CROSS KEYS 32 PONTYPRIDD 19
AT THE home of Welsh rugby Cross Keys won the first piece of silverware in their 127-year history thanks to a defensive performance that would make Shaun Edwards purr.
The Swalec Cup proudly sits in the Pandy Park clubhouse after superb second half tries by hooker Gerwyn Price and wing Nathan Trowbridge.
But it was a pair of marvellous defensive stands that set up the most glorious of days.
Trailing 13-6 on the stroke of half-time their line was being pounded at by a Pontypridd side desperate to land a killing blow. Keys were on the ropes but avoided being dropped to the canvas.
Fast forward to 10 minutes from the final whistle and they were five metres from their line defending a 24-19 lead. With skipper Rob Nash leading from the front they swarmed all over their opponents, snuffed out Ponty’s charges and went down the other end for the scores that prompted tears of joy.
It was a real battle and in the end Keys beat the favourites and had a reward for the best season in their history.
They had heaped the pressure on themselves after their British and Irish Cup final defeat to Munster A 10 days earlier. There was no margin for error, no grey area – it was win or bust.
The 2011/12 campaign contained some fine memories but it would count for nothing if they failed in another final.
There was pride in defeat after falling at the last hurdle in Cork but another loss would leave an empty feeling. Luckily it is hangovers that they are dealing with this morning.
It was a cagey opening with neither side really making much of an impression.
Number eight Rhys Williams was prominent for Keys while Ponty were looking for their powerful centre Dafydd Lockyer to get them on the front foot.
The Pandy Park outfit adopted a tactic favoured by the Irish to deal with him, holding him up with a ‘choke’ tackle in a bid to win the turnover. They had some success in keeping the outside centre in check but the holders still led 10-0 after the first quarter thanks to a penalty by Lewis K Williams and his conversion of a well-worked try down the left when the fly-half combined with skipper Chris Dicomidis to put winger Matthew Nuthall over.
Keys got on the scoreboard through the right boot of fly-half Dean Gunter, who won the trophy with Ponty 2011, but swiftly gifted three points to Williams on the half hour.
Back came Keys through the boot of Gunter and they could even have been level after 33 minutes but centre Leon Andrews could not free the arms to find the inside ball to Nathan Trowbridge when there was nobody between the wing and the line 40 metres out.
Keys were living off scraps and it took the first marvellous defensive stand to avoid a huge blow.
Like at Musgrave Park, it was their heart without the ball that was shining through rather than their attacking ability.
They would have been quite content to have still been in touch as they headed to the changing rooms 13-6 down.
And after some words of encouragement – perhaps in the style of Wales defence coach Edwards – Keys came flying out of the blocks and were level within two minutes of the restart.
It was a brave call by scrum-half Owen Jones to go for the quick tap from a penalty five metres out but it paid off when Dan Hodge barged over from close range.
The TMO confirmed that the lock had placed the ball on the line after first being stopped inches short and his five-pointer was turned into a seven-pointer by Gunter.
With the scores level the game became manic, neither side stringing together sustained quality possession.
Keys inched in front through a Gunter penalty only for Ponty to respond with a Williams brace. At 19-16 entering the final quarter it was tense stuff.
Keys wing Kristian Baller was agonisingly close to plunging the dagger into his former side when he gathered his chip over the top but he couldn’t quite conjure the offload as the Ponty cover closed in Gunter levelled the scores with his fourth penalty and then came Price’s magic moment, the hooker gathering a loose ball and showing the pace of a three-quarter to go over in the right corner from 30 metres.
Ponty came charging back but Nash and his boys dug deep and escaped.
And victory was theirs when flankers Rhys Peebles and Marc Popham combined to put Trowbridge over.
The winger got married on Sunday. Just 24 hours later he was among the Keys boys enjoying one of the best days of their lives.
Cross Keys: G David, K Baller, L Andrews, P Williams (N Williams 55), N Trowbridge, D Gunter, R Dyer (O Jones 25), R Cornock (C Gould 62), G Price, M Jones (J Sollis 71), D Hodge, T Lampard (M Popham 63), R Peebles, R Nash (captain), R Williams.
Scorers: tries – D Hodge, G Price, N Trowbridge; conversion – D Gunter; penalties – D Gunter (4), G David
Pontypridd: G Wyatt, C Clayton (L I Williams 70), D Lockyer (G Dacey 59), G Williams, M Nuthall, L K Williams, L Jones (R Downes 62), S Williams (R Harford 42), H Dowden, P Palmer, C Hill, R Savage (C Locke 53), C Dicomidis (captain), W O’Connor, D Godfrey (J Thomas 53).
Scorers: tries – M Nuthall; conversion – L Williams; penalties –L Williams (4)
Referee: Sean Brickell
Attendance (for the whole day): 15,308
Argus star man: Dan Hodge – As always a real nuisance but this time he was crucially a try-scoring nuisance.