CROSS Keys moved up to fourth in the league with another impressive bonus-point victory that promises much for the season ahead.
The club’s opening-day hammering at home to Pontypridd now seems but a distant memory.
That’s because Aberavon’s doughty warriors were the latest victims to be put to the sword following the hammering meted out to Bridgend at Pandy Park the week before.
It leaves the visitors – who made the Premiership play-offs last season – winless in their opening three games.
Pundits were predicting a difficult afternoon for Keys against the wounded Wizards, who came into this game on the back of defeats to Newport and Swansea.
And so it proved for the first half an hour when the sides slugged it out in what was a fairly dire opening contest, the two locked in a 3-3 stalemate.
But the game dramatically changed in the ten minutes leading up to half-time.
Firstly, Wizards loosehead prop Neil White was yellow-carded as referee Rhys Thomas lost his patience with the visitors for their constant infringing at the breakdown.
With Aberavon down to 14 men, Keys took the game by the scruff of the neck and outstanding lock Dan Hodge powered over for a converted try on 33 minutes as the hosts began to press home their advantage. Aberavon outside-half Craig Evans did bring it back to 10-6 with his second penalty, but the game seemed to hinge on a refereeing blunder a minute before the interval when Keys were presented with a try from the gods.
It came after skipper and openside Rob Nash knocked the ball on just inside the Wizards’ half before the visitors made a hash of trying to clean up the turnover.
Without playing any advantage to the visitors, official Mr Thomas allowed play to go on and Keys’ impressive centre Luke Ford took full advantage of the situation to surge through and score Keys’ second try.
There was still time for home fly-half Dean Gunter to slot over his second penalty. The tables had been swiftly turned and Keys went into the interval 18-6 up.
With the balance of power now decisively in their favour, Keys upped the ante in the second half and were ruthless once they scented blood.
Ford got his second try after a catalogue of defensive horrors by Aberavon in their own 22 after 54 minutes.
Wizards’ replacement No 8 Ben Thomas got a consolation try for his side with just under a quarter of an hour left, but it was only a matter of time before Keys got try number four.
And it came when his opposite number Adam Powell scored from a pushover try with the dominant Keys scrum mercilessly grinding their opponents into the dust.
Ex-rugby league pro centre Aled James added to Aberavon’s misery in the last minute with a well-taken try that was converted by replacement No 10 Dorian Jones to wrap up a thoroughly convincing win.
Keys’ director of rugby, Jonathan Westwood, was delighted with his side, praising his back row and centre partnership in particular for the win: “I was very pleased – there were a lot of positives. Aberavon are a very difficult side to beat and it’s another bonus-point win so we’ll take that all day long.
“I think we had the rub of the green, which then meant they had to chase the game and it did get a bit scrappy.
“I thought Rob Nash was outstanding, as was Jamie Sollis, the whole back row, to be honest – Aberavon had an excellent back row on paper with a lot of quality.
“Our back row out-thought theirs and that was the difference at times.
“And our midfield was powerful – Luke Ford and Aled James looked a real handful together.”
Cross Keys: G David (E Jones 63), N Williams, A James, L Ford (S Matthews 71), N Trowbridge, D Gunter (D Jones 59), J Lewis (R James 51), R Cornock (J Johnstone 71), G Horrigan (G Price 51), C Gould, D Hodge, O Hodge, J Sollis (R Peebles 59), R Nash (capt), A Powell.
Scorers: Tries – Luke Ford (2), Dan Hodge, Adam Powell, Aled James; conversions – Dean Gunter (2), Dorian Jones; penalties – D Gunter (2).
Aberavon: J Phillips, R Thomas, B John, L Gadd, P Bamsey, C Evans (J Davies 57), D Pritchard, N White (R Jenkins 45), I Davies (G Harvey 62), A Clatworthy (C John 62), G Ronan (H Davies 62), I Moore (capt), M Allen, C Davies (J Tomalin-Reeves 57), R Morris (R Jenkins 29, B Thomas 49).
Scorers: Try – Ben Thomas; penalties – Craig Evans (2).
Referee: Rhys Thomas (WRU).
Argus star man: Jamie Sollis.