Cross Keys staged a remarkable second half comeback but fell just short of completing what would have been an incredible victory in the National Cup Semi Final where Pontypridd took the honours despite Keys’ valiant effort.
The Keys started the game well and took the lead in the 5th minute when Josh Prosser struck a long range penalty from some 40 metres from the posts, after Nathan Trowbridge forced Ponty to concede a penalty after a fine tackle. Ponty were level a few minutes later when Keys were penalised for being offside. Ponty’s veteran former Wales outside half, Ceri Sweeney making no mistake with the resulting penalty.
Only a last ditch tackle from Keys’ winger Mathew Powell kept the scores level when Ponty seemed almost certain to score the game’s first try in the corner but Powell lined his man up superbly to see the danger pass. With a good exit from their own territory Keys soon found themselves back on the front foot and won a penalty around the Ponty 22 metre line which saw Josh Prosser once again on target with a relatively straight forward penalty with just under 20 minutes played.
The Keys lead didn’t last long however when Keys were turned over far too easily as they looked set to launch an attack deep in Ponty territory. Ponty attacked well from their own half and some slick handling, together with weak Keys tackling enabled them to break free and Ceri Sweeney was on hand to receive the scoring pass to cross for the game’s first try with around 25 minutes played. Sweeney converting his own try from in front of the posts.
Keys’ heads didn’t drop and they were soon on the front foot once more. They looked to have crossed for their first try after referee Dan Jones appeared to award a try after Ieuan Jones pounced over the line under a pile of bodies but after then consulting with one of his assistants the try was not allowed as Jones was deemed to be held up over the line. Keys won a penalty from the resulting scrum and with advantage being played they recycled the ball quickly before a perfectly weighted chip kick out wide by Prosser found the grateful arms of Mathew Powell who had the simple task of touching down for a try out wide with 30 minutes on the clock. Prosser’s superb touchline conversion pulled Keys in to the lead once more.
The end to end first half continued as Ponty re-claimed the lead after Keys seemed to run out of numbers in defence and Ponty moved the ball quickly through the hands before prop Mitch Auger was bundled over for his side’s 2nd try which went unconverted with 33 minutes on the clock. Ponty appeared to then up their game and began to find a number of gaps in Keys’ defensive line. Keys fell for a huge dummy pass, thrown some 10 metres from the Keys try line by centre Cameron Lewis, which saw a huge gap open up in front of the centre who crossed for Ponty’s 3rd try of a highly entertaining afternoon of rugby. Sweeney’s conversion pushed Ponty further ahead, with just a couple of minutes remaining of a breathless first half.
A third Josh Prosser penalty on the stroke of half time saw Keys spirits lifted going in to the break.
Half time score Pontypridd 22 Cross Keys 16
The second half got off to the worse possible start for Keys when a big up ‘n under from Josh Prosser was gathered by Ponty winger Joe Davies and he darted through a host of Keys bodies from his own half before offloading to flanker Dafi Davies as he entered the Keys 22 and the back row man had the legs to see off the remaining Keys defenders and cross for Ponty’s 4th try under the posts with just a minute played of the second half. Ceri Sweeney adding the conversion as Keys faced an uphill challenge for the remainder of the half. Keys immediately rang the changes early on, which proved to later be an excellent call from Keys management.
With 50 minutes played the game appeared to be slipping from Keys grasp when Sweeney kicked a penalty to put his side further in front. The final nail in Keys coffin appeared to be hammered in with around 20 minutes remaining when another soft turnover from Keys in the middle of the park saw Ponty quickly whip the ball out wide and look to launch another attack from deep. They kicked through from the halfway line and Keys full back Leon Andrews secured the ball only for his attempted clearance kick to be charged down by Ponty’s wing Joe Davies and he pounced on the loose ball to cross for his side’s 5th try and all but secure the victory. Ceri Sweeney again adding the simplest of conversions.
What happened in the next 15 to 20 minutes was nothing short of spectacular. With Keys going all out to rescue something from the game they played some scintillating rugby which certainly saw Ponty shell-shocked and almost begging for the final whistle to come.
Ponty were reduced to 14 men with 15 minutes remaining when full back Gary Williams was sent to the sin bin for a late and dangerous challenge on Mathew Powell who was attempting to chase down his own kick through toward the Ponty try line. Just moments later Ponty found themselves back on the front foot but Keys forced an error Ponty and turned the ball over as a result. Quick thinking from centre Barney Nightingale saw the replacement move back in field and his tremendous break from his own 22 straight up the middle of the park saw him eventually hauled down as he entered the Ponty 22 but Nightingale off-loaded to his fellow replacement Rhys Fitzgerald and Fitzgerald did the rest to score what initially appeared to be a consolation try with 10 minutes to go. Josh Prosser added the simple conversion.
From the restart Keys attacked from deep once more and the fightback really began to take place. An excellent carry forward from deep in his own 22 by skipper Scott Matthews saw him burst through a number of tackles and charge toward the halfway line. Quick ball from the ruck by Owain Leonard saw the ball worked through the hands and out wide to flying winging Mathew Powell who cut back in field after picking up the ball on the halfway line and scored a sensational try under the posts. Josh Prosser saving precious time by drop kicking the conversion over from in front of the posts with 73 minutes played.
Keys again attacked immediately from the restart from an almost identical position as they had done less than a minute earlier. A big carry forward this time initially by Ieuan Jones followed up by his captain Matthews found the Ponty defence all at sea. The ball was again worked out wide by Leonard and Josh Prosser burst through to the halfway line before a superbly timed off load to replacement wing Joe Goodchild who raced through and after being tap tackled just short of the line managed to find his feet immediately and bundled over for an incredible 3rd Keys try in just short of 5 minutes of the most incredible rugby for years. Prosser’s conversion surely meant there was only now going to be one winner with Keys well and truly in command and Ponty simply having no answer to what Keys had thrown at them during the frantic period.
A further attack from deep saw Keys go for glory at the death but Ponty were able to clear the danger as Keys were penalised at a ruck as they entered the Ponty 22. Ponty cleared to halfway before winning another penalty which gave them valued time to use up with a kick to goal. Ceri Sweeney’s kick at goal in added time from around 35 metres was successful as Keys hopes of an astonishing comeback fell just short.
Without a doubt the most incredible game (or 15 minutes) of rugby of the season by far. A valiant effort from Keys who with the introduction of the bench showed that the future is very bright indeed with the whole of the Keys squad showing an incredible amount of fight toward the end. In years gone by Keys may well have crumbled under the pressure that Ponty had put on them early in the second half but the heart shown by Keys in the last 15 minutes almost got them to another National Cup final but it wasn’t to be.
Tries: Ceri Sweeney, Mitch Auger, Cameron Lewis, Dafi Davies & Joe Davies
Conversions: Ceri Sweeney (x4)
Penalties: Ceri Sweeney (x3)
Cross Keys Scorers:-
Tries: Mathew Powell (x2), Rhys Fitzgerald & Joe Goodchild
Conversions: Josh Prosser (x4)
Penalties: Josh Prosser (x3)