By Daniel Thomas
Today’s game was the biggest game of the season, one that the boys would have looked for when the fixture list came out I’m sure. It was the Llandaff local derby; the turn of the North to host the lads from further down the river.
It was truly a game of two halves, the first of which I’m sure most of the lads would rather forget. The North found it difficult to build any pressure in the first forty minutes as the scrappy nature of the game took its tole on the players’ performances. Handling errors and poor decisions from the home side allowed the visiting team to hold on to the ball and impose themselves on the game. The physical nature of the derby also left its mark on the game as both sides had to rejig their back lines amid injuries to players that resulted in them leaving the field. Two key influential North players, skipper Dominic Scoble and fly-half Lloyd Rayer, unfortunately had to leave the pitch in the first period which made it more difficult for the North to galvanise themselves and make an impact on the game.
The North conceded the only points in the first half and trailed at halftime 0-8. A fortuitous try was scored when the North’s back line could not deal with a returned kick. The ball was not gathered cleanly deep inside our own 22 and the oncoming Llandaff players were able to gather the ball and squeeze over in the corner. In truth, we kicked poorly to a fullback that looked dangerous when he returned the ball for most of the game; something that had to be changed if we were going to turn the game around.
The North had a number of opportunities in the first half but unfortunately we were not clinical enough to convert any of them into valuable points. When the ball was kept in hand and the North ran through some phases we looked very dangerous. We were able to get on the front foot through powerful forward runners. Players such as Paul Moulden, Joshua Gibbs and Gareth Harrison made yards each time with ball in hand, whilst usual suspect Lewys Jones couldn’t keep hold of the ball in contact. Gaps were being found out wide and two obvious chances went begging. The first was when Richard Ham made a clear break but was caught by an opposing winger five meters from the line. He managed to wrestle himself over the line but unfortunately dropped the ball when trying to reach out to dot it down. The second opportunity that was missed was when Rob Sweetman and angry man Anthony were unable to convert a simple two on one five meters from the line. The aggressive winger perhaps over ran the ball slightly and the pass closely resembled one of Pup’s finest – end result was a knock on and no try.
I suppose it would not be fair if at this point we did not discuss Lloyd Rayer’s injury incident and what followed. Lloyd ran the ball well and gave the ball out which resulted in another scoring opportunity that was eventually squandered. As he threw the pass he was tackled by the opposing fullback. The initial contact was the forearm to the head, which shook him up and rendered him near enough unconscious. After the initial contact Lloyd received blow to his outstretched, exposed ribcage as his arms followed up through his pass. The result of both points of impact left the out-half struggling for breath and visibly confused. Leant over on the field, the noises he exerted were completely different to those Rob Sweetman expelled during the previous week’s game. The noises have been described by the boys in a number of colourful ways; Sweetman noted that it sounded like ‘a goat giving birth’ whilst Lloyd Rayer himself gave a more accurate account saying that it closely resembled the sound made by Sweetman when approaching a buffet.
The second half was completely different from the first half. The North stepped up the pace of the game and kept hold of the ball well for long periods of time which put further pressure on the visitors. Some hard running from both forwards and backs put us on the front foot and it was not to be too long into the half before we were able to turn the pressure into points. Rhys McCarthy, reshuffled into scrum half, managed the forwards well deep inside the 22. A number of runners close to the ruck made yards and set up the first score for the home side. Lewys Jones managed to hold on to the ball and struggle free of defenders before crossing the line. A later penalty saw the scores back level and the game’s momentum was clearly heading in Llandaff North’s favour.
The telling score for the home side was also a rather fortuitous try. Rob Sweetman returned a kick with a kick of his own. The ball found a patch of grass and bounced up high above the covering defenders. A number of hands reached out to the ball to try and gather it, one of which was Rob Sweetman’s hand. The ball was not gathered cleanly but knocked further towards the try line. Most of the Llandaff players, coaches and supporters swore blind that it was the hand of Rob Sweetman that nudged it further; however the referee’s decision was that it came off a defender’s hand (The pictures from the game are also inconclusive). Rob then managed to gather the loose ball as most of the players around him stopped and canter in for the try. Rather than score the try under the posts Rob decided to take it out towards the touchline, he did however score the extras so he will be forgiven. Another penalty was scored and the final result ended 18-8.
The North’s pack must take most of the credit for today’s result. They were outstanding to a man. The scrum was solid and became more dominant as the game went on, earning several penalties at key times to give us field position and crucial points. Even at the end of the game when we defended our line for 5 minutes, they refused to give in and repelled the oncoming attackers to stop them earning a losing bonus point. The backs were also outstanding in defence, apart from the lack in concentration for the try, throughout the game but were not clinical enough with ball in hand to put teams like Llandaff away comfortably.
The final note for the day’s write up must go to club coach, Gavin Lucas’ cameo performance. He came onto the pitch with around fifteen minutes of the game remaining. He took the ball from a kick and made an enormous impact immediately, literally running over one of their players with his first touch of the ball which again put the boys on the front foot. Around three minutes later Gav attempted something similar a few meters out from the line, he attempted to put a little hitch-kick in whilst forcing himself towards the line. He managed to get over the line, for the second week in a row, but was unable to get the ball to ground; allowing perhaps the smallest player on the pitch to hold him up and then take the ball from him. Approximately two minutes later Llandaff had made a half break down the right hand side of the pitch. A quick tap penalty was taken whilst the same slight framed player tried to run alongside his teammate for support. As the player with the ball looked for support Gav found an opportunity to enact retribution. The poor flanker ran into an immovable object as Lucas sat him down in spectacular fashion. Unfortunately for Gav he did not receive the ball and the referee deemed it suitable for a yellow card; this being yet another game that the coach has put himself onto the field late in the game and was unable to stay upon it. In a later interview the coach exclaimed, ‘If he had the ball it would have been an excellent hit, there wouldn’t have been a problem with it.’.
A big thank you to everybody who showed up for the game. The fantastic amount of support is greatly appreciated. Well done to all the people involved including the coaches, bar staff, groundsmen, coaches, Llandaff RFC and the players. Keep up the good work!