This week saw us go back to league fixtures after a spirited but ultimately disappointing result against Caerau in the cup. A trip to Cefn Coed in atrocious conditions was not particularly an appetizing one, but a full squad of twenty one lads took up the challenge. A great positive for the club was that this weekend we hosted a ‘Game On’ festival as well. A chance for a number of second teams to get together and help each other fulfil mini fixtures between themselves. By all accounts it was a great success and we even managed to persuade a spare ref to join in and get some game time at outside half. Well done to all involved with setting up this day – a great advert for grass-roots rugby!
The lads had to travel to Merthyr for today’s game in their own cars as our usual dependable bus supplier, Thomas Cook, did not show up. We have emailed them to find out why a bus was not sent and we are awaiting their reply. In fairness, when we arrived at Cefn Coed the conditions were excellent. The pitch held up fantastically well and the sun was doing its best to shine through. There were periods of the game were it started to rain heavily but in truth the rugby gods were kind to us, despite the ball being fairly slippery throughout the game.
The first half was very disappointing for the visiting North. They conceded 11 penalties and found it extremely difficult to maintain possession and apply periods of pressure onto Cefn Coed. In short, the North carried hard, kicked poorly and often lost the ball in contact. When the heavy forwards carried, they often made yards beyond the initial contact but the lack of options for the ball carriers made it easier to defend. The visiting team didn’t look hungry enough to get their hands on the ball. After a couple of phases the moves seemed to fizzle out as they run out of willing runners. Stand in scrum half, Jack Griffiths, played extremely well, but his lack of experience saw him deliver the ball to the likes of outside half Owen Marshall and center Jordan Gibbs with very little outside them. The two experienced backs tried to kick smartly into corners and were both unfortunately off the mark slightly and kicked the ball directly into touch on occasions.
There were a couple of glimpses of hope and quality in the first half. There were two moves close to the left hand touch line which almost put away two of the North’s most deadly runners. On both occasions superb interplay between forwards and backs manufactured spaces for oncoming runners to attack. Both Jordan Gibbs and Richard Ham, who was returning to the side from a few years sabbatical, were given the ball with plenty of space in front of them. Unfortunately, neither of them could hold on to the ball and the moves broke down.
Perhaps the North’s best move of the half came from a scrum deep inside their own half. The scrums were operating well; Lewis Mardon and the usual front row lads set their stall out and got the better of the opposing front row, winning free kicks and penalties throughout the half. From this resulting freekick number eight, Owain Thomas, carried hard straight into the heart of the defence. Supporting center, Daniel Thomas, was able to get on his shoulder and make another 30/40 meters before being brought down. Owen Marshall, who also tried to get in support, was very vocal – within ten strides Owen had changed his call no less than seven times. At first he was confident of outrunning the cover defenders and called for the ball. Then the call was to hold on to it, too dangerous. Then it was back to the pass, then to take it in and so forth. Confused, the Pup carried the ball into contact and the supporting attackers cleared the ruck. A couple of additional phases saw the North eat up many more yards in front of them and obtain more penalties. Jordan Gibbs eventually kicked one of these to gain the North’s only points of the first half.
The North struggled to maintain any real periods of pressure and gave away too many soft penalties which gave Cefn Coed the impetus they needed. They had a very adept kicker in their fullback and he knocked over 4 penalties in the first half. The score at halftime had Cefn Coed going into the break 12 – 3 up.
The second half was much better for the North; they once again showed the sort of character that will put them in good stead for the rest of the season. The boys stepped up and went about getting themselves back in the game. Center, Daniel Thomas – this week’s Man of the Match, continued to hit hard lines and get beyond the gain line and provided momentum for the team. Richard Ham epitomised the sort of effort required from a kick return. He took the ball hard to the line and ran over his opposing player. The bald headed defender thought he had sized up Rooney to find himself on his backside after the Samoan sidestep was deployed.
The first score of the second half did not come until about 10 minutes into the half however. This had coincided with the introduction of the North’s Gareth Harrison, who had a huge impact on the game. Lewis Mardon had given his all for the best part of fifty minutes and did a sterling job. To bring on the powerful Gaggsy at this point proved to be extremely beneficial. He made an immediate impact helping the other lads in the scrum obliterate their opponents. From five meters out the scrum galloped towards the line before disintegrating. The referee had no option but to award the penalty try. The score now 12-10 to Cefn Coed.
The boys continued to take the initiative and went on the apply further pressure upon the home team. A lovely sweeping move almost saw Josh Bowen score in the corner as he was set clear from a superb looping pass from Owen Marshall. Unfortunately, Josh was dragged down just five meters from the line and it was Gareth Harrison who found himself at first receiver to try and power his way over the line. A lovely weighted pass from scrum half Jack Griffiths was delivered but Gaggsy was unable to hold on to the ball. A later inquest concluded that his belly got to the ball before his hands and he could not regather it in time.
Despite controlling most of the half and play the North were unable to add further scores before Cefn Coed added to their total. A rare second half visit into the North’s half saw Cefn Coed move the ball well. A neat set play move was deployed and their outside half nudged a superb kick pass out to the far wing. The ball soared over the heads of the North’s defenders and as Josh Bowen scampered across to cover the space he lost the flight for the ball. The onward running attackers were able to gather the ball and score an unconverted try.
By the end of the game the North had conceded 21 penalties. With these sort of statistics it will always be difficult to come to places like Cefn Coed and come away with a result. Their fullback used this to their advantage and once again nudged them further ahead. Most were given away for being offside but there were some other silly incidents which did not aid the North in their chase for the game. Joshua Popple couldn’t resist keeping his hands on the ball despite the referee asking him to leave it alone whilst Daniel Thomas was pinged for holding back defenders. With ten minutes to go the North were ten points behind; they did not give up however.
The North went about getting back in the game to ensure they took something from it. Penalties at scrum time allowed us to gain excellent field position. Seb O’Donovan had come on at hooker and the lineout seemed to operate more successfully. Opta stats has it that the lineout was 4 for 4 when he was on the field; 4 from 9 when he was not. From the lineout the forwards carried hard into the midfield and made good yards. Several players were at this point keen to get their hands on the ball and were eyeing up their running lines. It was club co-captain Eliot Gould however who took the initiative. Whilst everyone was lining up their opponents, Eliot saw the opportunity to pick up the ball from the ruck and glide straight through a gap that seemed to appear from nowhere. The lanky forward galloped towards the line to score his second try in two weeks; another stat that is slightly worrying. Just like another arrogant Englishman, Eliot took the opportunity to sign off his score with a less eloquent rendition of the Ashton splash. The kick was converted and the score was now 20 – 17.
With the losing bonus point all but secured the North went about obtaining more. Jordan Gibbs was able to kick a penalty from a fair way out to level the scores with 4 or 5 minutes left to play. In the final moments the scrum came into its own again. Another penalty was awarded and an opportunity to win the game presented itself. Jordan Gibbs admirably stepped up to take the shot but unfortunately the ball sailed just wide of the posts.
The game finished 20 – 20 and there was a bittersweet feeling after the game. It was a game that was there for the taking; but at the same time we took two points from an away game after being ten points down with ten minutes to go. Thank you once again to all of the supporters that came to watch; it means a lot to all of the lads.