FOLLOWING cancellation of successive matches scheduled for the post-Christmas period, Old Penarthians Rugby Club Firsts returned to action with a first ever visit to New Panteg on Saturday.

The New Inn-based opponents, newly promoted to Division 5 South East at the start of the term, had reached halfway in the campaign in fifth place in the table, having won six of their nine games. Nevertheless, the Old Boys were hoping to start the New Year on a winning note until those plans were decimated by the wholesale withdrawal of first choice players in the days and hours leading up to kick-off.

Indeed, such was the decimation that the side was forced to travel with a bare squad of 17, including both coaches Alun Haines and Scott McCarthy, untried newcomer Charles Gale at prop, plus hooker Geraint Evans who was making his first appearance since the 2000/2001 season! Gareth Clancy vacated the scrum half berth to allow Huw Morgan to step up whilst he slotted into the back row.

Surprisingly, this makeshift outfit worked hard throughout the afternoon and did well enough to take the lead as the game moved into the final 15 minutes. Sadly, the lack of success that has seen the side slump to seven successive defeats proved crucial in the closing stages and possession that should have been retained was given away through aimless kicking that served only to allow the hosts to counter. It was from one such situation that Panteg regained the lead with 10 minutes remaining. Gifted possession close to halfway, the hosts drove the ball back into the 25. Jonathan Crimp gathered cleanly but a moment’s hesitation persuaded him to kick instead of running clear. The ball ricocheted forward from the onrushing Geraint Jones who then won the desperate chase to touch down halfway out. The kick failed but the 18-15 scoreline was to prove to be too much for the visitors to overtake and the side had to make do with a losing bonus point.

Earlier, Crimp and opposite number Jago Mapp exchanged penalties before an excellent break by centre Gareth Welford split the defence and enabled the fast following Dean Dacruz to win the race for a touchdown converted by Crimp. Panteg replied with a forward-based try from prop Matthew Gibb just short of the break but Penarthians still led 10-8 at half time.

That score remained as play moved to and fro with neither side able to assert an advantage. That deadlock was broken on 52 minutes when outside centre Nathan Day crossed for a well taken try only for the hosts to lose a lock forward to the red card that was prompted by illegal use of the boot. The Old Boys took control for a while and it was excellent work from the pack that saw Alun Haines power over from some 15 yards to secure the touchdown.

Unfortunately, Joel de Claire’s men failed to maintain that advantage despite fine work from Tom Sidford, Mark Smart, Gale and Haines up front whilst Welford, Dacruz, and Elliot Clarke were the pick of the backs.

Saturday sees both Firsts and Seconds in action, players permitting, when the sides travel to Rogerstone and Rhiwbina respectively for matches scheduled to kick off at 2.30pm.