Tenby United 21 pts. Aberystwyth 17 - In what was undoubtedly their most important game for many a year, Tenby Tourers sponsored Tenby United travelled to Crymych last Friday to take on high-flying Aberystwyth RFC in the final of the J. T. Autos sponsored Pembrokeshire Knock-out Cup, hoping to add the cup to the league title they had achieved only six days previously.
Victory would cap what has undoubtedly been a great season for the United - particularly when compared with the disasters of the last couple of years, and even more so as the double had last been achieved by Tenby in 1988/89, some 28 seasons ago, so the target set for the night had been a long time in waiting.
Before the start, the Seasiders were forced to make one late change, with Mark Heywood failing a fitness test during the warm-up and versatile Jack Guerreiro taking his place on the wing.
Playing down the slope in the first half, Tenby fielded the kick-off by Aber and the opening few minutes saw both sides testing each other, with Tenby claiming the slight advantage as Luke Dedman and Mike Davis secured quick off-the-top lineout ball, enabling Ashley Sutton to force Aber back to their 22 with an excellent touch-finder from deep inside his own half.
Maintaining their momentum, it was Sutton again who threatened to breach the sound Aber defence with a neat chip over the onrushing backline, only for an eager Jack Guerreiro to be pinged by referee Simon Mills, as he chased the kick from an offside position.
Aber were slowly clawing their way into the game, with their bulky set of forwards starting to dominate certain phases of play with some well-controlled rolling mauls, which the lighter Tenby eight found difficult to counter.
From one such maul, which had gained yards and occupied the Tenby back row, Aber quickly released the ball and an excellent service by scrum-half Gruff Jones to partner Matthew Hughes saw the number 10 carve his way through a stretched Tenby defence to dot the ball down under the posts for the first try of the evening which, converted by Steffan Rees, was an ominous score that shook the confident Tenby team and their supporters.
To prevent this early lead of 7-0 being used as a platform to build on, Tenby needed to re-establish their dominance and score next, which with a tremendous concerted team effort, they did. Jonny Morgan, not for the first time as the game unfolded, was the instigator, fielding a clearance kick by Aber and setting up a maul which was won by Tenby and, with quick ball transfer and excellent backing up involving Rob Luly, skipper Luke Hansford, Scott James and Jack Guerreiro, ended with Morgan himself being on hand to canter over under the sticks.
Ashley Sutton duly converted to deservedly level the scores at 7-7 and it was game on, with the sizable crowd warming to what was turning out to be a very entertaining game.
Almost from the restart Tenby attempted to take the lead, but a long range penalty attempt from a very confident Sutton, from about eight metres inside his own half, was just short of the target.
Nevertheless, Tenby maintained the pressure with some direct running from Jonny Morgan and Scott James which forced Aber to infringe again and this time Sutton was successful with the penalty and the United had created a deserved 10-7 lead.
With both sides trying to control the game, it was a classic case of attacks being stopped with some crunching tackles in defence, with neither side wanting to concede a second try, and one Mike Davis dumper truck tackle brought gasps from the crowd, who were really enjoying this absorbing and highly competitive contest.
Slick ball handling was mixed with probing kicks and from one misplaced kick by Aber, the alert Jonny Morgan, having spectacularly fielded it, set off from deep on an arcing run towards Scott James, who he transferred the ball to, for Scott to continue the move, finishing it off by passing the ball back to Morgan, who crossed for an unconverted try wide out, taking him to a tantalising 99 points for the season, and the score to 15-7.
Attempting to force Aber into mistakes by probing their defensive set-up with a series of forceful runs involving forwards Rob Clarke, Luke Dedman, Barry Parsons and Andrew Cooke, the backs, with Moritz Neumann and Jordan Asparassa prominent, were also getting in on the act, but it was down to the impressive Tenby scrum to create the next scoring opportunity.
In the few scrums that had taken place, the larger and heavier Aber pack had struggled to hold the low packing Tenby eight and at the next one, it was the United front row who destroyed their opponents, aided with an almighty shove from the back five, ending with referee Mills awarding a penalty, which was made worse for Aber with an additional 10 metres awarded for choppsing, and ended with Sutton extending the lead to 18-7.
From the restart, Aber were awarded a penalty when Joe Poole was deemed by referee Mills to be guilty of holding onto the ball following a tackle, although from where your correspondent was stood, it seemed he himself was taken out while still in the air, so perhaps justice was done when the resultant kick was missed by Rees.
