Cross Keys ensured that outgoing head coach Greg Woods was given the perfect send off as Keys produced the goods to knock Pontypridd out of this year’s Welsh National Cup winning their 1st round tie by 21 points to 16 at Pandy Park.
On a day of mixed emotions it was probably Ponty who enjoyed the better opening but Keys kept them at bay and soaked up any early pressure that came their way. Despite Ponty marginally enjoying a better opening it was Keys who took the lead when Josh Prosser kicked a long range penalty after around 8 minutes of play.
From this point on Keys began to control proceedings and used their scrum as their main weapon with Ponty struggling against Keys powerful pack. Keys doubled their lead with just over 10 minutes later when Prosser kicked his second long range penalty of the game as a result of Keys dominance in the scrum.
With conditions tough under foot neither side were ever likely to want to throw the ball out wide ensuring a tightly fought contest was always going to be on the cards as time went on. Keys kept Ponty’s danger men quiet and forced a number of errors as Ponty were looking to attack from across the park.
It was from one of these attempted attacks from Ponty’s own half that Keys benefitted when they forced a handling error when Ponty looked to put width on their play. The ball was spilled on the half way line and a quick response from Keys back row man Josh Skinner saw him gather the loose ball and race away, down field with Ponty hot on his heels. Skinner had the gas to evade the chasing Ponty defence and managed to cross the line near to the posts to grab the first try of the game with a little under 20 minutes played. Josh Prosser was on target with the conversion and Keys were firmly in control of things at this stage.
From the restart the visitors appeared to regroup and it was little surprise when they got their first points of the afternoon when following a very effective driving lineout they camped in Keys territory and second row Chris Dicomedis found his way to the try line out wide for an unconverted opening try for his side with around 30 minutes played.
Ponty continued to enjoy a good period and set about moving up field from the restart. Patient build up play from the visitors forced Keys to concede a penalty with Ponty entering the Keys 22. Former Wales outside half Ceri Sweeney duly converted the penalty to close the gap to one score with 5 minutes of the first half remaining.
On the stroke of half time Keys set up field position in the Ponty 22 but couldn’t find the killer instinct to cross for a further try but instead had to settle for a third Josh Prosser penalty as Ponty were found to be off side in their defensive line.
Half time Score Cross Keys 16 Pontypridd 8
It was Ponty who started the second half on the front foot and they quickly turned possession and territory in to points, when following another driving lineout from around the Keys 22, they rumbled forward with a perfectly executed driving maul and this led to hooker Joe Page crashing over in front of the scoreboard for Ponty’s second try of the game with just 3 minutes of the second half being played. The conversion from out-wide by Sweeney fell short but Ponty had again closed the gap to one score.
It was Ponty who continued to press at the Keys line but to their credit every Keys played was working incredibly hard in defence meaning that any chances that Ponty could craft all came to nothing.
Keys were very rarely able to exit their own half as Ponty continued to build momentum as the second half went on.
It took until 10 minutes from the end for the next score to come and that score came from the boot of Ponty replacement Diggy Bird who ensured a nail biting final period when he kicked a penalty from around 35 metres to tie the scores.
With it all to play for Keys responded wonderfully from the restart. Ponty failed to exit their own half and Keys forced the visitors to concede a penalty as they approached the half way line. Keys opted to kick to the corner to try a driving lineout of their own. This worked perfectly and after securing possession at the lineout the maul made its way toward the Ponty try-line and after skipper Scott Matthews had gone close to crossing, Keys set up another maul which eventually saw Josh Skinner with ball in hand and he burrowed his way over in the corner for his, and Keys’ second try of the game with 8 minutes remaining. Josh Prosser’s conversion was short but Keys once again held the lead.
A tense final 5 minutes saw the ball stay around the halfway line but crucially, with Keys in possession. As full time approached Keys conceded a penalty on halfway and Ponty almost inevitably opted to kick to the corner to go for the try that with a conversion would win it for them at the death. Diggy Bird’s kick failed to find touch and Keys cleared up the afters to kick the ball dead and celebrate their first victory over Ponty in the cup since winning the final in May 2012.
There was of course a touch of sadness in the celebrations, as the final whistle from referee Craig Evans also meant the end of head coach Greg Woods’ 15 year career with Keys as he moves on to pastures new to take on a similar role at Ebbw Vale. Greg’s emotions at the end were clear for all to see but Greg leaves Keys with the club’s best wishes. As previously covered on the website the head coach role is now being taken on by backs coach Morgan Stoddart, who will be assisted by Aled James who take over the coaching of the backs and Keys welcome on board former Wales and British Lions second row Ian Evans, who becomes Keys forwards coach.
Cross Keys Scorers:-
Tries: Josh Skinner (x2)
Conversion: Josh Prosser
Penalties: Josh Prosser (x3)
Tries: Chris Dicomedis & Joe Page
Penalties: Ceri Sweeney & Diggy Bird
Keys Man of the Match: Josh Skinner