By Daniel Thomas
Llandaff North’s first home game of the season saw them welcome St. Albans. Both teams secured wins in the first round of fixtures and were looking to continue their season in much the same manner. A lovely day at Hailey Park and a weekend that saw both the first team and the athletic playing at home meant that a decent crowd watched the boys from the side lines. The support is greatly received from the players and we hope that it continues for the rest of the year.
The North went into the game with just one change to the starting line up which travelled to play Llantwit Major in their previous outing. Rooney was missing as his lady friend had decided to book him a nice romantic trip away in just the second weekend of the season (What was she thinking?). Rob Sweetman came into the line-up at full back whilst last weekend’s number 15, Jordan Gibbs, accommodated the wing left void by Rooney’s absence. Our ability to chop and change when necessary will be vital during the season; although the consistency from the boys has been excellent over the first two weeks there are several boys who have yet to make themselves available who will surely play some part during the year.
This week’s game started in much the same vain as last weeks… A set piece play from the opposition in the first five minutes saw them throw the ball wide and ghost through a defensive line that seems to take ten minutes to get themselves ready for a game. Fortunately the desire and effort from the boys this week was also going to echo that from last week as well. Some superb cover defence and excellent communication saw the move quelled and their outside backs ushered into touch. As the lineout formed an enquiry ensued as to how they went through but the attention then soon changed to the state of Hembury’s hand. A self-diagnosis was made of a broken hand, which ultimately turned out to be accurate, as he was replaced by Todger and sent off to hospital.
As the game continued the defensive line had sorted itself out and the North dominated much of the play but we were unable to build any sustained periods of pressure. Rather than holding on to the ball and building phases the North continued to try and ‘play sevens’ throwing the ball around with gay abandon (I saw this line used in a poem once and I liked it). A number of decisive breaks were made and half chances created which unfortunately we were unable to convert. Lloyd Rayer had another superb game at outside half and orchestrated the game well. It was his show and go from deep within his own half that saw the first of the half chances go begging. His dummy was enough to make the defenders hesitate which gave him the opportunity to sprint clear untouched. The fact he was untouched was probably the reason no one got anywhere near him for support. Rhys Morgan (Todger) and Danny Thomas are arguably the best attacking centres that are adept at holding ample depth whilst ensuring not to creep up towards the ball carrier. Unfortunately on this occasion the centres’ strengths were to be their undoing as neither of them, despite their best efforts, were able to keep up with the slight footed out half. Lloyd galloped up the field and attempted to deliver a 15 meter wide pass to winger Sam Cartwright. The pass was either too far in front of him or Sam was also a culprit of holding superb depth as the ball bounced out of play.
Other half chances were created as the North backline were able to pick nice lines and get beyond the defence. Unfortunately the lack of support, possibly something we need to work upon, saw the chances unconverted. The North’s Danny Thomas went clear twice during the first half, identifying gaps and running off the shoulders of both Jordan Gibbs and club skipper Dominic Scoble who delivered lovely offloads in the tackles which beat the first up defence. On both occasions the centre kept hold of the ball and recycled it well only for the ‘sevens’ mentality to continue when we got in behind and saw the opportunities wasted. The boys need to learn not to panic when in behind but keep it simple, continue to run hard and gain the yards that will inevitably see us cross the whitewash at this level. Although the North were unable to convert these half chances the away team were committing offences, usually from being offside when tracking back, which helped the North to build a score during the game. Two penalties were conceded that Rob Sweetman confidently stepped up and slotted up until 15 minutes from the half.
The enthusiasm that the North boys were showing to play running rugby was superb. All of the players were trying to make themselves available and calling for the ball willingly which is a very positive thing to see and bodes well for the rest of the season. However it must be noted that there were fewer boys willing to make the hard yards and commit some defenders close to the ruck. The North desperately needed boys to take this upon themselves as mistakes were being made as we were playing the expansive game from the outset and not tying up any defenders. The North’s dependable Gareth Harrison and Joshua Gibbs started running the lines required of them close to the ruck. However it was Lewys Jones that proved to be most effective, running hard throughout the first half bumping off defenders and taking a far more direct line of running to that of his previous week’s tap penalty attempt. He didn’t seem to take a backwards step throughout the game, often shrugging off defenders, making addition yards after the initial point of contact and ripping balls from the opposition players to create turnover ball. The mentality shown of going forward in such manner needs to be shown by all and support needs to join in as on a number of occasions runners were kept up from the floor which resulted in a turnover scrum. More work on supporting runners and keeping the forward momentum on, clearing players away from the ball will again give the wider boys more of an opportunity to run in scores.
It was from one of the frustrating forward runs, which lacked the support that it required, came a game changing moment just 10 minutes from the whistle for halftime. The North’s forwards were making good yards around the opposition 10 meter line as St. Albans tried to make a mess of a ruck that needed more protection. The referee had awarded a penalty as the away team came in off their feet to play the ball as the North’s scrum half, Shaggy, went digging for it. As the boys came away from the ruck the away team started to claim foul play, something that would be totally out of character and unexpected. The referee agreed and sent off Shaggy with a straight red card. It was discussed with the player in question, a good friend of Shaggy’s actually, after the game in the clubhouse that he did not in fact make any contact with the player’s head. It was just an unfortunate occurrence whereby the ball was held up high on the chest that appeared to be near the player’s head.
