CROSS Keys are just one game away from being crowned Principality Premiership champions for the first time after a superb semi-final play-off victory away at Carmarthen Quins.
Head coach Greg Woods’ men have been presented with a great opportunity to avenge last week’s disappointing 21-8 defeat to Pontypridd in the Swalec Cup final when they travel to play the Sardis Road side on their own patch in the league grand final on Sunday.
With a number of key men either injured or called up by Wales Under-20s, the Pandy Park side showed enormous character to bounce back from last week’s setback at the Millennium Stadium.
After Quins had done the double over Keys and with home advantage, few expected them to emerge triumphant but they were magnificent to a man and worthy winners, rallying tremendously after trailing 13-0 in the opening quarter to win a wonderful game of rugby.
Keys were unlucky not to get off to a dream start when a fine pass by outside-half Dorian Jones looked to have put wing Elliott Jones away, only for it to be adjudged forward.
And it was the home side who opened the scoring, former Newport Gwent Dragons fly-half Aled Thomas slotting over a long range penalty after the visitors transgressed at the breakdown.
Another offence at the contact area, following an outstanding run by Keys loosehead Richard Cornock, saw Quins build up a 6-0 lead after another Thomas penalty.
Disaster struck for Keys in the 12th minute when the hosts stretched their lead to 13-0 when lock Carwyn Jones intercepted a pass by scrum half Owen Jones after his side had turned over the ball near their own line to score a somewhat fortuitous try, finely converted by Thomas.
It was a lively opening but, with them desperately trying to get back into the game, Keys were getting heavily penalised at the breakdown, falling foul of referee Wayne Hennessy and his whistle several times.
The Gwent side scored a peach of a try in the 20th minute when space was created for wing Elliott Jones to cross after slick passing from the backs after the forwards had battered away at Quins with a series of pick and drives.
Dorian Jones missed the difficult conversion but they were back in the game.
It gave them a huge lift and their No 10 was on target with a well struck penalty soon after to make it 13-8.
They could have at least drawn level when a superb counterattack from deep in their own half saw Dorian Jones create an opportunity for the razor sharp Nathan Trowbridge.
But the wing was just tap tackled when he looked to be away but they were not to be denied when he then put in captain and centre Leon Andrews for a try after a breathless passage of play.
The conversion put them into the lead 15-13 in the 29th minute to complete a remarkable turnaround.
With the momentum shifting decisively in their favour, Keys scored another beautiful try, centre Phil Williams’ cute break putting away Andrews for his second try, again converted to put them 22-13 ahead.
But with things going so well, they conceded a try just before the interval, home wing Chris Banfield finishing well to score a fine try of their own, Aled Thomas’ conversion successful.
Quins nearly regained the lead just before half-time when Keys needed all hands to the bump, but an excellent first 40 minutes ended with the visitors holding on to lead by two points after playing into a strong wind.
The second half started in much the same way and Quins nearly broke through Keys’ defence from deep a few times.
But it was Keys who scored next, Dorian Jones’ penalty coming after his side had put Quins under enormous pressure in the scrum.
A cross kick by Quins No 10 Dan Jones nearly put in the home side’s wing Gavin Thomas after a wonderful move, but the ball crossed the touchline.
Again the Keys eight had the Quins scrum in all sorts of trouble and a penalty saw Dorian Jones take his side eight points up and he nearly made it more when a monster drop goal from the halfway line was narrowly wide.
It was the devastating weapon they used again to extend their advantage to 31-20 when Dorian Jones kicked his fourth penalty, Keys dominating the second half.
Quins threw everything at them in the closing stages but Keys’ defence was immense and they will travel to Sardis Road with high hopes of pulling off another upset against Pontypridd.
Carmarthen Quins: Aled Thomas, Gavin Thomas, Iolo Evans, Rhys Williams, Chris Banfield, Dan Jones, Kieran Hardy, Gareth Thomas (Gethin Robinson 70), Rhodri Clancy (Ryan Elias 60), Ian Jones (capt) (Javan Sebastian 54), Carwyn Jones, Haydn Pugh, Sion Bennett, Ellis Lloyd, Rory Gallagher (Luke Joseph 2-5, 68) Replacements: Aidan Laxton, Huw Rees, Howard Thomas, Morgan Griffiths.
Carmarthen Quins: scorers: Tries – Carwyn Jones (12), Chris Banfield (37), Conversions – Aled Thomas (12) (37), Penalties – A Thomas (4, 9).
Cross Keys: Ryan Lee, Elliott Jones, Leon Andrews (capt), Phil Williams, Nathan Trowbridge, Dorian Jones, Owen Jones, Richard Cornock, Darren Hughes (Henry Palmer 60), Anthony Lott (Craig Gould 64-70), Danny Hodge, Tom Lampard, Ieuan Jones, Jevon Groves, Adam Powell Replacements:, Luke Garrett, Ollie Hodge, Sean Higgins, Jack Perkins, James Leadbeater, Nathan Williams.
Cross Keys scorers: Tries – Elliott Jones (20), Leon Andrews (29) (32), Conversions – Dorian Jones (29) (32), Penalties – D Jones (23) (46) (54) (60).
Referee: Neil Hennessey (WRU)
Argus star men: Leon Andrews and Nathan Trowbridge