Tycroes 29 pts.
Tenby United 24
Crossing into Carmarthenshire, Tenby Tourers sponsored Tenby United travelled to play fourth-placed Tycroes in what was expected to be a tight encounter and potentially a banana skin to any hopes they might have regarding promotion from division two west.
Despite Tenby winning the home encounter comfortably 45-13, which was followed by Tycroes also losing 26-6 the following week to leaders Pontarddulais, that was back in Octobe. Since then, Tycroes have put together a very impressive record with a run of nine consecutive wins taking them to fourth in the table, only one point behind Tenby, and they deservedly extended that run to 10 consecutive wins, with the United rather fortunate to come away with a losing bonus point.
With the game switched to the second pitch at Cae’r Gelli, the home side kicked off with a slight breeze blowing not favouring either side and with Jordan Asparassa, Scott James, Luke Dedman (playing his 160th game for the 1st XV) and Mike Davies all involved in an early slick inter-passing move, the scene was set for an open game of rugby.
But it was the home side that had the first scoring opportunity with a penalty awarded against Tenby by referee Alun Emmanuel, which fortunately sailed wide of the uprights.
Despite this, it was Tenby who maintained the pressure and Mike Davies forced the home side into conceding the next penalty and Ashley Sutton boomed his kick deep into the Tycroes half. Maintaining the momentum, Luke Dedman and Jack Guerreiro combined well to create an opening, but the ball hit the deck and the move came to nothing.
Play switched to the Tenby end of the field as the home side stretched the defence and a high tackle spotted by referee Emmanuel provided outside-half Dean Bromham with the opportunity to drill the ball into the corner. From the lineout, the home side carried out a series of pick and go’s and inevitably the Tenby defence was eventually breached, with flanker Aaron Price crossing the line for an unconverted try and a deserved early 5-0 lead.
Tenby responded well to this reverse, with fullback Jonny Morgan putting in a jinking run which was illegally brought to a halt and from the penalty Ashley Sutton took play deep into Tycroes territory. Tenby were starting to get their act together, with Jack Guerreiro, Barry Parsons, Andrew Cooke and winger Greg Lees Griffiths all catching the eye, which stretched the home defence on several occasions, but the odd knock-on or forward pass prevented anything from really developing. From a high tackle penalty award, however, Ashley Sutton closed the gap to a 5-3 game.
Responding to this score, the home side surged upfield from the restart and a missed tackle by Scott James presented Tycroes with the opportunity to add to their score, which they did, via a slick handling move which ended with centre Luc Rees crossing the line wide out for a second unconverted try and a 10-3 lead.
Rattled by this latest score, Tenby applied the pressure in open play, at scrum time and at the lineouts that followed, and their pressure was rewarded when Jack Guerreiro charged down a hurried clearance kick and re-gathered the ball to score under the sticks. With Ashley Sutton adding the extras, the game was tied at 10-10.
With the half drawing to a close, the home side went on the attack, with their front row of Steffan Davies, Richie Williams and Trystan Morgan prominent with their support lines of running and their excellent handling skills, and from a rather harshly awarded penalty, were provided with the opportunity to take play deep into the Tenby half.
There followed another bout of pick and go charges for the line, but the Tenby back row trio of skipper Luke Hansford, Andrew Cooke and Barry Parsons, along with Geoff Martin, Joe Poole and Ethan Morgan, held firm, putting in some brave and valiant tackles.
The pressure eventually told, though, with hooker Richie Williams crossing the whitewash for another unconverted try and a 15-10 half-time lead.
During this bout of play, it became evident that the home side’s method of support was far more effective than that being used by Tenby, insomuch as all their short passes to a supporting player were done with the support player running onto the ball, whereas Tenby’s support players seemed to always be either at a standstill or slowly ambling in the right direction, which made it easy for the home side to bring to a halt.
The second half started with a burst of attacking moves by Tenby ending with Jonny Morgan putting wing Greg Lees Griffiths clear for a touch down wide out, and with Ashley Sutton successful with his conversion, Tenby had, for the first time in the match, taken the lead at 17-15.
