Narberth welcomed Rhydyfelin, newcomers to the Championship League, for their first visit to the Lewis Lloyd Ground on Saturday.
Rhydyfelin is situated near Treforest in the Taff Valley between Cardiff and Pontypridd.
It was a special day for Narberth club chairman, Dorian Phillips, who celebrated his 65th birthday as match sponsor. Among his guests were Whitland Male Voice Choir, who were still in choir uniform after singing earlier at a wedding, Dorian is also their chairman.
Despite the rain of recent days and earlier that morning, the ground looked in fine condition. The Otters welcomed back captain Alex Jenkins after his recent shoulder injury.
The Otters were led onto the field by hooker Dan Smith, who was overtaking the record of 252 games, previously held by former scrum-half and local favourite Chris Macdonald.
The visitors kicked off playing downfield. Almost immediately, Rhydyfelin offended at the ruck, the first of many ruck offences during the game. The Otters made early attempts to cross the gain line, with both Jonathan Rogers and Ianto Griffiths being prominent, but the visitors were determined to keep them from advancing.
Ianto Griffiths cleared in his 22 from a Rhydyfelin kick, only for the ball to fail to go into touch, enabling Rhydyfelin to return, but finding touch within the Otters half. On six minutes, from the lineout, Rhydyfelin made ground via their number eight, Sam Studley, whose pass to a colleague was intercepted by Otters wing Ryan Davies. He sprinted clear of his challengers and was able to touch down near the posts to give his side their first try, which fly-half Rogers converted.
Rhydyfelin came back and, following a ruck, Jonathan Rogers’s kick was charged down and this time the Otters offended, enabling fullback David Grattan to kick three points for the visitors.
Three minutes later, Rhydyfelin gained another penalty, but this time Grattan’s kick flew wide of the posts.
The Otters kicked out and Rhydfelin made ground upfield with a series of phases, before losing control, enabling fullback Ianto Griffiths to attack and, when challenged, feed wing Jack Parkinson, who made ground before being brought to ground. From the ruck, Lewys Gibby fed Jonathan Rogers, who attempted to find a gap between their fullback and wing. They were able to pick up the ball and close off the potential Otters attack.
On 21 minutes, the Otters, via Ryan Davies, set off for the top corner, only for a ruck offence at the breakdown.
Four minutes later, Ryan Davies was again very prominent as the Otters attempted to advance towards the visitors’ line. At this point, after yet another ruck offence, a Rhydyfelin player was sent to the sin bin for a yellow card offence.
The Otters attempted to break through, only to be thwarted by a stout Rhydyfelin defence.
On 31 minutes, Rhydyfelin again offended at the breakdown and Jonathan Rogers took advantage, giving the Otters a further three points and a 10-3 lead.
Four minutes later, the visitors offended again and the referee issued a further warning. Rogers this time kicked for touch. From the lineout, the Otters reached the five-metre line, only this time were adjudged to have offended at the ruck.
Then just before half-time, Rhydyfelin were penalised for attempting to handle the ball at the ruck, but unfortunately Jonathan Rogers’s kick was wide of the posts.
At half time the score remained 10-3. Both defences had been strong and for the Otters, number eight Richard Rees and prop Bradley Davies were prominent in the loose.
However, Rydyfelin were attempting to disrupt the normal Otters’ open rugby and seemed to have forgotten the rule changes at the ruck.
Almost immediately from the start of the second half, flanker Tom Powell scored for the Otters. Alex Jenkins gathered the Rhydyfelin kick-off, the Otters swiftly made ground, passing to Keiron Jones, who sped through a gap, before passing to Ianto Griffiths, who was able to slip the ball to Tom Powell, who ran clear of the defence to touch down. Jonathan Rogers converted, bringing the score to 17-3.
At that moment, it gave supporters hope of a more open game.
Three minutes later, Rhydyfelin reduced the deficit. This time the Otters were penalised at the breakdown in their own 22. Rhydfelin found touch and, from the subsequent lineout on the five-metre line, set up a rolling maul and managed to scramble over the line as a forward unit, with lock Kevin Briggs adjudged to have touched down. David Grattan failed to convert with an acute angled kick.
The game deteriorated as a spectacle, with loose passes failing to find the player and ending up rolling into touch.
On 54 minutes, Rhys Lane replaced Lewys Gibby and Sean Jenkins replaced Dewi Willlams.
Defences remained strong and the penalties at the breakdowns continued.
Prop Tom Slater suffered a potentially nasty collision with the much bigger and taller Rhydyfelin prop when the latter went high to stop Tom’s progress. Tom had to leave the field, being replaced by newcomer Rhys Davies, along with the opposing prop. Thereafter there were uncontested scrums.
The Narberth coaches made further changes, with Jake Jenkins replacing Jonathan Rogers and Jake Simms replacing Ryan Banner. These led to Ianto Griffiths moving to fly-half and Jake Jenkins taking over at fullback.
On 65 minutes, the Otters were penalised in the 22, enabling David Grattan to increase the Rhydyfelin total by three points and bringing the score to 17-11.
This had the Otters supporters urging the team to up their performance. Then the supporters’ ire was increased when the referee awarded Rydyfelin a lineout throw due to Dan Smith delaying it. However, later, when the incident was discussed, it was made clear that Dan Smith had spotted a second ball on the field, which obviously was not seen by the referee.
On 78 minutes, the Otters heeled at the uncontested scrum, Rhys Lane quickly moved the ball out along the threes, a long pass reached Jack Parkinson on the wing and he sprinted forward, only to be tackled on the five- metre line. The ball was temporarily cleared, but this time prop Bradley Davies collecting it and surged forward. moving the ball on to hard-working number eight Richard Rees, who quickly crossed for an unconverted try, which proved to be the final score of the game.
Later head coach Sean Gale, commenting on the game, said: “A disappointing game, we are winning, but not playing well. The Championship League is getting stronger, there were never any gaps in their defence, so hats off to them. Rhydyfelin were never going to score points. However, our defence has become much stronger in the last two games, We scored some fine tries tries.
“Examining Rhydyfelin’s results, they have not lost their games by many points. Currently we are not developing many phases and not getting over the gain line; this needs improvement. Rhydyfelin must be given some praise because they defended very well, but in the last quarter-of-an-hour we brought fresh legs on and looked good. Some of our tries were excellent. We had problems increasing the pace of the game but they slowed us down We were able to give the youngsters experience, both Lewys Gibby and Dewi Williams gained from the game. We are trying to develop the players and still keep winning, Richard Rees and Ryan Davies had good games.”
In the clubhouse, chairman Dorian, who in his playing days was a fine prop, gave the man of the match award to Bradley Davies.
Narberth fielded: Ianto Griffiths, Ryan Davies, Keiron Jones, Paul Davies, Jack Parkinson, Jonathon Davies (Jake Jenkins), Lewys Gibby (Rhys Lane), Bradley Davies, Dan Smith, Tom Slater(Rhys Davies), Ryan Banner (Jake Simm), Alex Jenkins Capt.,Dewi Williams Sean Jenkins), Tom Powell, Richard Rees.