By Daniel Thomas
The first game of the regular season saw Llandaff North travelling to a team that made the final in the cup last year around, Llantwit Major. It was always going to be a big task and the challenge that the North faced lived up to that. The weather was beautiful but the searing heat did nothing to ease the hardship of what was going to be a tough evening anyway. I have been made aware by the union of groundsmen that they are currently on strike, arguing the terms and conditions of their pension, and that this was the reason for a second game in consecutive weeks with particularly long grass.
The North’s travelling team were buoyant despite the challenges they faced. A rare full bus of lads travelled together and it was evident that they were keen to kick off this season better than we did last time around (losing 8 on the bounce). When the boys arrived their enthusiasm for the game was nullified as they tried to adorn the new shirts. The tight-fitting tops did nothing but reiterate to the lads how much weight they were carrying and how difficult they were going to find breathing in them.
The first half of the game was a difficult period for the North despite their promising start, from the kick off the North were able to keep hold of the ball over a number of phases. Shaggy was dictating play well with forwards running wide of the ruck and challenging the gain line. As North were playing uphill this seemed to be the correct tactic but it turned out that we would struggle to keep hold of the ball and enjoy this sort of possession again throughout the half. The North struggled to compete and secure their own ball at lineouts and during scrummages which made it difficult for them to build any sustained periods of pressure.
The first score came early from the home team within the first 10 minutes. A solid scrum saw them deliver the ball to their outside half who made the most of some space he was allowed to run at the back line. A little confusion in the defensive line saw two men make the tackle which resulted in the home team having extra men out wide. A looping pass beat the centres and Llantwit Major ran in the first score that was also converted. 7-0.The North realised that this was going to be a long afternoon and some sharp words were exchanged under the posts as the outside backs tried to figure out what went wrong.
The North created a couple of half chances during the period predominately from kicks, set plays and turnovers. Kick chases from Rooney and Lloyd almost paid dividends but the lack of support and enthusiasm to get over the ball saw the home team get back and able to clear their lines. Rooney also had a number of half chances on his wing, notably from the scrum where Shaggy gave him the ball from a 2 on 1 situation. Unfortunately the cover defence was able get to him and on another similar occasion Rooney was unable to gather the ball. It was from one of these isolated half chances that the North obtained their first score. Llantwit Major committed an offence in the ruck trying to secure the ball as they were going backwards which gave Jordan Gibbs the opportunity to kick up 3 points. He was sure to take this chance as he squandered one earlier in the game from in front of the sticks.7-3.
The North tackled ferociously throughout the half as a well organised and marshalled Llantwit Major ran some neat patterns. Forward runners were used to challenge the line whilst they looked dangerous out wide as their no 10 enjoyed picking out players running off him. Even though the North’s defence retorted most of what the home team had to offer it was only a matter of time before they broke the line of which they did on only two occasions. The North showed great spirit and desire in defence and scrambled back to deny them the chances when they were created. On one occasion however the scramble defence was helpless as Llantwit Major’s outside backs went through the line after spotting mismatches in the midfield. Most heads had dropped as it seemed to be an almost certain seven points conceded as they began to gallop over the North’s 10 meter line. It was for the heroic acts of the North’s blind side wing, Sam Cartwright, who ran across half of the field and boss the situation with his fellow winger Rooney. Sam’s desire to get across was matched only by his commanding communication which resulting in two fantastic tackles and a knock on to ensure that no further score developed.
The defensive efforts were about all that could be commended for the North during the first half. A number of good hits were noted which resulted in knock-ons whilst some of the forwards were able rip balls in the challenge and make a mess of the rucks. Although this was applauded by the coaching staff at half time, stern words about how much respect we were giving them were given. The defensive effort, whilst playing uphill and going into the break only 7-3 behind was not going to be good enough to just turn up in the second half. The game still had to be won and much more rugby had to be played.
The second half started in much the same fashion as the first. The North were able to keep hold of the ball and develop a number of phases from some good hard running from the forwards. New recruits Joe Batchelor and Lewys Jones were making headway going forward whilst the rucks were getting cleared out far more effectively than the first half (probably something to do with going downhill). The first score of the second half was the North’s after only five minutes. The barnstorming runs allowed the North to play on the front foot and it wasn’t long for the ball players to take advantage. A call of ‘brumbies’ from Danny Thomas fixed the inside defender as Shaggy picked up the ball and arced his way through the line around the opposition 22 meter line after several quick powerful rucks. Shaggy went clear and Jordan Gibbs found himself on hand to finish off the move as the full back came up to challenge. Unfortunately Jordan was unable to add the extras to his try and the North now led 8-7. If at any point we could replicate the intensity of these 5 minutes for 30 minutes during any game we are sure to do very well this year…
The next 10 minutes during the game saw a bit of an arm wrestle ensue and the lead change hands as penalty kicks were exchanged. The North still led 11-10 and for the most part were dominating proceedings during the second half. The defensive effort was admirable as Lloyd Rayer kept the play deep inside Llantwit’s half. The next score came from the home team as the North struggled to clear up a kick in behind. It was a credit to the North’s defensive line that the kick was deployed. The kick found a patch of grass that the full back, Todger, was unable to cover after coming on for an injured Shaggy and saw the backline rejigged. The ball bounced unkindly away from the North’s players and into the arms of an oncoming attacker. The heroics of Sam Cartwright were again called upon as he tracked back and made the tackle only 5 meters from the line. The boys tried their best to get back and slow the ball down but unfortunately mismatches were created and they ran the try in out wide. They successfully converted the try and now led in the game 17-11.
The North’s effort so far had been unquestioned but they had to find another gear for the last ten minutes of the game which really mattered. The game opened up and space for both the North and Llantwit Major started to appear. The North’s forwards again took it upon themselves to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Hard running around the ruck area saw the North steadily make ground and eventually get rewarded with a penalty. Jordan Gibbs stepped up and kicked the ball from the half way line to within 5 meters of the line – Well done son!! The resulting lineout saw the forwards continue their good work around the ruck area and awarded with another penalty. It was decided to take a tap penalty rather than the lineout on this occasion, although they seemed to be working alright during the second half. The tap penalty was giving to Lewys Jones, who had decided to run across the pitch towards the side-line rather than straight, and the pack continued their good work around the ruck. After a couple of phases the North’s James Walters sneaked over in the increasingly small blind side to score a try. This took the score to 17-16 and the ball was dotted down right in the corner. Up step the ever consistent Jordan Gibbs. After missing from in front of the sticks early in the game he seemed to pick up and get better as the game went on. This however was a very different type of kick, all or nothing. He slotted it with ease!! 17-18.
With a few minutes on the clock the North continued to show determination and deny Llantwit any further opportunities by keeping them in their own half. Jordan Gibbs and Lloyd Rayer kicked astutely and controlled the game whilst others around them kept their composure. A well-deserved victory on the first outing of the season. Well done lads.
A big thank you for all at Llantwit Major RFC for hosting us this week and we wish you the very best for the future. A good start for the boys and coaches which is always made better when we see the faithful support travelling to watch us play, it is greatly appreciated by all. Keep up the good work lads, first home game of the seasons next week!