Having avoided rain for a little over two days, the Narberth pitch was in dry condition for the first time in many months. Although the northerly breeze made it a cold afternoon, a large crowd had turned up at the Lewis Lloyd to watch the Championship local derby between Narberth and Newcastle Emlyn.
During the first 10 minutes, both teams defences held firm and ferocious tackling saw neither side gain any advantage. When Emlyn attempted to run the ball, pressure from the home centres saw it go to ground and when Otters’ fly-half, Jonathan Rogers, arrived at the breakdown and tried to release it, Emlyn were guilty of holding on and Narberth were awarded the first penalty of the match.
From the Emlyn 10-metre line, Narberth wing, Nick Gale, stepped up and slotted the ball cleanly between the posts to make the score 3-0.
Then, quarter-of-an-hour into the game, a loose throw over the back of the Emlyn lineout saw Narberth number eight Richard Rees gather the ball and swiftly move it out to the backs. An inside pass from Paul Davies to Nick Gale saw the winger breach the Emlyn defence and when confronted by the fullback, he passed outside to the supporting Ianto Griffiths, who went over wide out. Gale’s conversion attempt failed, making the score 8-0.
Emlyn attempted to impose their style of play on the game by using their bulkier back five forwards on driving runs, but the Narberth defence held firm and the quicker Otters’ flankers Sean Jenkins and Tom Powell excelled at getting to the breakdown early and turning over the ball, much to the delight of the home crowd.
From one such turnover, the ball was fed wide to centre Keiron Jones, who jinked and sprinted 40 metres upfield, before eventually being tackled to the ground. A scrambled Emlyn clearance led to a penalty being awarded for offside and Narberth chose to kick to the corner to exert more pressure.
From the resulting lineout, Alex Jenkins rose high to catch the ball and from the ensuing driving maul, hooker Rhodri Owens crashed over near the corner flag. The conversion kick was again missed (13-0).
Narberth scored again almost immediately after the restart when another Emlyn throw over the back of a lineout had them again scrambling in defence. Props Tom Slater and Bradley Davies twice took the ball on driving runs, with the latter being stopped just short of the line. The ball was recycled to Nick Gale, who drove forward and then slipped the ball inside to number eight Richard Rees, who dived over to score.
Again the try went unconverted, to leave the score at 18-0 at half-time.
Ten minutes into the second half, Richard Rees suffered a knee injury and was replaced by Steff Phillips.
Narberth again upped their game and kept Emlyn under constant pressure. From a penalty, the Otters again kicked to the corner. The ball was won and, after a series of driving runs from Bradley Davies and Rhodri Owens, the ball was released to the backs and winger Gethin Gibby was tackled just short of the line. The ball was quickly recycled and flanker Tom Powell stepped inside the Emlyn cover defence and ran in under the posts. Nick Gale this time added the conversion to make it 25-0.
After a short period of pressure from the Emlyn forwards, Narberth had a lineout on their own 22 metre line. Rather than relieving pressure with a long kick downfield, fly-half Jonathan Rogers decided to chip the ball over the approaching centres. The ball bounced up into the hands of Narberth centre, Paul Davies, who put in a grubber kick for his winger. Nick Gale was speeding up the touchline and the ball fortuitously bounced up into his hands at full stretch and he sped over the line for another try, which he also converted (32-0).
Almost immediately from the restart, Jonathan Rogers spotted a gap behind the Emlyn defence and put a kick through for replacement wing Joe Hutchins. He collected the ball at speed and then gave an inside pass to the supporting Ianto Griffiths, who ran in at the corner to score his second try of the afternoon, which was greeted with a huge cheer from the Narberth supporters, as he was also celebrating his 100th league appearance for the club (37-0).
With only 15 minutes remaining, Narberth made further team changes, with Ryan Rees replacing Bradley Davies, Dewi Williams for Sean Jenkins and James Stephenson for Ianto Griffiths.
Another Narberth try was scored from a clever kick by Rogers which was collected by wing Joe Hutchins, who sprinted towards the try line. He was brought down just short, but flanker Tom Powell was again on hand to pick up the ball and dive over the line (42-0).
Emlyn, to their credit, refused to give up and after centre Mike Jones made a half-break, he slipped the ball to supporting flanker Callum Evans, who scored halfway out. The conversion attempt failed (42-5).
Emlyn exerted more pressure and after driving forward into Narberth’s 22, a perfectly weighted kick to the corner by their fly-half, Mitch Jones, was caught in the air by winger Daniel Davies, who ran in and scored wide out (42-10).
Further pressure and a quickly taken penalty by Emlyn centre Mike Jones saw him run through unopposed from 20 metres out to score under the posts. The try was converted by Mitch Jones (42-17).
That brought an end to the game which was played in good spirit throughout and there were several spectacular tries to entertain the large crowd. Narberth had that little bit of extra pace and used the ball more wisely, but credit to Emlyn for their late surge which almost brought them a bonus point.
Later head coach Sean Gale commented on how pleased he was with the performance of the squad in this derby game. He felt the threes excelled themselves, with the back row being outstanding; the second row were also very good. Young Rhodri Owens had another promising game starting for only the third time. Both Liam Hutchings and Rhys Lane were injured, so did not start. Lewys Gibby playing scrum-half performed well. Ryan Rees did well when he came on as a substitute.
“We are in a really good place at the moment,” he said.
This weekend Narberth have an interesting clash at home against fellow joint second placed Tata Steel, kick-off 2.30 pm.
Narberth fielded: Ianto Griffiths (James Stephenson), Nick Gale, Keiron Jones, Paul Davies, Gethin Gibby (Joe Hutchings), Jonathan Rogers, Lewys Gibby, Bradley Davies (Ryan Rees), Rhodri Owens, Tom Slater, Ryan Banner, Alex Jenkins, Tom Powell Sean Jenkins (Dewi Williams), Richard Rees (Steffan Phillips).