With Thanks To Chris Kerwin South Wales Argus
CROSS Keys’ search for consistency goes on after slipping to a disappointing loss at a sodden Aberavon last night.
The Keys are yet to win back-to-back games this season and failed to follow up on their victory over Bedwas.
They had hoped to make it a Gwent one-two after Newport's win at Talbot Athletic Ground six days earlier but fell short with an under-par display in a match where fussy referee Leighton Hodges had the biggest impact.
Aberavon, helpfully playing with black numbers on their red and black hooped shirts, made the smarter start and they got their reward when centre Chris Tossell scored a farcical score on eight minutes.
Keys took the ball into contact 40 yards out but while the backs were aligning down the blindside, Wizards lock Gavin Ronan emerged with the ball and he gifted it to his number 12 despite seemingly having a clear run to the line.
Prolific kicker Jamie Davies converted but Keys swiftly struck back with a pair of penalties from their own points machine Gareth David.
The visitors were struggling for continuity in attack but prevented Aberavon from building up a head of steam by disrupting their line-out, with number eight Jevon Groves to the fore.
But it was one-way traffic and after bashing away at the Keys line, Ronan flopped over with Davies converting to make it an eight-point lead.
The Keys defence was flimsy but the boot of David was rock solid and he smashed over his third penalty on the half hour.
The breakdown was a shambles and the Aberavon openside Chris Davies, a constant menace from the Richie McCaw mould, incurred the wrath of Hodges one time too many and was sin-binned on 31 minutes.
Keys did look dangerous from first-phase play and sharp wing Will Johnstone was dragged down a yard short of the line from a well-conceived midfield move on the brink of half-time.
The wind picked up and the rain came sheeting down in the second half meaning both sides had to contend with the conditions as well as the at times baffling officiating of Mr Hodges.
It was always going to be hard for Keys playing into a gale and their task was made tougher when Groves was yellow-carded on 53 minutes.
There can be no excuses for fisticuffs but frustration was building in both camps because of the frequent whistling and a mass brawl ensued on 55 minutes and both Keys lock Colin Bridges and Wizards prop Lloyd Howell were lucky to stay on the field.
However, Bridges didn’t last long and, after Davies had booted Keys out of bonus point territory, the second row was sin-binned for barging at the line-out.
A magnificent cover tackle stopped Keys wing Nathan Trowbridge from racing over after a smart Ryan James crosskick with 20 minutes left and that was as close as they were to come to a bonus on a miserable night.
Aberavon: J Murphy, C Lewis, W Price, C Tossell, B John, J Davies, D Davies, L Howell (N White 63), M Breeze, P Breeze (I Poley 72), G Ronan (I Moore 51), C Gittins, A Bray (B Thomas 72), C Davies, R Gallacher.
Scorers: tries – C Tossell, G Ronan; conversions – J Davies (2); penalty – J Davies Cross Keys: G David, N Trowbridge, L Andrews, P Williams (R James 46), W Johnstone, D Langdon, O Jones (captain), J Price, R Emms, C Gould (R Cornock 40), C Bridges (T Crandon 72), B Watkins, R Peebles (R Nash 4), T Lampard, J Groves.
Scorers: penalties – G David (3) Referee: Leighton Hodges (Bridgend)