PENARTH RFC 1st XV 15pts
A REVIVED casualty of soggy January, this postponed clash was played in perfect conditions on a calm, dry early March evening. Which is just as well as events on the field turned ugly enough anyway.
It all started well, with both sides showing an inclination to play fast, open rugby as well as the tough stuff up front. Fairwater favoured closer play, releasing their tank of a second row to try to batter holes in a determined home defence, whilst Penarth used the speed of Stuart Clarke coming onto the ball and, in turn, feeding the supporting burst from No 8 Jon Boland. All this, plus some slick interchanges amongst both sets of backs, kept pressure on the respective defences.
It was nearly 20 minutes into the contest when Penarth became the first to turn attack into points and it was a delightful piece of defence-splitting play. James Docherty was the instigator, cleverly delaying his pass to James Thatcher so that he could rifle it behind the back of the encroaching defence. Thatcher saw nothing on for himself and slotted a sweet little grubber, which was perfectly weighted for hooker Joe Page whose collection and flick pass allowed wing Mike Gubb to finish the business.
Penarth immediately relaxed and allowed a couple of clearances to be charged down and, in the scrambling defence, prop Richard Merrett did a bit too much to prevent release and earned a yellow as the first of the evening’s series of cards. Mike Hurley was sacrificed so that prop Gary Power could come on.
Fairwater took three penalty points from their man advantage and a further seven when awarded a penalty try, with the Penarth front row judged to have repeatedly infringed in defending their line.
The home side wasted no time in hitting back, their attacking line looking especially fluent, with Rhys Lakin an ever sound link in the centre. This gave the forwards a platform and, after they were held up in possession over the line, quick ball was fed back to Docherty who put in a stunning solo effort; his sidesteps and dummy left three defenders grasping fresh air. The extra two points went begging again and the sides went in at half-time with honours even at 10-10.
The restart was marked by a silly bit of back chat by Penarth’s Boland that earned him a yellow card. This was followed by a much more serious flair up instigated by the visitors. This was not just one of those harmless bursts of ‘handbags’ that flare up from time to time but a full out fists and boots affair which, when it eventually settled down, led to a red card for the Fairwater hooker. One touchline pundit commented: “I’ve watched Fairwater over the years and they can play really good rugby, but they prefer a fight."
That was not the end of cards from the match referee and next to go was the visitors' No 8 for illegal use of the boot.
Gubb collected an arm injury and was replaced by James Crothers and Penarth used skill and enterprise, as well as numerical advantage, to produce the match’s final score, which was a beauty.
Fairwater were defying the odds and pressurising hard. The ball came loose to be collected by Hurley on his own line. He set off, demonstrating advanced balletic skills and, teetering along the touchline past opponents and into the clear, he wound up the pace. He might have made the full distance on his own but sensibly released to eternal support runner Clarke who touched down.
With 10 minutes remaining, Penarth once more lost their numerical advantage, with Sean O’Sullivan being the recipient of a yellow card. Buoyed by this, Fairwater laid siege to the home line. All this served to do was to demonstrate how this Penarth squad have developed the focus and will to defend doggedly when needed.
The next fixture is on Saturday, March 22, away against Porth Quins.
Penarth: Mike Hurley, Mike Gubb (James Crothers), James Thatcher, Rhys Lakin, Paul Collett, James Docherty, Rhys Morgan, Richard Merrett, Joe Page, Sean O’Sullivan, Stuart Clarke, Scott Mackie, Geraint Blake, Matt Sutton and Jon Boland.