An infringement at a scrum provided Sutton with the chance of extending the lead, but his ambitious attempt from about the halfway line drifted wide.
Tycroes then got their act together and a superb attacking move by half-backs Dean Bromham and Aled James was brought to a halt by a tremendous covering tackle by Andrew Cooke.
Maintaining the pressure, however, Tycroes remained camped on the Tenby line and using their tried and trusted pick and go attack, forced the United to bring down a maul and referee Emmanuel awarded a penalty try, and to add to their misery, they also lost number eight Barry Parsons to the naughty step for the next 10 minutes, even though the referee admitted he was unsure who had committed the offence - but strangely added, he knew it wasn’t Parsons.
With Elgan Griffiths adding the extras, Tycroes had retaken the lead at 22-17 and with the fourth try bonus point safely in the bag, they set out to deny the visitors a losing bonus point.
The Tenby coaching team obviously thought it was time for new blood to enter the fray and Mark Heywood and Lyndon Jones were brought on to replace Jack Guerreiro and Ethan Morgan.
The pace of the game, despite the heavy conditions, was increased by the home side, who went in search of more tries and some sloppy defending by Tenby presented them with the chance they needed as an unguarded short side of a scrum provided outside-half Dean Bromham with the simple task of trotting over unopposed for a try, converted by Elgan Griffiths, and a comfortable 29-17 lead, with Tenby now denied a losing bonus point.
With Harry Bolton coming on for the hard-working Mike Davis, Tenby had the final quarter to get their act together or go away empty-handed and at the next scrum, deep in the Tycroes 22, they put the home side under immense pressure and, despite sinking to the floor at the first attempt and wheeling with their front row all standing up at the second, referee Emmanuel let the number eight pick up at a retreating third attempt and somehow clear their lines.
A steal at a tackle by Barry Parsons, which followed a surging run by Greg Lees Griffiths, squeezed an offence out of the pressurised home defence, which allowed Sutton to drill the awarded penalty into the corner and from the ensuing lineout, a drive, involving among others Luke Hansford, ended with the skipper being yellow carded and the scoring opportunity was wasted.
The final few minutes of the game ended with Tenby reverting to ‘normal’ and running everything from anywhere, with backs and forwards combining with slick inter-passing and support work (at pace), which had not been seen during the previous 75 minutes of the match, and their somewhat belated adventurous enterprising approach was rewarded with winger Greg Lees Griffiths crossing wide out for his second try of the afternoon.
Although Ashley Sutton added the extras, to close the score to 29-24, and at least secure a losing bonus point, the game ended with the nagging thought of, why oh why had they not shown that attacking mode much, much earlier and more frequently in the game.
Difficult to pinpoint why Tenby struggled to get into gear for this crucial encounter and maybe it was the fact that this was their first league match since January 28, when they turned over leaders Pontarddulais, while Tycroes had been involved in three league games in the intervening period and were therefore tuned into what is required for these tight, hard fought league games. This, aligned to the lack of discipline which annoyingly surfaced again, may turn out to be very costly come the end of the campaign.
This disappointing result, along with the other results on the day, sees Tenby slide from second to fourth in the table, albeit with a game in hand over the other top three sides vying for the two promotion spots. With six games left, it will be a very close fought battle and if they play the game as they finished at Tycroes, promotion could and should be achieved, but play like they did until the closing stages, and it will be a case of ‘if only’.
With a blank week tomorrow (Saturday), with the final round of Six Nations matches taking preference, the coaching group will need to get the team mentally prepared for their next game with strugglers Haverfordwest, who although are firmly holding the bottom slot in the league, will undoubtedly raise their game for this local derby.
Tenby: Jonny Morgan, Greg Lees Griffiths, Scott James, Jack Guerreiro (Mark Heywood), Jordan Asparassa, Ashley Sutton, Matthew Morgan, Geoff Martin, Joe Poole, Ethan Morgan (Lyndon Jones), Luke Dedman, Mike Davis (Harry Bolton), Andrew Cooke, Barry Parsons, Luke Hansford
Reps: Dan Allen, Charlie Patching.