31 December 2017 / Team News

Narberth take the honours


This was a game decided in the end by fine margins in what was an engrossing match between the only two Championship sides in the Scarlets region. Narberth have been in this division since its inception and draw their players and coaches from all over the region and, in the end, this proved to be the deciding factor in this game. They came with a game plan suitable for the heavy underfoot conditions and executed it perfectly. Their defence was superb and time after time Emlyn attacks struggled to make ground against them. When Emlyn did manage to breach their first line of defence Narberth played the referee to perfection in slowing the home side’s ball down at every ruck allowing them time to reorganise their defensive structure.

With probably seventy per cent possession in their favour you would have expected Emlyn to be the ultimate victors but Narberth, to their credit, showed why they are second in the League with some clinical finishing as they maximised the few scoring opportunities that came their way. Led by inspirational captain Alex Williams, Emlyn threw wave after wave of attacks at the visitors and it was fitting that it was Williams who eventually managed to breach their defence and score Emlyn’s try late in the second half. He was ably supported by Emlyn’s two big ball carrying forwards Joel James and Luke Kendall who caused problems for Narberth every time they had the ball in their hands with their powerful surges. Kendall came close to scoring on three occasions, each time being dragged down inches from the line by at least three defenders.

Emlyn could not have got off to a worse start when, from the kick off deep into Narberth territory, the visitors outside half Jonathan Rogers returned the kick deep into the Emlyn twenty two. The Emlyn full back Dan Davies was nowhere to be seen as Narberth chased the kick and it took some excellent covering by winger Iestyn Crompton to deny the visitors a try under the posts. Emlyn were penalised at the resultant ruck and Rogers opened Narberth’s account with a simple kick in front of the posts. Davies, it soon transpired, had had a recurrence of the leg injury which had side lined him for the previous two games and was limping around the field.

From the restart Emlyn manged to regain possession and put together a series of attacks which took play up to the Narberth line. Awarded a line out ten metres from the Narberth line, Emlyn went for the catch and drive and, not for the first time this season, failed to execute it properly resulting in a scrum being awarded to Narberth after an Emlyn knock on. From the scrum live wire scrum half Lewys Gibby, instead of passing back for a relieving kick to touch, picked up the ball from the base and shot past the Emlyn back row before they realised what was happening. Linking with his own back row they took play from their own line up to the Emlyn twenty two, where the home side were penalised at the ruck. Declining the kick for the posts Narberth went for the line out and forward drive. Emlyn eventually stopped the drive but when the ball was released to the backs Rogers put in an excellent cross field kick to right winger Liam Hutchins. Hutchins was being marked by the limping Davies and it was no contest as the winger caught the ball and crossed in the corner for an unconverted try.

Narberth were then penalised at the restart and Emlyn outside half Ashley Sutton kicked a thirty metre penalty to open Emlyn’s account. Narberth at this stage looked quite comfortable as they followed their game plan of the boot of Rogers pinning Emlyn back in their own half, backed up by some solid defending. When they did try and put together some attacks the Emlyn defence was holding steady with flankers Callum Evans and Owain Powell leading the way with some excellent tackling.

On the twenty minute mark Davies decided he could no longer continue and he was replaced by Joel James. This necessitated a great deal of reshuffling of the home team, with Powell moving to centre, Llyr Jones out to the wing, and Llyr Freeman to full back. The big flanker had an immediate effect on the game with his powerful running. From a line out inside the Emlyn half, Williams once again found number eight Brynmor Jones with an excellent throw, James took the ball in the centre position and burst through three would be tacklers. When eventually brought to ground, quick ruck ball saw Williams continue the forward surge and when he was brought to ground Narberth were happy to concede a penalty which Sutton converted to bring Emlyn within two points of the visitors.

 Emlyn’s bench was again brought into action on the half hour mark when second row Dan Havard had to leave the field with a leg injury, to be replaced by Luke Kendall. Narberth quickly increased their lead and it came from the line out, and once again demonstrated the home side’s short-comings when it comes to not only attacking with a driving maul but defending against it. From a line out five metres out Narberth threw to their captain second row Alex Jenkins who caught the ball and initiated a drive by his pack. Emlyn stood off the drive hoping for a penalty for obstruction, not realising that Jenkins still had the ball and he crossed for their second try.

This actually acted as a spur for the home side and the last fifteen minutes saw almost complete territorial dominance by the red and whites. Time after time they went through ruck after ruck with Williams, James and Kendall proving to be extremely difficult to bring down. On the heavy Dôl Wiber pitch quick ruck ball was at a premium, with the Narberth flankers Williams and Powell continually getting away with slowing Emlyn ball down. Half time arrived though with the large crowd left to reflect on a half where the visitors had two chances to score and took them, and the home side had been unable to capitalise on the territory and possession they had enjoyed.

The second half started in a similar fashion to the first with Narberth being awarded an early penalty kick which full back Nick Gale was fortunately unsuccessful. The line speed of the Narberth defence was causing some problems for Emlyn and on the tenth minute this led to a turn over ball on the home ten metre line. Narberth did not hesitate to move the ball wide and left winger Jack Parkinson was able to sprint over in the corner for his side’s third try.

Territorially Emlyn came more into the game and set up camp in the Narberth half. At every opportunity they looked to find gaps in the visitors defence. Jinking runs by Ashley Sutton and Steffan Evans came to nothing when the surface caused them to slip after beating a couple of defenders. A storming run from half way by Kendall took play deep into the Narberth twenty two. From the resultant penalty Emlyn opted for touch and a long throw by Williams was caught by Brynmor Jones. The number eight passed the ball down to Williams who had come around on a back peel. Emlyn’s captain’s run took him towards the posts and, when he was tackled short of the line, the ball was recycled and fed to Joel James who was tackled inches from the line. Emlyn won the ruck and moved the ball wide where Kendall appeared outside the backs and looked certain to score. Narberth had other ideas though and three defenders managed to scramble across and knock the ball out of his hands.

All the attacking play now was coming from the red and whites but Narberth’s defence was tenacious and committed. Scrum half Mike Jones made a lovely break from just inside the Narberth half and a try looked on the cards as he left defenders in his wake. As he approached the try line with number eight Brynmor Jones in support he found his space closed down by three defenders converging on him and was unable to find Jones with a pass.

It took until the thirty fifth minute of the half before Emlyn eventually crossed the Narberth line. A series of rucks across the twenty two metre saw the red and whites control possession until the ball was in the hands of skipper Alex Williams, who burst through the defensive line and managed to shrug off another couple of tackles to cross by the posts for Sutton to convert to at least bring the home side within bonus point range.

Narberth though are not second in the Championship for nothing and, with time running out, they came back at the home side with great determination. Emlyn did not help themselves at this point by conceding a couple of needless penalties, and the boot of Rogers drove play into the Emlyn twenty two. He converted a penalty kick to extend Narberth’s lead and from the restart Emlyn again were their own worst enemies as they conceded further needless penalties. This time Narberth opted for the touchline, the red and whites defended manfully, stopping at least three drives close to the line, until flanker Tom Powell managed to force his way over for the fourth, bonus point try for the visitors with the final play of the game.

Emlyn take a break from league action next week when they entertain Merthyr in the first round of the WRU Cup. The Ironmen are currently on top of the Premiership and will pose a huge challenge for the red and whites at Dol Wiber with the game scheduled to kick off at 2-30 p.m.

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