The North were down to 14 men for the rest of the game and leading just 6 points to nil. The versatile Jordan Gibbs went into play scrum half as the backline had to rejig itself yet again and play without one of their wingers. The North knew they now had to dig in and give that extra ten per cent by each man. The North didn’t stop playing and another barnstorming run from Lewys Jones saw him shrug off a number of defenders and enter the opposition 22 in the middle of the park. A quick ruck gave the opportunity for Jordan Gibbs to quickly deliver a pass right to Lloyd Rayer who had an abundant of options available to him out wide. He opted to fix two men as he took the ball to the line and picked out the other Gibbo, Joshua, with a lovely miss pass who then ghosted through and crossed the line for the first dab down of the game. Sweetman was kicking fantastically and converted the try as the North went into the half 13-0 up.
The North knew that the second half was going to be tough and so it proved. The half time team talk was all about how we had to keep playing, developing some patterns and ensuring that we didn’t allow the away team to get their tails up. Unfortunately however the away team were able to make the extra man count as they started to find gaps in the defence as they started to throw the ball wider. St. Albans threw the ball wide as Danny Thomas, who was now playing in an unfamiliar position at 13, hesitated and missed the full back that ran clear from the defensive line. It was for the heroic attempts of the club skipper who denied him the score. Dominic Scoble tracked him back from the 10 meter line to within 5 meters from the line. How he managed to tackle him and ensure that his momentum did not carry him over the line is beyond me but it was a superb tackle to say the least. The skipper’s effort was unsurpassed during the game often making effective runs wider from the ruck allowing his team to play on the front foot. Unfortunately on this occasion his efforts to retort the attack proved unsuccessful as quick ball saw them cross the line.
The away team continued to pile on the pressure in the second half and the North boys were starting to feel the pain of their earlier efforts. The commitment and effort from the lads could not be commended enough. The likes of Max Cartwright were tackling well above their weight as Joe and Shakey were still getting around the park and making their presence known as the game opened up. Although this is the case the constant pressure we were under soon told as St. Albans eventually crossed for their second try of the game. The desire shown by the determined efforts of the lads to keep out St. Albans paid dividends in unfortunate circumstances. The player who crossed the line for the away team was unlucky as the last gasp attempts to stop him resulted in an injury that would see him leave the field and not return. A nasty looking 3 inch gash upon his forehead that was bleeding profusely demanded immediate medical attention as the game halted for the 5 minutes required to treat him appropriately. The away team had no further substitutes that could be utilized and the North found themselves back on a level playing field with 14 men against 14. The kick was successful and St. Albans took the lead for the first time in the game, 13-14.
Although now behind in the game, the North boys found a renewed optimism as both teams now had 14 men for the rest of the game. We continued to play hard rugby as the forwards took it upon themselves to run the ball hard back at the opposition. A couple of penalties allowed the North to take play deep inside the opposition half. After a small period of pressure another penalty was awarded as an opportunity for the North to take back the lead presented itself. Rob Sweetman had a fantastic day with the boot and he slotted yet another which saw us take back the initiative. 16-14.
After taking the lead back it was imperative that we played sensible rugby in the correct areas of the field. Jordan Gibbs, who had a fantastic game when moved to scrum half, kicked sensibly along with outside half Lloyd Rayer ensuring that we wouldn’t surrender the lead again during the game. A further score for the North occurred from a scrum inside the opposition’s 22. The North managed to secure a solid platform as Joshua Gibbs picked up from the base. He took the ball to the defensive line attracting the attention of both the scrum half and blind side flanker. Whilst holding them both in the tackle he was able to offload superbly to his younger brother. Jordan then managed to squeeze through the gap going back towards the scrum , stepping his way past the cover defence and shrugging off other defenders as he dived over for the try. Sweetman again stepped up to add the extras confidently, although he did miss a later penalty which would have taken us further in front. 23-14.
St. Albans scored the final try of the game as the North had a moment’s lapse in concentration. A kick downfield did not have a suitable chase and their full back ran the ball back well. They were playing on the front foot and the scrounging North defence struggled to get back to nullify the threat. Some nice hands and hard running saw the away team enter the North’s 22. A mixture of the North boys trying to jackal and the scrum half digging the ball saw it fall out the side of the ruck. The North’s players around the ball stopped as they thought the ball had been clearly knocked on. However, St. Albans scrum half Aaron Fowler reacted quickly and went over the line slightly left of the posts as he was chased down by Rob Sweetman. The kicker missed the conversion which meant the North led 23-19 and the away team required more than either just a penalty or drop goal.
The North’s halfbacks again played it sensible and took play back down deep into the opposing half. The defensive effort was resolute as St. Albans threw everything to get the score that they required. Knowing they needed the try meant that they kept the ball in hand and ran it back from deep. The North’s line kept strong and a last opportunity presented itself for centre Danny Thomas. A loose pass from St. Albans saw the ball hit the ground as it was delivered behind the oncoming runner. If gathered cleanly an almost certain try would have been scored but the clumsy outside back knocked it on as the referee blew the whistle for the last time.
A huge effort from the boys this week where we managed to secure a second win of the season against teams that will surely be looking to be there or there abouts towards the end of the season. Keith found himself particularly busy this week as boys again put their bodies on the line for the badge, their teammates and for the cause. A notable mention from Keith was how often Lewys Jones found himself requiring assistance. He noted that Lewys went down more times on the pitch than the number on the back of his shirt… A slight concern for Keith if rumours of Lewys returning to the back row are true.
Would like to thank St. Albans for coming to Hailey Park and playing the game in the correct spirit, a tough encounter which saw two teams play hard, physical rugby. We would like to again thank the coaching staff, Chris Ferrier, those who help to put out the equipment each week, the supporters and finally the other lads for their continued efforts so far this year! Keep up the good work lads and on to Taffs Well next week.