Steelemen buckle against omnipotent Otters

Friday 10th January 2020 8:45 am
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Hooker Rhodri Owen about to give the Tata Steel fullback a hand-off, with Ken Mathias on the touchline studiously. Pic Elwyn Davies

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Following their thrilling win at Neath the previous week, the Otters were in confident mood for the home game against Tata Steel last Saturday.

This was the return fixture, the Otters having won the away game 28-15 in a very competitive game back in September.

Since then, Tata Steel have struggled, but arrived at the Lewis Lloyd with a few Aberavon players in their squad.

In previous seasons, games between the two clubs have always been competitive, with Tata Steel being difficult to beat, particularly at Margam.

The Otters, with Josh Davies unavailable, fielded adjustments to the threequarters. Ianto Griffiths moved to fullback, with Nick Gale playing on the left wing and Jonathan Rogers starting at fly-half.

Jake Jenkins returned as outside centre, enabling young Llew Jones to start on the bench after a long lay-off with a knee injury.

In the pack, Jake Baker was unavailable, with Steffan Phillips moving into the second row.

The Otters kicked off playing away from the clubhouse end. Almost immediately they were awarded a penalty which Jonathan Rogers placed into touch on the five-metre line.

Alex Jenkins caught the ball, set up a maul, which Tata Steel disrupted illegally.

Then on five minutes, Tom Powell scored the first try, which Nick Gale converted.

This was the outcome of determination where the Otters drove forward though 11 phases and, with the try line in sight, Tom Powell broke through the defence.

Tata restarted the game and showed much determination, but the Otters defence held them at the halfway line.

The Otters threw long to the back of the lineout, the ball was quickly transferred to Jonathan Rogers, who passed long to Nick Gale on the wing; he raised the tempo before passing to Tom Powell, who continued the impetus and passed outside to wing Dafydd Pritchard, who was able to sprint down the far touchline to dive over the try line in the corner.

It was only a few minutes later, with the Tata Steel threes moving forward, that Pritchard intercepted a pass and was able to race forward and score his second try under the posts, Nick Gale had an easy conversion.

The Otters now had a 21-nil lead after just 15 minutes.

A big score looked well on the way, with home supporters expecting to witness a bonus try soon.

For the remainder of the half, however, the Tata Steel pack began to gain some momentum.

In the scrums there was a tussle between the front rows which in a higher division would have probably been controlled. Tata Steel were using some experienced players who used their wiles out of sight of the referee, but both Tom Slater and Bradley Davies were coping well.

Tata Steel started to use the rolling maul to advance into the Otters half, which the home pack were able to mainly minimise.

Near the end of the half, the Otters regained the initiative, There was a period of intensive forward play, with mistakes by both teams.

Tata Steel were using an eight-man shove on the Otters’ put-in which gave them momentum, but when attacks attempted to advance, knock-ons were occurring from both teams.

At a few lineouts, the Otters were penalised for not throwing straight. Then with the ground surface greasy, they were penalised for a high tackle. Home supporters were relieved that only a warning was issued.

Tata Steel kicked to the club corner where a rolling maul was formed, but the Otters managed to gain possession and kick to the far 22.

Tata Steel overthrew and Tom Slater, standing at the back, took control, before a maul was formed and heeled to Rhys Lane who kicked over the mass of forwards.

Then, with the ball bouncing, Nick Gale raced forward, gathered and sped forward, before passing inside, only for the pass to be knocked-on by the opposition.

Play was allowed to carry on, with Tata Steel regaining the ball and the referee blowing for half-time with the score still at 21-0.

As the second half started, a misty rain set in.

The Otters had made a half-time change, with Dan Jacobs replacing Bradley Davies at prop. Bradley had taken a nasty knock in the first half and struggled thereafter.

Within a minute of the restart, the Otters were awarded a penalty for an illegal position at the ruck.

Nick Gale, now playing into the increasing wind and rain, put in an excellent penalty kick to increase the lead to 24-0.

