Pembrokeshire KO Cup final: Crymych 3-18 Whitland (after extra time)

It was a night for blood and guts, and it was Whitland who came through the war.

Last night the Borderers reclaimed the Pembrokeshire KO Cup for the first time since they were re-admitted into the competition in the 2013/14 season after overcoming Crymych 18-3.

But that doesn’t even begin to tell the story. After 80 minutes dictated by severe weather, the sides were locked at 3-3 after Nico Setaro and Harri Williams exchanged penalties - and for the first time in recent history the final needed extra time.

It meant 20 more draining minutes for both sets of players’, but it was Whitland who duly dominated them as winger Jonathan Thomas and Setaro crossed for tries, and the latter added a conversion and a penalty to seal glory after a gruelling night.

Crymych weather the early storm:

The early stages were plagued by horrendous conditions as Storm Hannah took over The Obs, but the howling gales were behind the Borderers as they tried to seize the initiative.

But Crymych were resolute. Setaro was off target with a wide angled penalty and then when another chance came for three points, skipper Marc Jones opted for a scrum. But this was an area in which Randal Williams’ team dominated in the first 40 minutes, and after a defensive shunt referee Dewi Phillips awarded them the penalty.

And the Preseli Men forwards were then superb against the elements as front rowers Aled Harries and Jason Nicholls, and second row Ryan Bean in particular, carried like beasts in the tight exchanges. Flanker Sion Colella was also superb on the floor in slowing down and stealing ball.

Their opponents meanwhile were struggling to make use of their advantage. At one point flanker Ryan Morgan burst out of his own 22 on a surging run, but frustrations were compounded when Setaro then cleared 50 metres upfield only for the ball to land marginally out on the full.

In fact it was 35 minutes before Whitland finally got on the board after driving runs from hooker Jones and Scott Buirds created a simple penalty chance, and although Setaro chose to run it Crymych were soon pinged again and this time, the outside half took the simple three points.

Just before the break another chance came after Courtney Bowman, Jones and Raff Williams all linked up off a lineout peel, but on a rare occasion where the ball went wide centre Gino Setaro made a half-break only for the ball to go loose as he was hauled down in the 22.

Whitland’s turn to dig deep:

A 3-0 lead didn’t seem enough as Crymych turned around with the elements in their favour, but they found the Borderers every bit as determined defensively as they were.

Suddenly the Whitland pack got parity in the scrum and they repelled constant pressure in the first few minutes, before a cross field kick from Williams bounced into the path of Crymych winger Tomos Lewis but he couldn’t control his hack forward towards the line.

18 minutes into the half though Williams levelled the scores with a 25 metre penalty, but with Jones and No 8 Jack Mason constantly crashing up ball Whitland responded with some pressure of their own which ended when Raff Williams was penalised having been stopped inches short of the line.

The final quarter was frantic and scrappy as the wind played havoc, and at one point a Setaro box kick inside his own 22 ended up behind him and was gathered by the grateful Buirds.

But both teams did fashion chances late on. Crymych centre Gethin Gibby broke over half way but was halted by opposite number Josh Thomas, who himself carried solidly throughout, and then at the other end another Jones burst and subsequent grubber kick to the corner by Setaro had Crymych pinned on their own line. Replacement Dion Gibby safely gathered the lineout though and in the dying seconds, it was the 2016 winners who had a chance to nick it.

A clearance kick by Whitland’s replacement scrum half Josh Thomas fell short of touch and from the two phases that followed, Crymych fashioned space out wide but full back Nick Bevan was hauled into touch by the corner flag by Thomas.

Borderers break the deadlock:

That meant extra time and the relief of the Whitland players to have survived the second half was obvious.

After winning the toss Crymych skipper Rhys Davies opted to stay with the wind in the first period but within moments of the re-start, his side were up against it.

Another powerful surge from Jones saw him link with Setaro, and he dummied and broke upfield before releasing Thomas on a run to the corner.

Suddenly Whitland looked resurgent and replacement prop Scott Meakins powered forward with a 30 metre run, and that set the platform from which No 9 Thomas sniped and flicked a pass brilliantly for Setaro to go under the posts. He duly converted as well.

Turning around at 15-3 the contest looked over, and sure enough, Setaro landed a second penalty from 30 metres and essentially, an epically physical and intense clash was done and dusted.

Man of the match – Marc Jones:

You had to be in Milford last night to appreciate the extent of the conditions. It was a night for big players to stand up and show their mettle.

And Whitland captain Marc Jones did just that. Had there been any stats on him for carries and yards made over the 100 minutes, the numbers would have been off the scale.

But alongside him was Jack Mason whose contribution with ball in hand, and defensively, was every bit as telling.

Both Jones and Mason have been terrific servants to Whitland RFC and last night, when their club needed them most, they were colossal.

Fond farewell for Dan:

For Whitland coach Dan Mason, assisted by Dai Ebsworth last night in the absence of Gareth Bennett, it meant the perfect send off after a successful two seasons.

And he was full of praise for his players afterwards.

“The conditions obviously had a say in this – the weather was a killer,” he told Telegraph Sport.

“But the effort of the boys over 100 minutes was unbelievable and the way they ground it out was outstanding. To say it was a war of attrition would be an understatement.

“We still played some rugby especially with out first try. But the game was about blood and guts.”

Preseli Men pay for missed second half chances:

When the 80 minutes was up, you sensed Whitland were the happier side.

A 3-0 half time lead had not looked enough and many at The Obs would have assumed it was there for Crymych to take second half.

But once extra time started they looked spent, and head coach Randal Williams was left to reflect on missed chances.

“We should have got another score in the 80 minutes,” he said.

“We worked hard in the first half but after that we couldn’t get the control or territory we needed. And then in extra time they came out firing and carrying hard.”

The final word:

It was an awful night for rugby, and that undoubtedly affected the spectacle and the crowd numbers.

But that’s why both sides deserve tremendous credit. The fact they both played into Storm Hannah for 40 minutes and only conceded three points represented a show of discipline and desire almost hard to comprehend.

It was never going to be classic final for rugby purists, but it was a memorable one. And both sets of players walked off with my utmost respect.

Crymych: Nick Bevan, Tomos Lewis, Gethin Gibby, Tomos Phillips, Lawrence Headlam, Harri Williams, Dafydd Phillips, Jason Nicholls, Aled Harries, Steffan Harries, Matthew Freebury, Ryan Bean, Rhys Davies, Sion Colella, Osian Phillips. Replacements: Rhys Richards, Llew Rees, Dion Gibby, Hedd Nicholas, Ilan Phillips, Dylan Phillips, Carwyn Jones.

Whitland: Dan Evans, Geraint Jones, Gino Setaro, Josh Thomas, Jonathan Thomas, Nico Setaro, Adam Davies, Aaron Mayne, Marc Jones, Jimmy Buirds, Raff Williams, Courtney Bowman, Scott Buirds, Ryan Morgan, Jack Mason. Replacements: Tomos Evans, Scott Meakins, Ben Kirk, James Thomas, Josh Thomas, Dai Ebsworth, Scott Candler.

Referee: Dewi Phillips.

Assistants: Jason Ludgate and Jonathan Harries.