Newcastle Emlyn 13 pts. Narberth 23

On a beautiful autumn afternoon, Otters supporters turned up in droves for this away derby encounter, with hopes that the previous season’s double defeat would be avenged. They were not to be disappointed, for a convincing first half display built the platform for a happy ending.

Beforehand, Newcastle Emlyn had set up a pre-match luncheon which a few Otters sponsors supported and also provided hospitality for the Narberth rugby committee, some who on match days play a hidden, but hugely valuable support role. There is a close link between the older members of both clubs and it was heartening to see at their president’s table, Clr. Towyn Evans, himself a former Otter and captain in the days of the Pembrokeshire League, with former back row colleague and lifetime friend, Elwyn Pask Harries, himself a former captain of the Otters.

With several props missing through injury, among those taking the field for the Otters was tight-head Justin Hughes, who was persuaded to come out of retirement. Justin has huge experience in the front row, being a former Wales B cap and having played for several Welsh clubs before the regions were formed. He played for and captained Caerphilly, Aberavon, Llanelli and for several seasons captained the Otters.

The Otters kicked off and for several minutes both sides attempted some tactical kicking, testing the defences.

Emlyn had an early opportunity to score. From a kick ahead, with the ball bouncing, it was collected by second row Rhys Davies, who released centre Tomi Jones, an ex-Otter, who was brought down by the Otters’ defence.

Another Emlyn attack saw Niko Setaro, also an ex-Otter, cross the try line under the posts, but an Emlyn player blocked an Otter defender, resulting in the referee ruling obstruction.

At this stage, the home side looked very threatening, but the Otters stuck to their structured defence and responded themselves to gain ground and attack strongly.

However, following another disallowed try by prop Gethin Davies, Emlyn did eventually gain the first score after what had been 10 hectic minutes.

Initially it came from a scrum near the Otters’ line, at which the visitors forced the Newcastle Emlyn front row to stand up. The scrum was reset and somehow this time the home team gained the heel. The ball reached fullback Shaun Leonard who quickly broke through and attempted to pass to Niko Setaro, only for the ball to be knocked backwards for centre Rhys Schiavone to win the race for the touchdown.

The try went unconverted, amid some minor controversary, as Setaro’s attempted conversion was judged by both touch judges to have sailed through the posts, but the referee overruled.

Five minutes later, the Otters scored their first points. With their pack starting to control the game with their driving mauls and being well supported by both half-backs, who kept Emlyn pinned back in their own half, the home side were forced to kick to touch for safety.

From the lineout, Rhys Lane passed to wing Nick Gale, who broke the first line of defence and reached the 22, before feeding the ball back to Lane, who was in the process of crossing the line when a defensive offence occurred and a penalty awarded. Gale had no problems converting the kick for three points.

Gale had another penalty chance from the 40-metre line, but saw his effort veer past the posts, and 24 minutes had passed before the Otters gained their first try, popular clubman and hooker Dan Smith being the scorer.

Narberth gained the ball and formed a rolling maul which was taken down. Newcastle Emlyn’s Gethin Davies was yellow-carded and the penalty kick placed into touch. Captain Alex Jenkins, standing close to the front of the lineout, took possession and a maul formed, with the Otters walking it forwad over the line for Smith to touch down.

Gale converted with an excellent kick to take the score out to 10-5 and the Otters now began to take control of the game.

On 30 minutes, Narberth grabbed another touchdown through winger Liam Hutchings. It followed a period of intense pressure, with Rhys Lane breaking through, followed by a Jonathon Rogers break, with centre Jack Price supporting and forcing his way to near the line. He was tackled, but from the successful ruck, Rogers fed the ball to Hutchings, who crossed for the try. It went unconverted.

Five minutes later, Newcastle Emlyn were awarded a penalty in front of the posts, but surprisingly Setaro’s kick went wide.

The Otters responded by again putting pressure on their hosts when Jonathon Rogers kicked to within a few metres of their line, but the attack was thwarted and the half ended with the score standing at 15-5 to the visitors.

