THE Old Penarthians faced the formidable challenge of championship contenders St Albans in last Saturday’s Division 5 South East league clash at Cwrt-y-vil and were forced to settle for second best as the visitors ran in the nap hand of five tries that hallmarked a victory which restored them to the top of the table with two games in hand.

Although without several leading players, including skipper Joel De Claire, the Old Boys enjoyed much of the early pressure but were given a stern warning as to the task in hand after only seven minutes. From possession gained at a line out just outside the 25, the Buns carved up the midfield defence when the outside half linked with centre Luke Phillips on a great angle before the final pass put outside centre Danny Millward over for an excellent touchdown that he also converted.

The game continued in similar fashion, with Penarthians battling well but unable to penetrate a well organised defence, whilst St Albans demonstrated an impressive ability to cash in on the chances that came their way. A 24th minute pushover following a scrum earned No 8 Karl Fish his try, Millward again converting, and the final move of the half saw centre Phillips touching down in the corner to extend the score to 19-0.

Although a recurrence of Dale Norris’s shoulder injury saw Sam Hall take over as substitute, the forwards still held their own in the set scrums, with Bali Salisbury and Lee Brennan working hard. Alun Haines, however, was under unusual pressure at the lines out, whilst Danny Godfrey, Mark Smart, and James Williams were sorely tested at times by the lively visiting back row trio.

Behind the scrum, Gareth Clancy and Jon Crimp tried hard at half back but wayward kicking was as manna from heaven to the eager St Albans backs whilst, despite the excellent running of Lloyd Davey and Craig Haines, there were times when the handling needed much finer tuning to bring the best out of Romain Mathieu, Charles Gore, and Elliott Clarke.

So it was that the hosts failed to capitalise on the few chances that came their way, whilst the visitors twice added to their tally in the second session. The first, in the 12th minute, saw replacement prop Jamie Doyle cast aside defenders in a manner more fitting to England full back Mike Brown as he sped over on the right, whilst Millward added his second touchdown close to time, adding a superb conversion to clinch the issue.

On the adjoining Cwrt-y-Vil pitch, the Seconds were delighted to be in action for the first time in a number of weeks when they entertained their Llandaff North counterparts in a last-minute fixture arrangement. It was a keenly contested affair but Buckley’s Boys showed the greater appetite on the day and were full value for their 12-5 victory. Mitchell Penberthy and Mike Sing were the try scorers for the Old Boys, whilst Gareth Boulton revealed an unexpected talent by kicking the sole conversion.

Saturday sees the Firsts travel to Caerau (Ely) for their 2.30 scheduled league fixture, whilst Second team details have yet to be finalised.