Cross Keys did what they needed to do to keep alive any slim play-off hopes at Neath on Saturday when they defeated Neath with a bonus point at the Gnoll. Although those outside chances of a play-off place were ended just over 24 hours later when Ebbw Vale secured 3rd place in the Principality Premiership table with a bonus point win over Aberavon on Sunday afternoon.
It was a fairly uneventful opening 10 minutes or so with both sides spending a large amount of time in the middle of the park, trying to sniper through any little gaps that might appear to create any scoring opportunities.
Keys began to have the upper hand with the game passing through 10 minutes and their pressure told when following a dominant rumble forward by the Keys pack, Keys smartly and patiently worked flying winger Mathew Powell in to space and he finished well out wide to open the scoring after 15 minutes of play. Outside half Ethan Davies converted.
The Welsh All Blacks responded well and shortly after they went over for their first try when through some sharp handling in the back line they created an overlap on the far left which allowed wing Aaron Grabham to pounce over for the first of his tries in the corner. Outside half Luke Price was off target with the conversion from the touchline so Keys held a narrow lead as the game entered the second quarter. In the build up to the Neath try there were a pair of brawls, firstly around the 10 metre line inside the Keys half, with Keys’ number 8 Adam Powell singled out by his opposite number, who swung a number of punches despite it being directly in view of one of the assistants. With tempers flared and with the ball now being moved out wide there was another punch up moments later as Neath pushed toward the Keys’ line and this time Neath skipper Nicky Downs and Keys’ Danny Hodge were involved in the scuffle and as the try was awarded they were called by the referee and were sent to the sin bin with nothing more being done about the first scrap that basically led to tempers reaching boiling point.
With both sides down to 14 men for the next 10 minute it was the home side that faired better as just before the 30 minute mark they went ahead with a similar try in the left hand corner, with winger Aaron Grabham again crossing the whitewash. Luke Price again failed to add the extras .
This second Neath score galvanised Keys and they dominated the final 5 minutes or so of the half, thanks largely to a very effective scrum causing the Welsh All Blacks a number of problems. With a couple of minutes of the half remaining Keys crossed for their second try when centre Nathan Williams powered over from close range for a try which again came from good field position as Keys set up camp on the Neath line. Ethan Davies failed with the conversion as Keys took a narrow lead in to the interval.
Half Time Score Neath 12 Cross Keys 14
The Keys started the second half well and just 2 minutes in to the half in front of the Neath posts Keys outside half Ethan Davies sold an outrageous dummy which fooled the Neath defence and opened up a gap in the defensive line for Davies to ghost through and cross under the posts for Keys’ 3rd try, which Davies duly converted himself.
The Keys scrum was really beginning to cause Neath no end of problems, with the front row unit of Luke Garrett, Darren Hughes and Leon Brown key to the dominance up front and it was from another powerful scrum that Keys secured a bonus point for their 4th try when number 8 Adam Powell controlled the ball superbly at the base of the scrum and pounced on the ball for the try with the game just passing 50 minutes. Davies again added the conversion as Keys pulled clear.
Once the bonus point was secured it appeared as if Keys switched off slightly although the home side must be credited for the way they set about getting something from the game with a little over 20 minutes remaining. Neath started throwing the ball around at will and this caused panic on more than a few occasions in the Keys defence. Keys were simply not able to keep possession to cause problems in the closing stages, with Neath attacking from all areas of the field.
The home side crossed for a 3rd try with around 10 minutes remaining when hooker Sion Crocker went over following a powerful drive forward by the all blacks pack. Luke Price added the conversion with the Neath tails now firmly up in the air. Neath secured a 4 try bonus point with just 3 minutes remaining when they found space out wide and 2nd row Alex Humfrey went over all too easily for the hosts. Price’s conversion meant not only had Neath now secured at least a single a bonus point but they also looked confident of taking the victory as the gap was closed to just 2 points.
With the game entering stoppage time Keys were reduced to 14 men once more when Ethan Davies was shown a yellow card for a late tackle in the middle of the Keys half. Instead of Neath opting to kick the fairly straight forward resulting penalty to give themselves a draw they opted to kick for the corner but Keys defended astutely and relieved the danger before ending the game and surviving an almighty scare by the hosts, who certainly showed what they are capable of in the closing 20 minutes or so.
For Keys the bonus point win means that the slim play-off chances were kept alive for just over 24 hours but Ebbw Vale ended those play off hopes as they took the honours from their final clash of the regular Principality Premiership season with Aberavon on Sunday afternoon meaning it will be the Steelmen who finish the season in 3rd place irrespective of Keys’ result in they’re final game of the season against Bedwas at Pandy Park on Tuesday evening.
Tries: Aaron Grabham (x2), Sion Crocker & Alex Humfrey
Conversions: Luke Price (x2)
Cross Keys Scorers:-
Tries: Mathew Powell, Nathan Williams, Ethan Davies & Adam Powell
Conversions: Ethan Davies (x3)