From the restart, on receiving the kick, the Otters set up several attacks in sevens style, resulting in some sloppy passes. Tata Steel responded, forcing the Otters to defend.

The Steelmen, determined to move upfield, went through 11 phases before offending at the ruck.

On 50 minutes, the Otters brought on Lewys Gibby, replacing Rhys Lane who had given a 100 per cent effort to his scrum-half role.

A few minutes later, Tata Steel also changed their scrum-half, bringing on Dalton Brown in place of Steffan Davies.

Tata made progress towards the home try line, forcing the Otters to take the ball over the line before it was minored, resulting in a scrum on the five-metre mark, which Tata Steel heeled, but were penalised at the next ruck for hitting one of the Otters off the ball.

The Otters made another change, with Dewi Williams coming off the subs bench into the second row and Steffan Phillips moving to number eight, replacing Roy Osborne, who had been very active first half with his driving from the base of the scrum and his linking with Rhys Lane.

The tension was high, with the Steelmen attempting to score. However, the Otters’ scrum was strong and able to maintain scrum pressure.

The ball was heeled and after two rucks Lewys Gibby was able to kick and clear the threat.

On 65 minutes, young Llew Jones replaced Ianto Griffiths at fullback. This was Llew’s first appearance after a knee injury back in early September.

The Otters then moved back downfield to halfway via a strong penalty kick by Jonathan Rogers.

At the lineout, supporters raised their voices as the referee blew because he considered the throw not to be straight.

At this point, veteran hooker Dan Smith replaced the hard-working Rhodri Owen.

At the resultant scrum, the Otters pushed the Steelmen back, but a knock-on foiled the resulting attack.

Again the Otters heeled at the scrum, moved the ball across the field and then, from the breakdown, Llew Jones took possession, jinked to beat his man and made many metres before an excellent interchange of passes resulted in Dafydd Pritchard crossing the line and touching down for his try hat-trick and a bonus point try.

Nick Gale suffered an ankle injury and had to leave the gam.

Jonathan Rogers converted the try on 75 minutes adding a further seven points to the score.

Then three minutes later, with the Otters well in the ascendancy, they added the final try.

From a lineout, the ball was spread out wide before Joe Hutchings was brought to ground. From the ruck, Lewys Gibby fed Jonathan Rogers, who passed on to Alex Jenkins; he was brought down and again from the ruck, Lewys Gibby fed Joe Hutchings who raced on and when challenged passed to Llew Jones, who raced clear to score his first Championship League try. Jonathan Rogers converted giving the Otters a 38-0 win.

Later, attack coach Deiniol Evans commented: Thirty-eight-nil and five tries, I’ve got to be happy with that.

We had a sticky period before half -time and for five minutes after half-time. We could not get our game moving.

The start we had was perfect and what we had wanted to score early, 21 points up within 15 minutes.

Unfortunately, we let them come back into the game and we did not keep the ball, which was a shame.

The first 10 minutes saw some great handling displays, Dafydd Pritchard on the wing scored a couple, Nick Gale made some nice breaks and made some lovely tries.

We stepped off the gas a little towards the end of the first half.

We could not keep the ball and they came back into the game, put pressure on us, we just could not keep hold of the ball for long enough. Jonathan Rogers came in and put in some lovely kicks.

“Second half started quite well, we got three points quite quickly, then dominated the set-piece which went really well and we were able to keep more ball second half and score some lovely tries with lovely handling.

The back row were excellent with Tom Powell and Richie Rees. We managed the game behind quite well, managed the possession and territory and we thoroughly deserved the bonus point win.”

Narberth fielded: Ianto Griffiths, Nick Gale, Jake Jenkins, Joe Hutchings, Dafydd Pritchard, Jonathan Rogers, Rhys Lane, Bradley Davies, Rhodri Owen, Tom Slater, Steffan Phillips, Alex Jenkins, Richie Rees (Capt.), Tom Powell, Roy Osborne, Substitutes used Dan Smith, Dan Jacobs, Dewi Williams, Llew Jones, Lewys Gibby

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