontypool is a first visit by Gwent rivals Bedlinog. Their victory over Tata Steel yesterday shows that they certainly cannot be taken lightly. We have now completed almost a third of the Championship matches with Pontypool sitting proudly at the top of the table with a ten point lead. Long may it continue!
Come on Pooler!