Cross Keys claimed the honours after a Principality Premiership thriller against RGC1404 at Pandy Park on Friday evening.
After both captain’s had each laid a wreath and then an impeccably observed 2 minute silence by everyone in the ground to mark Armistice day and remember those that have paid the ultimate price whilst serving their country, it was arguably the visitors that made the better start as they showed what they are capable off almost immediately from the start. Keys’ defence remained strong however, despite RGC having a number of chances early on.
After 7 minutes of play gone and with RGC setting up good field position around the Keys 22, in the middle of the park they had several options available and when they played the ball away from the tackle area outside half Jacob Botica, the son of former All Black and Wigan Rugby League legend Franco, raced clear and went around the Keys defence to cross for the game’s first points. He added the conversion to expand the deserved lead that the visitors now held.
Keys then played themselves in to the game, thanks largely to the Keys pack getting on top of the visitors in the set-piece and at the breakdown. After a long period of play spent in the RGC half Keys won a penalty some 30 metres from the try line after around 15 minutes of play and outside half Josh Prosser successfully grabbed Keys’ first points of the game by converting the penalty.
From the restart Keys came back well at the visitors and again used their powerful pack to good effect when they put RGC on the back foot through a number of powerful bursts that saw Keys edge ever nearer to the Gogs’ try-line. After Keys opted for a number of scrums, as opposed to taking several penalty kicks at goal the pressure Keys had mounted eventually told when The Keys powered over from close range with 25 minutes on the clock. Adam Powell, playing in the unfamiliar open side flanker position emerged from the pile of bodies with the ball. Josh Prosser added the conversion for Keys to now deservedly take the lead after a long period of dominance.
As the half went on Keys continued to fair better at the breakdown and were solid in the set-piece with RGC getting very little possession as a result. Into the closing 5 minutes of the half, Keys piled on the pressure close to the RGC line but eventually conceded a penalty which allowed the Gogs’ to breath a huge sigh of relief, if only briefly. On 38 minutes Keys furthered their lead when a chip through to the RGC 22 couldn’t be gathered and the bounce fell perfectly for the chasing Tom Lampard to juggle with the ball and secure possession to race home to score his side’s 2nd try under the posts. Josh Prosser added the conversion for Keys, who headed in to the break with a deserved 17-7 lead.
Half time Score Cross Keys 17 RGC1404 7
For the opening 5 minutes or so of the second half the game was played in the middle 3rd of the pitch with neither side really creating any opportunities.
It was the visitors who opened the scoring in the second half when outside half Botica kicked a penalty from around the Keys’ 22 in front of the posts with a little under 10 minutes of the second half played. Keys had Adam Powell sent to the sin bin as a result of the penalty for an offence at the breakdown.
Despite being a man down Keys didn’t panic, although RGC did threaten with a couple of attacks in to Keys territory, Keys’ defence stood firm and the 10 minute period passed with the visitors unable to make their 1 man advantage tell any further, and it was probably Keys that had the best chance of furthering their lead during the 10 minute spell but they lost possession with the RGC line at their mercy, after an excellent attack from deep by full back Leon Andrews.
Once back to 15 men, with the game entering the closing 20 minutes Keys looked to move play in to RGC territory again but lacked the cutting edge to break through the RGC defence which coped well with the pressure it was under. Gradually RGC began to play in the right areas and created several chances but some brilliant last ditch defence from Keys’ winger Mathew Powell in-particular ensured that Keys held on to their lead entering the closing 10 minutes.
With momentum firmly in their favour the visitors crossed for their 2nd try of the game when a flowing move by the Gogs’ saw Keys run out of defensive numbers and visiting winger Aron Evans was on hand to cross under the posts for a try that was converted by Jacob Botica to level the scores with 5 minutes remaining. From the restart Keys responded perfectly and set up position toward the RGC 22.
When Keys looked to move the ball out wide they caused panic in the RGC defence and Mathew Powell attacked out wide but couldn’t quite evade the RGC defenders, but crucially Powell kept the ball in play and he had Barney Nightingale on his inside shoulder and Nightingale, who still had plenty of work to do, from just over 5 metres out managed to escape the tackle attempts and cross for the winning score with less than 2 minutes remaining. Josh Prosser capped a fine individual performance by nailing the conversion from the touchline.
Overall a superb victory for Keys who are just beginning to look more like their old selves and with a number of players now finding some good form, the battle for a top 8 spot come January may well be going down to the wire.
Cross Keys Scorers:-
Tries: Adam Powell, Tom Lampard & Barney Nightingale
Conversions: Josh Prosser (x3)
Penalty: Josh Prosser
Tries: Jacob Botica & Aron Evans
Conversions: Jacob Botica (x2)
Penalty: Jacob Botica
Keys Man of the Match: Josh Prosser