Fly-half Rogers was putting in an excellent performance with some very telling kicks and showing a fine pair of heels with ball in hand, while ever-alert scrum-half Rhys Lane was providing an excellent service and keeping the home team on the backfoot with his darting breaks.

The pack as a whole all played their part in taking control of the game for long periods and the defence remained strong and well-organised.

In the second half, there was an initial kicking contest, with Rogers finally pinning Newcastle Emlyn on the five-metre line with another of his left-footed kicks. Emlyn held their lineout and cleared the danger and Narberth were forced into a penalty offence. Setaro kicked into touch, Emlyn won the lineout and moved forward, but when the Otters offended by moving offside, Setaro again failed with the resulting penalty attempt at goal.

On 48 minutes, Nick Gale, who had suffered an injury, was replaced by young Jack Parkinson. Two minutes later, flanker Joe Powell was yellow-carded for offending at the ruck. This time Setaro made no mistake with the penalty, cutting the deficit to seven points.

Although now a man down, the Otters again exerted pressure on Newcastle Emlyn, but from a lineout on the five-metre line, wing Tomi Jones broke out of defence and sped 50 metres, before kicking ahead and forcing the Otters to offend at a ruck.

Newcastle Emlyn attempted to break the Otters’ defence, switching the direction of play as they began to build a number of phases, but it came to noght as they knocked on five metres from the line.

Following this period, Narberth made what turned out to be telling replacements, with newcomer Dylan Cooper coming on for Ryan Rees at loose head, Sion Jenkins replacing James Bain in the back row and Pat Roberts taking over from Jake Sims in the second row.

The fresh legs rejuvenated the Otters pack.

Two minutes later, another Jonathon Rogers kick gained considerable ground, fullback Shaun Leonard fielded and attempted to run the ball out, only for him to be swallowed up by six Otters and, when tackled, he failed to release the ball. Rogers made no mistake with the penalty kick, putting the Otters 10 points clear at 18-8.

Three minutes later, the home team were again on the scoreboard themselves. When left wing John Lumb went on a mazy run, he was eventually brought down just short of the line, where he was supported by flanker Joel James, who was able to release the ball to centre Tomi Jones to score an unconverted try.

The Otters quickly bounced back and the front row put considerable pressure on Emlyn in the scrums. The Otters began to set-up a series of phased play, forcing the home side back.

Then on 70 minutes, suddenly seeing a gap, Rhys Lane darted round the edge of a ruck and with a 15-metre dash crossed the line to score with an unconverted try.

The next five minutes saw Justin Hughes exerting his renowned scrummaging skills, before leaving the field to warm applause from the visiting supporters.

By the final whistle, Narberth were clear winners, avenging the surprise defeats of the previous season and, for the players and supporters, it was a satisfying afternoon of competitive derby rugby, played in a good spirit.

The Otters excelled and, while Jonathon Rogers stood out with his performance, Rhys Lane and the whole squad had played their part, with the coaches making some telling substitutions which maintained the pressure on Newcastle Emlyn to the end.

Following other results on the day, Narberth now find themselves in the top four of the Championship table.

Afterwards, enjoying the post-match atmospher, new backs coach Liam Gadd commented: “We are delighted with the performance, the players stayed with the game plan, we kept our width and kicked well and everyone played their part in the win, which was pleasing after last season’s defeats. Jonathon Rogers kicked well, at times pinning them in their 22. Rhys Lane played an important part and the front row put on significant pressure, with Justin Hughes effective in the tight. Overall it was a very pleasing and satisfying performance.”

Tomorrow (Saturday), Narberth are home to Cardiff Met, kick off 2.30 pm, which should be an exciting game.

Narberth fielded: James Stephenson (Ianto Griffiths), Nick Gale (Jack Parkinson), Joe Hutchings, Jack Price, Liam Hutchings, Jonathon Rogers, Rhys Lane, Justin Hughes (Ryan Rees), Dan Smith, Ryan Rees (Dylan Cooper), Jake Simms (Pat Roberts), Alex Jenkins, Joe Powell, Stephan Phillips, James Bain (Sean Jenkins).