Shouts from the coaching staff of Aber were obviously having a positive effect on their performance as they started to string together some threatening moves and that, aligned with the amount of defending and tackling that had been put in by Tenby, slowly saw them become the team threatening to score next.
There were some cracking tackles put in by Joe Poole and Scott James, as well as Moritz Neumann, but the Aber juggernaut pack was starting to dominate proceedings and it came as no surprise when it provided the catalyst for the next score.
A scrum given to Aber for a fumbled take, off an uncharacteristic sloppy pass from Matthew Morgan, developed at the breakdown that followed, with the rolling maul kicking into action and ending with the Aber threes putting together a delightful run around move, bringing blindside winger Sion Cowdy in to create an overlap for fullback Steffan Rees to dummy his way over for an excellent try, which he converted himself, closing the scores to 18-14.
Somewhere in the build-up to this score, Greg Lees Griffiths took to the field, replacing an injured Jack Guerreiro.
In one last desperate effort to extend the score with half-time approaching, Tenby, playing on from a penalty advantage, strung together a promising move involving Greg Lees Griffiths, Scott James, Moritz Neumann, Jordan Asparassa and Ashley Sutton, only to find that when the move was eventually brought to a halt, referee Mills had harshly deemed sufficient advantage had been taken, and blew for the break.
Both sides gratefully took to the oranges as the heavens opened and the forecasted rain arrived. Now with the slope and the breeze that had picked up in their favour, the second half started with Aber kicking off deep and producing some aggressive and forceful rugby, with Rees and Cowdy to the fore, all aimed at getting play into the far corner of the pitch where a 1 in 6 sign should be placed depicting the downward slope!
Not surprisingly, Aber attempted several rolling mauls while camped in the corner, which initially saw the inevitable warning for illegal infringements being dished out to skipper Hansford by referee Mills. And this was to get worse for both Tenby and Hansford as the captain himself was sent to the naughty step for 10 minutes and another penalty awarded, which fullback Rees slotted over to narrow the lead to 18-17.
Tenby were now under the cosh and excellent tackles were put in by Jonny Morgan, Jordan Asparassa, Andrew Cooke and Luke Dedman as the game entered a scrappy period as the predicted rain worsened and handling became even more difficult.
Despite the rain not relenting and the light fading, and playing with 14 men, the game sprung into life when Jonny Morgan released wing Greg Lees Griffiths, who left his opponent for dead as he surged around him and set off up the touchline. At this point, play disappeared behind a mass of umbrellas, but it is assumed Greg was stopped before he reached the line.
Trying to get the ball moving amongst their backs, Aber created an opportunity to develop a move, but an attempted chip over the top of the Tenby threes was charged down by the alert Scott James, who just failed to re-gather and set up a counter-attack.
Using the wind, rain and slope to their advantage, Aber were trying everything to break the stubborn Tenby defence and clashing in mid-air when they both attempted to field the same kick, Jonny Morgan and Jordan Asparassa lay prone on the ground as Rees gathered the ball, but his pass inside to Coleman was fortunately knocked-on, with the way to the line clear.
Seeing that high kicks had become the tactic of the hour, Ashley Sutton put up a bomb of his own and a chasing Scott James gathered to threaten the Aber line, only for an infringement to be spotted by referee Mills, awarding the penalty to Tenby, but this time Sutton missed with his attempt.
Back up to a full complement, with Hansford back on the park, Tenby recaptured dominance at the set-piece, stealing a strike against the head from a frustrated Aber eight, followed by Luke Dedman and Mike Davis disrupting their throw-ins at the lineout. This was limiting their attacking options during a critical time in the match, with both sides desperate for a score of any sorts to either close the scores/take the lead in the case of Aber or extend the score, as in the case of Tenby.
Not surprisingly, Aber were relying more and more on their bulky pack, with even bigger replacements being brought on as some of their starting XV trooped off, and the game went through a period where, try as they might, Tenby could just not get away from the corner of the pitch with the notorious slope.
On a positive note, however, the Tenby defence was frustrating any attempts Aber put together to break through, creating frustration amongst their team and noisy band of supporters who had obviously seen this forward dominated approach work previously against other opposition.
What they had obviously not encountered before, though, was a very well-organised, committed and effective defensive system that was putting in a shift that the Tenby supporters were used to, as they had seen it successfully put into operation on many occasions through their season.
Capitalising on a rare opportunity to break away, Greg Lees Griffiths chased a huge clearing kick put in by Sutton by cornering and tackling Matthew Hughes, who was forced to concede a penalty, which Sutton smoothly sent between the uprights, for what surprisingly turned out to be the last score of the game, increasing the lead to 21-17.
