Pontyprid hosted their old friends and rivals Llanishen of Division D in the Blues league. Llanishen and Ponty have had many competitive matches during their junior rugby years.
Like Pontypridd, the current Llanishen side consists heavily of last years under 16 squad, along with some experienced older heads to help make the step up.
Pontypridd started well and put Llanishen under enormous forward pressure and it was clear early on that Ponty had the stronger lineout, with Drew Evans stealing a number of Llanishen throws. Ponty were also dominant in the scrums, where hooker Sam Oliver with his front row partners James Sullivan and Marc Jones, took two several strikes against the head.
Llanishen were reduced to quick channel one possession from their no 8 and scrum half as their scrum constantly went backwards, so it was no surprise that Ponty opened the scoring after a fine period of attacking play that was led by their halfbacks of Lewis Smith and Ben Troake. Ponty openside Dafydd Gristock won quick ruck ball and although held up short, Gristock used his strength to keep possession to allow the Ponty pack time to join in. The maul went to ground just inches short of the line, but Mike Davies quickly snapped up the ball to use a test book technique to drive low and hard through the covering defence for a well deserved try that was converted by Simms to open the scoring.
Llanishen seemed to settle after conceding the score and Ponty found themselves on the defensive and although the Pont were dominant at the set piece, Llanishen were far more aggressive at the ruck or maul, continually out rucking the home side and turning over possession. In midfield Llanishen had two big powerful centres that they started to use to great effect, with some hard straight running at the makeshift Ponty midfield, ably supported by their exciting fullback. The Ponty midfield were struggling to cope with this hard direct approach and it was only a matter of time before the inside centre broke clean through some desperate tackling to score Llanishen's first try that was converted to take the half time score to 7 all.
Pontypridd were noticeably stronger in the pack and they looked to exploit this further in the second half, bringing on late arrival Maissey at no 8, with Reid switching to 6 and Mike Davies taking over from Troake at Scrum half. This changed their game plan to a ten man game that initially seemed to work and after good approach work from the forwards, Llanishen were penalised for pulling down a maul for Simms to kick the penalty to take the score to 10 -7 to Pontypridd.
From the resultant kick off, Ponty then committed rugby suicide and instead of playing the territorial game by kicking long, they attempted to run the ball from their own twenty-two. The ball was spilled and the Llanishen full back seeing that Ponty were flat, cleverly chipped ahead. No 8 Dean Maissey was first to the ball, but was then caught and tackled deep in the Ponty half. As he attempted to offload, the ball was intercepted by the impressive Llanishen fullback who crossed for a well earned solo try that went unconverted.
Ponty were stung by this score and went back on the attack with some impressive running by Nathaniel Williams and the powerful Reid, ably supported by Gristock and Maissey. From one of these powerful runs, Ponty were able to win quick ruck ball and Davies launched a brilliant attack. Lewis Smith used his decoy runners perfectly to ghost through the defence and cross for Pontypridd's second try that was again converted by Simms.
Within seconds, Llanishen came straight back at Ponty and powerfully aggressive running from the Llanishen centres saw them punch through the Ponty midfield, only to be denied by brave tackling from Ponty full back Max Padfield. But as Ponty appeared to have won the ruck to clear the danger, the clearance kick was charged down and bounced behind the Ponty try line. Both Lewis Smith and the Llanishen wing dived on the bouncing ball, with both claiming to have grounded the ball first? The referee ruled in favour of the attacker and awarded Llanishen a third try that went unconverted to even the scores at 17 all.
Ponty then made some key changes to shore up their midfield defence, with the aggressive openside Dafydd Gristock replaced Tom Newberry at inside centre and Lewis Williams came into outside centre from the wing. This allowed Simms to return to his usual position of Full back, with Owain Kingsbury and Gary Paige coming on as wingers. This change soon paid dividends, with Gristock tackling aggressively in midfield; this route of attack for Llanishen was closed completely.
The new makeshift Ponty midfield started to ask questions of the Llanishen defence and the excellent Lewis Williams was able to twice put Owain Kingsbury away on promising attacks that were only thwarted by last gasp tackles. The powerful Llanishen inside centre thwarted in midfield, tried to vary his play by coming down the blindside, but excellent tackling from replacement wing Paige stopped his attacks in its tracks.
Pontypridd were able to set up a maul and a powerful drive took their pack over twenty meters before it was illegally pulled down on the half way line. With only a couple of minutes left Simms opted for goal, but his long range attempt fell just agonisingly under the bar. From the drop out, Llanishen kicked just to the spot where Simms had attempted his penalty. Dean Maissey collected the kick and charged forward, taking the tackle to set up a ruck. Davies passed the ball out, but was thwarted by the Llanishen tight head who had come around the wrong side and was penalised for offside. With the ball only three or four metres from where he attempted his last kick, Simms showed no hesitation in opting for another shot at goal. This time it sailed majestically over to win the game for Ponty 20 -17.
This was an excellent game that was well controlled by the young Dowlais referee Dan McCarthy. The match was a credit to both teams and their coaches, with attractive exciting rugby played at a high tempo throughout. Though a draw would have been a fair result, with few complaints from either side, it was Pontypridd who just nicked it in the end.
TRY scorers for Pontypridd: Mike Davies and Lewis Smith. Rhys Simms kicked two penalties and both conversions.
Man of the Match: Mike Davies, who was impressive both at Flanker and Scrum half.
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Cardiff Blues travel to Myreside on Friday to take on Edinburgh Rugby in a crucial Guinness PRO12 clash, and with Wales facing Scotland in the RBS 6 Nations at BT Murrayfield on Saturday, it promises to be a weekend of non-stop rugby action at the Scottish capital. Here are some useful advice to Cardiff Blues travelling supporters.