Keys steal a bonus after a shocker in Llanelli
HOW Cross Keys managed to get a losing bonus point out of this one-sided affair is a mystery that could leave you baffled until your dying day.
The fact they could have even stolen a terrible game near the end was bordering on the surreal.
For the hosts might easily have racked up a half a century of points and had their bonus-point try in the bag just after the interval if things had gone according to plan for them.
A mix of Llanelli butchering at least five clear try-scoring opportunities and some fantastic last-ditch defence by the visitors kept Keys in the game.
Instead of coasting to victory, the home side were left in a real panic at the end as the visitors finally got their act together and nearly pulled off the greatest escape of all time.
Had centre Luke Ford just managed to avoid a despairing ankle tap by Llanelli wing Bowdy Davies, agonisingly short of the line after a scintillating run by replacement wing Elliott Jones, they just might have.
If Ford had scored a try near the posts, the probable conversion would have meant they would have trailed 12-10 with four minutes to go.
As it was they had to settle for a penalty which replacement outside-half Dean Gunter kicked to take them within six points.
Llanelli seemed to be racked with self-doubt but held their nerve to see out the win they certainly more than deserved.
They dominated the first half and took Keys to the cleaners in the set piece.
Keys have soldiered on well this season without key injured personnel like tighthead prop Marc Jones, back row/lock Tom Lampard, wing Kristian Baller and centre Phil Williams.
But the added absence of highly influential suspended trio openside Rob Nash, loosehead prop Richard Cornock and lock Dan Hodge saw them struggle badly up front, especially during the first 40 minutes when they just couldn’t get their hands on the ball.
There was some very bad news as well with Keys’ promising lock Scott Andrews, a Newport Gwent Dragons Academy product, going off after 16 minutes with another suspected serious knee injury.
Despite all the pressure and possession, all Llanelli could muster were penalties from the boot of fly-half Johnny Lewis, who sweetly struck four out of four in the first half but couldn’t hit a barn door in the second as he missed three eminently kickable attempts.
For Keys, his opposite number, Dorian Jones, who shows much promise, kicked one penalty before half-time and the only time the scorers were troubled again was when Gunter kicked his 76th-minute goal.
Keys coach Greg Woods was left fuming at his side’s performance early on: “In the first half we were dreadful.
“Our set piece was awful – we got pushed off every scrum and the lineout was poor.
“It was only some heroic defence that saved us at times, really, and they butchered some chances – which is unlike them.
“The second half was a lot better, once we started winning some lineout ball and our scrum was more solid.
“And our bench brought a bit of energy to our game.”
He admitted his side weren’t really at the races: “Llanelli were good for their win and it should have been more for them.
“In a way we’re happy with the point. They certainly didn’t bury us but they should have been out of sight by half-time.
“If Luke had scored at the end I think we would have gone on to win the game but we didn’t deserve to do that.”
Woods praised some of his young players who had to step up to the mark because of the injuries and suspensions.
“Young James Johnstone played well at loosehead when he came on and Scott Matthews at seven played really well,” he said.
“These young players need game time but we did miss our go-to men.
“Dan Hodge was missed, as was Robert Nash and Richard Cornock, but that was our own fault.
“People like (full back) Gareth David were outstanding, making tackle after tackle.
“It wasn’t a bad defeat but it was a defeat and the first- half performance just wasn’t good enough.”
Llanelli: A Jenkins (S Evans 33), B Davies, N Reynolds, C Keenan, J James, J Lewis, A Davies (K Evans 40), R Thomas, K Myhill, A Hopkins, A Powell (capt), E Price (N White 68), D Eager, D Thomas (T Wilson 40, S Leach 47), C Price. Replacements: T Sloane, J Ball, S McDonnell-Roberts.
Scorer: Penalties – Johnny Lewis (4).
Cross Keys: G David, L Williams, L Ford, A James (E Jones 60), N Trowbridge, D Jones (D Gunter 60), R Dyer (captain) (J Lewis 53), A Lott, J Sollis (G Horrigan 40), T Ryan (J Johnstone 45), S Andrews (S Higgins 16), O Hodge, R Peebles, S Matthews (G Price 47), A Powell. Replacement: R James.
Scorers: Penalties – Dorian Jones, Dean Gunter.
Referee: Jonathan Mason (WRU).
Argus star man: Gareth David.