Judgement Day had arrived. The sun was shinning and it was set to be a fantastic day of rugby as both the youth and senior teams headed down the river to local rivals Llandaff. It was fantastic to see so much support that made the arduous journey – it was greatly appreciated by all of the players. The tone of the day was set as our youth team fought back fantastically from 17-0 down at half time to win 22-20; an excellent example of what the boys are capable of when their backs are against the wall.
As for the senior teams, the game would also be decided by just a one score margin. The opening exchanges saw many of the North’s hard running forwards get their hands on the ball. The likes of Gareth Harrison, Lewys Jones and Owain Thomas carried hard into the heart of the defence. Llandaff’s defence stood strong however; despite conceding yards they worked tirelessly at the rucks and were able to obtain a number of penalties and gain respite from the pressure that was building. As the North’s intention of playing a powerful running game became evident, Llandaff showed great intent on moving the ball wide whenever they had the opportunity. Sweeping moves often saw them running hard in wider channels but the North’s cover defence saw them scramble across the pitch to quell the dangers when they arose. This was very much the story of the game – could Llandaff North keep control of the ball and wear down the defence whilst starving their opponent’s dangerous outside backs of the ball?
A couple of needless penalties were conceded within the first ten to fifteen minutes which allowed both teams to score from kickable penalties. Despite calling for calm heads before the game such an occasion perhaps riled players who were eager to make an impact on the game. After exchanging penalties at 6-6 the players seem to settle down into the game and concentrate on the task in hand. The North’s forwards took the initiative and carried the ball in a far more controlled manner, orchestrated by the calm, unflappable, solid decision maker, Owen Marshall at outside half (Remember this sentence for later on in the write up). A further penalty was added from the pressure and the North now led 9-6 in the game and asserted their dominance going forward.
Llandaff had to endure further pressure for most of the half. The North made several half breaks that on another day could have converted into more points. Owen Marshall made a lovely inside break with off the top ball from a well oiled lineout move. After stepping inside his opposite number he sought support from inside center Daniel Thomas who was able to make further yards but brought down just outside the 22. Unfortunately on this occasion the move fizzled out after a couple more phases. Lewys Jones once again showed his prowess as a runner, breaking three or four challenges and making a clean break from a restart. After making his break he was able to find hard working openside flanker Joshua Popple in support. Josh resembled a drunk giraffe as he galloped up the field before being brought down just beyond half way. Two quick plays saw Josh get himself back on the ball and he got carried away trying a speculative old grubber kick. It went spectacularly wrong – next time just carry hard!
Another clean break occurred from a superbly operating lineout as Lewys Jones punched through a hole down the ten’s channel taking him into the 22. Again the move itself broke down but gave the North excellent field position from which they would eventually get the first try of the game. Hard running close to the ruck saw our forwards trundle up the field and get close to the line. Jay Bowen marshalled the effective pick and gos from this point on; it was Owain Thomas on this occasion who proved too powerful and muscled himself over for his first try of the game. The North went into halftime 14-6 up.
The second half was much of the same as the first. The game was as expected, very physical. Hard running lines and solid tackles were the order of the day. Co-club captain Eliot Gould amongst others were again carrying well, often making yards way beyond the initial contact. It was however Llandaff that took the initiative after the break. A missed tackle, from center Daniel Thomas, on the blind side saw the home side’s full back canter down the field. After some neat interpassing Llandaff were able to cross the white wash for their first try of the game. The conversion attempt was unsuccessful and the North now led by three points 14-11.
Credit where it is deserved – the boys once again showed their character. In previous years heads would have started to drop and fingers would have started to be pointed. On this occasion the lads just rolled up their sleeves and continued with the job at hand. They were able to revert back to plan; run hard and control the ball. The forwards were once again, in this period, outstanding. They set the platform with strong running and drew out penalties from which they obtained good field position. After a short period of pressure deep inside the Llandaff 22 the North were awarded with a scrum 5 meters out. It was just the incentive that Gareth Harrison needed before taking his well earned rest on the sidelines. Along with tweedle dee (Joshua Edwards) and tweedle dum (Jack Wiggins) the front row went about their work of desolating the opposing scrum, which had already been achieved with great aplomb in the first half. The whole pack stuck strong together and the scrum marched itself towards the line. Lewys was hoping to be the benefactor of the good work in front of him just before the referee ran under the sticks with his hand held high. A penalty try – score now 21-11.
This was a true derby. Llandaff were not just going to roll over. Through their continued efforts they worked themselves back into the game once again. A lineout deep inside the Norths 22 allowed them to deploy a neat set piece move. Their execution was fantastic, a looping ball to the back of the lineout saw a back row peel around and head straight towards the midfield. As our back row chased hard to cover the move, a late switch saw an opponent run through untouched in the gap between the forwards and backs. The try was successfully converted and the North now led 21-18.
After the restart the North once again took control of the game. Joshua Popple managed to get up and challenge for the ball as captain, Eliot Gould, continued to lead by example and followed up to gather it. Further surging runs saw the North once again enter the Llandaff 22. Excellent control was shown to not panic at this point and just trust in what they were doing. It again led to a heavy pack picking and going close to the ruck. And it was once again Owain Thomas who managed to muscle himself over for his second try of the game. MOM -Marshy converted it and the score was now 28-18.
The game was very much won up front. That is not to say the backs did not contribute in any shape or form. When called upon the likes of Duggy, Jack Griffiths and Josh Bowen carried out their duties well. Jack looked increasingly confident using his quick feet when probing to find gaps in the midfield whilst Joshua and Duggy ran hard and straight as usual. Even though Ashley Duggan’s straight line was straight across the pitch…
With the game all but sewn up, the North went about scoring a fourth try to secure the bonus point. Once again they manufactured good field position through hard fought yards. Whilst deep inside the opposing half the North reverted to carrying hard and making steady progress towards the line. Despite this method working well throughout the afternoon, outside half Owen Marshall was adamant that the ball should be thrown wide in order to score the elusive fourth try. In fairness he had two of the club’s hardest runners, Lewys Jones and Owain Thomas, outside him waiting to be unleashed. As Owen collected the ball he looked up at the array of options that were afforded to him. His usual dependable decision making had seemed to have gone wandering on this occasion. He threw a looping pass which was easily read and intercepted by Llandaff’s starting nine. The fleet footed half back ran the length of the pitch to score and give the home side a losing bonus point. The game finished 28-25 to the North.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Llandaff RFC for their hospitality and wish you the very best for the rest of the season. It was a great day and it was excellent to see so many past players there to support their respective teams. We are extremely grateful for all of the support that we receive, it makes a huge difference to the boys and we appreciate you taking the time to support and offer your insightful comments in the club afterwards. Well done to all of the players, both in the senior team and youth team – another huge effort was given by all! Diolch!