Comments from Aber supporters who were within earshot, and who had started the game in very confident and bullish mood, were now suggesting that it was a lost cause as Tenby wanted victory more that their side did and with any form of attack being stopped, before anything threatening could be developed, by some very tired, but determined Tenby players, the game was drawing to a close in the fading light.
Every time something seemed to be a potential threat, it was brought to a resounding halt as the standard tackle on an opponent to just take him to ground was replaced by a driving tackle which took the player yards backwards and put his supporting team-mates out of the game as they ended up in front of the ball. Noticeable in this respect were tackles put in by Scott James, Moritz Neumann, Jordan Asparassa, Rob Luly, Joe Poole, Rob Clarke, Mike Davis, Andrew Cooke, Barry Parsons and Luke Hansford.
With play drawing to a close and darkness threatening, the game ended with a few nervous moments for the faithful Tenby supporters to chew their nails on, with some of the replacements and support team galloping on the pitch prematurely, as they thought the final whistle had been blown, but calm was restored with the ball being hoofed out of play by skipper Hansford, from the penalty awarded, with referee Mills this time blowing for time and the celebrations began… and are probably still going on even though victory is a week on.
This was a classic game of two halves, with Tenby, playing down the slope, accumulating 18 points in the first half and Aberystwyth responding with 14 points (albeit with a try late on as the half progressed) ending with a total of 32 between the two sides.
The second half was in no way less competitive, and was full of end to end stuff, but the fact that only six points were scored, with a penalty to each side, suggests that Tenby defended better against the slope than Aber had done in the first half. Or, on the other hand, was it a case of Aber not taking the chances they created, as Tenby had done during the first half?
Another interesting point was that, although an extended bench of replacements was allowed for the final, Tenby only used one - when Greg Lees Griffiths replaced the injured Jack Guerreiro - while it seemed that Aberystwyth virtually cleared their bench.
The Tenby coaching group obviously had great faith in the selected starting XV and were prepared to leave them on the pitch unless there was an injury, and praise goes to them for taking that confident approach, as well as to the starting XV for lasting for what was a gruelling and very tiring 80-minute encounter.
Agreeing with Bill Carne, a stalwart of local rugby reporting and supporting and keeper of Pembrokeshiresport.co.uk , Ashley Sutton was a popular choice for the man of the match trophy - his second - presented by HNO Hughes and Associates, who also provided the match ball.
So well done Ashley, who landed 11 points, but he was very closely followed by centre Scott James, fullback Jonny Morgan and flanker Andrew Cooke for the honour - and if Aber had edged home, then talented fullback Steffan Rees and flanker Paul Stubbs might well have been in contention.
Before a ball had even been kicked, it was accepted as soon as the draw had been finalised with Aber’s recent semi-final victory over Cardigan, that a monumental team effort would be needed against a very strong and powerful outfit, coming off a superb league season in Division One West. Nothing else would be acceptable, if Tenby were to achieve the long-awaited cup and league double.
As it transpired on the night, that’s exactly what was delivered, with all individuals and ‘in team’ combinations functioning at 110 per cent for the full 80 minutes of the match and there was nothing left out on Parc Lloyd Thomas as every member of the team ran themselves to a standstill, with some very sore bodies and limbs trying to summon up the strength to celebrate this memorable achievement.
They very slowly trooped off the pitch to the applause and cheers from all present, along with a series of congratulations from their defeated, but worthy, opponents.
With Luke Hansford eventually receiving the cup, after all participants had received their medals, it was the end of ‘a job well done’, with all being able to utter those immortal words “and I was there”…. with the club winning the coveted trophy for the 32nd time.
Looking up to the grey skies as the rain eased a little, I wondered if the recently departed, long-serving TURFC trio of Bryant Hawker, Lloyd Evans and club president Mike Fry were having a pint and looking down on the celebrations with massive grins on their faces - that made me smile.
Tenby fielded: Jonny Morgan, Jack Guerreiro (Greg Lees Griffiths), Scott James, Moritz Neumann, Jordan Asparassa, Ashley Sutton, Matthew Morgan, Rob Luly, Joe Poole, Rob Clarke, Luke Dedman, Mike Davis, Andrew Cooke, Barry Parsons, Luke Hansford
Reps - Ethan Morgan, Alex Thomas, Dan Allen, Charlie Patching, Kieran Machin, Conner Ennis.