JT Auto Services Pembrokeshire Knockout Cup final:
Aberystwyth 17-21 Tenby United
ONE of the most compelling Pembrokeshire Knockout finals in recent times went the way of Tenby United as they overcame Aberystwyth in a gripping final at Crymych RFC.
The Seasiders appeared to take control as they led 18-7 in the first half, as full back Jonathan Morgan twice cut over to score and man of the match Ashley Sutton added eight points with the boot.
But Aber, who had led early through a try from outside half Matthew Hughes, responded as full back Steffan Rees also crossed, and kicked seven points to bring his side back to 18-17 early in the second period.
And then as the weather deteriorated, Tenby were forced to withstand some fierce and sustained pressure from the mid-Wales side, before another late penalty from No 10 Sutton helped edge them to a third cup win in five seasons.
The Seasiders went into the contest seeking a double after sealing the Division Two West title last week, but it was Division One West team Aber who made the stronger start.
An attempted chip kick from Sutton on half way backfired as the Tenby backline were penalised for offside – and Aber full back Steffan Rees kicked the resultant penalty to the corner.
From there, the Aber pack rumbled up towards the line with a rolling maul, setting the platform from which No 10 Hughes jinked under the posts from close range, and Rees converted.
But just eight minutes in, it was 7-7 as Morgan broke clear on half way for Tenby and released Jack Guerreiro, who only replaced the injured Mark Heywood in the warm up, and the winger made further ground before popping the scoring pass back inside to Morgan. Sutton added the simple extras.
Aber tried to respond but in the opening quarter, a lot of their enterprising rugby was played in their own territory, and some good interplay between prop Matt Roberts, centre Steff Rees and Hughes came to nothing when Aber were penalised at the breakdown.
From more than 50 metres, Sutton tried to land three points but his effort came up short.
A strong burst from Aber second row Dan Binks was then thwarted when his offload didn’t go to hand – and opposite number Luke Dedman also powered through for Tenby but was halted by the cover defence as he charged towards the 22.
And 20 minutes in, Tenby struck again as Morgan fielded a clearance kick deep inside his own half, and opted to keep the ball in hand as he found Sutton in midfield, who duly cut through a gap and sped downfield before setting Morgan free down the left wing to score.
Sutton was just off target with the conversion – but soon added three more points when the Aber pack were penalised at a scrum and then marched back 10 metres into their 22 by referee Simon Mills for dissent.
From the re-start, a big hit by prop Kevin Jones set up an immediate chance for Rees to respond, but his 40 metre penalty dropped below the bar.
But the mid-Wales side regained momentum in the final ten minutes of the half, and charging runs from centres Rees and Carwyn Evans set up a chance out wide, but prop Roberts was unable to get the scoring pass away to winger Dean Coleman.
However it mattered a little, as three minutes before the break a run-a-round move from a scrum in midfield saw Sion Cowdy leave his left wing and dissect the Tenby midfield, before putting away No 15 Rees who through a neat dummy and cut over to score.
The latter also added the wide angled conversion to reduce Tenby’s lead to four points at the break.
The opening 40 minutes had been played in nigh on perfect evening conditions, but the interval signalled a change of conditions as rain began to teem down at the Parc Lloyd Thomas Ground.
And with the slight slope behind them, Aber piled on the pressure in the early stages as both Steff Rees and Cowdy were stopped just short of the line, before Mills correctly penalised the attacking side for crossing in midfield.
Further pressure came after Tenby centre Moritz Neumann was penalised just outside his own 22, and after Rees opted to kick the penalty to corner, a period of sustained pressure saw The Seasiders penalised two more times before official Mills opted to sin bin skipper Luke Hansford.
This time, Aber did take the three points as Rees cut the deficit to 18-17.
As the rain became more torrential, handling errors began to creep in from both sides as the contest inevitably tightened up.
Tenby centre Scott James did fashion an opening from deep as he set replacement wing Greg Lees Griffiths free down the right, but his kick ahead was too strong and ran over the dead ball line.
Aber then blew an opportunity when Morgan, otherwise rock solid throughout, misjudged a high ball and opposite number Rees pounced, but his pass inside to Coleman was dropped when a clean take would have given him a free run to the line.
A big tackle from James then set up another penalty chance for Sutton 40 metres out, but his effort drifted just wide - before at the other end, a chip forward from Aber replacement wing Llyr Thomas forced Morgan to take the ball back over his own line and conceded a scrum five.
The Tenby pack appeared to win the crucial scrum against the head, yet were penalised in the process and after Aber opted to go for the corner – but ferocious defence by The Seasiders, led by the returned Hansford, forced a handling error in midfield.
Minutes later Aber fashioned another penalty chance out wide, and again full back Rees went for the corner, only for The Seasiders to repel the attempted maul before the attack again broke down.
And it proved pivotal as a clever clearance kick by Sutton forced the retreating Hughes to concede a penalty for holding on in front of his own posts – and Sutton took advantage to open up a four point lead for his team.
However, with just five minutes left, Aber thought they had the decisive score when No 9 Jones took a tap penalty and linked with half back partner Hughes, who in turn popped a pass back to the scrum half to speed over from 25 metres.
Aber celebrations were halted however, when the try was ruled out for a forward pass.
It proved their last real chance, as the Tenby pack, aided by Sutton’s boot, controlled the territory in the dying moments.
Sutton did miss a seemingly simple penalty in front of the posts, before a strong burst by James earned The Seasiders another chance in the Aber 22.
But by this time 80 minutes was up, and skipper Hansford rounded off a glorious season for his team by hammering the ball into touch, sparking jubilant scenes amongst the players, supporters, and coaching staff of Chris James, Andrew Morgan, and Richard Rossiter.
Afterwards Charles Davies, secretary of the Pembroke and District Rugby Union (PDRU), thanked both teams and the competition sponsors, as well as the large crowd that turned out to support the final.
Sutton received his man of the match award from Huw Hughes of HNO Hughes and Associates - and then it was left to Hansford to collect the silverware from PDRU Chairman Alan Jones, as he and his teammates celebrated the club's third cup win in six seasons.
And overall, organisers would have been delighted with the finale to the competition, with both teams deserving credit for putting on a high quality, full blooded contest that remained on a knife edge until the final whistle.
Aberystwyth: Steffan Rees, Sion Cowdy, Carwyn Evans, Steff Rees, Dean Coleman, Matthew Hughes, Gruff Jones, Kevin Jones, Carwyn Thomas, Matt Roberts, Robbie Parry, Dan Binks, Bryn Shepard, Paul Stubbs, Lee Evans (capt).
Replacements: Owain Bonsall, Matt Newman, Gareth Jones, Hopcyn Matthews, Ifan Thomas, Llyr Thomas, Tom Slinger.
Tenby United: Jonathan Morgan, Jack Guerreiro, Moritz Neumann, Scott James, Jordan Asparassa, Ashley Sutton, Matthew Morgan, Rob Clarke, Joe Poole, Rob Luly, Mike Davies, Luke Dedman, Andrew Cooke, Luke Hansford (capt), Barry Parsons.
Replacements: Ethan Morgan, Dan Allen, Charlie Patching, Alex Thomas, Kieran Machin, Greg Lees Griffiths, Connor Ennis.
Referee: Simon Mills.
Assistants: Tom Simms and Richard Hughes.
Fourth official: Tony Pratt.
More pictures and reaction in this week's Telegraph Sport.