Report by Iwan Davies of The South Wales Argus
CROSS Keys’ faint Premiership play-off hopes were finally snuffed out at Aberavon in a remarkable game that saw them surrender an incredible 34-7 lead.
The visitors were in front by 27 points with two-thirds of the match gone before recklessly frittering away their seemingly insurmountable advantage.
Wizards outside half Jamie Davies showed nerves of steel to convert a tricky penalty with the last kick to steal the most unlikely of victories.
The Aberavon/Port Talbot area has nurtured some truly great actors in Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins and Michael Sheen
And this pulsating encounter was worthy of Hollywood’s most creative screenplay writers.
But even Tinseltown’s finest would be hard pressed to pen a script with a bigger plot twist than this one.
Talking to home fans at the end of the game, we were unable to come up with a more amazing comeback on the rugby field.
It was almost fitting the Wizards’ great conjuring act took place on a weekend of Heineken Cup rugby bec-ause the two great fight backs I always remember happened in that competition.
The Scarlets overcame a 21-point advantage to stun Toulouse 41-34 at the Stade Ernest-Wallon in the pool stages in 2006 and Leinster turned around a 22-6 deficit at half time to beat Northampton in the final at Cardiff two years ago.
But this match at the Talbot Athletic Ground topped them both, an escape act that would have made Harry Houdini smile.
It was the proverbial game of two halves which saw Keys take Aberavon apart in the opening 40 minutes and lead 27-7 at the interval.
The hosts looked notably insipid early on and, no doubt, with one eye on their Swalec Cup semi final showdown with fierce rivals Neath at Swansea on Sunday.
When Keys’ outstanding blindside flanker Tom Lampard stormed away for a fine individual try in the 44th minute and Dorian Jones kicked the conversion to make it 34-7, thoughts turned to how many points the visitors were going to rack up in a record win.
Aberavon really did come back from the dead Lazurus style because prior to that, they were an abominable rabble.
Their lineout was a shambles, they didn’t look like they had made a tackle in their lives and they couldn’t string more than a couple of passes together without losing possession – a bit like my college rugby team.
The game resembled a Super Rugby contest with the emphasis on all-out attack.
Tackling seemed optional as the lack of contact in that area made this look like an enjoyable touch rugby knockabout on the schoolyard or a particularly untaxing training session.
And as excellent as Keys were in the first half, they were awful for most of the second, vice versa for Aberavon.
So competent in building up their mammoth lead, the Gwent side had all the assurance of a sleepwalker in the final quarter.
They played some champagne rugby of the finest vintage to score some stunning tries on a beautiful spring day.
Among the positives was the excellent performance of openside flanker Scott Matthews who was standing in for their fine captain Rob Nash who was unavailable.
That he gave away the penalty from a lineout that ultimately lost the game shouldn’t detract from that.
Hooker Gerwyn Price was superb, as was the ever reliable Lampard and young full back Elliot Jones, the wing playing out of position. He shows such promise and scored two tries, his second a peach of a solo touchdown.
There was a glimpse into the future as well with Wales Under 18s fly half Angus O’Brien making his league debut as a late replacement for Jones.
Keys will probably never work out quite just how they allowed a five-point win to transform into two losing bonus points.Aberavon Scorers:-
Tries: Matthew Jenkins (2), Nathan Brown, David Pritchard, Richard Carter & Richard Thomas.
Conversions: Jamie Davies (x4)
Penalty: Jamie Davies
Cross Keys Scorers:-
Tries: Elliot Jones (x2), Nathan Trowbridge, Tom Lampard & Gerwyn Price.
Conversions: Dorian Jones (x4)
Penalties: Dorian Jones (x2)