Keys given a grilling on opening day of seasons
WELL, at least Cross Keys have the consolation of getting one of their biannual clashes with Pontypridd out of the way.
The Pandy Park outfit were humbled by the Premiership champions on opening day and were lucky to emerge with a deficit of just 25 points.
They were outplayed in every facet of the game, and a miserable afternoon got even worse in the last quarter when openside Rob Nash was red-carded for lashing out at opposite number Wayne O’Connor.
It was probably the first time the Keys captain had got close to his rival, who was simply magnificent at the breakdown all game long.
The Keys players can expect a beasting from the coaching staff when they begin this week’s preparations for Saturday’s game with Bridgend, while Ponty won’t escape without punishment – coach Dale McIntosh will be fuming that a four-try bonus point went begging.
"They bullied us at the breakdown, our discipline was terrible, our heads went and we made wrong decisions," lamented Cross Keys head coach Greg Woods.
"It was just like the old days and we played some suicide rugby, but don’t take anything away from Pontypridd, they were the better side by far.
"Perhaps we needed that game, we’ve got new boys coming in and they need to settle... but they need to settle quicker than that."
This was a clash between the Swalec Cup- holders and the Premiership champions but only one side looked like contenders for more silverware.
Of course, it’s unfair to judge a side on one game and Keys did have half of their team sitting in the grandstand.
Tighthead Marc Jones, flanker Tom Lampard, scrum-half Rhys Dyer, centre Phil Williams, wings Kristian Baller and Nathan Trowbridge were all vital figures in last season’s journey to the final of the British and Irish Cup and heroics in the Swalec.
But injuries happen in rugby and their deputies were thrown in at the deep end against Ponty. It was sink or swim and a few will need their inflatable armbands this weekend.
Keys were under par defensively, though vice-captain Leon Andrews was his usual resolute self, and produced little in attack, hindered by a set piece that provided poor- quality ball.
The hosts actually opened the scoring with an early penalty by fly-half Dean Gunter and could have stretched away when lock Dan Hodge intercepted a stray pass 50 metres out after five minutes.
Unfortunately the big West Countryman didn’t have the gas to make it to the line, prompting the jibe from the stands of "Ollie would have made it" in reference to his older brother, who has joined him in the Keys second row.
That was as close as Keys were to come for the whole game, though to their credit they clung on in there in a niggly and scrappy first half.
Dai Flanagan kicked the visitors into the lead with a brace of penalties, the first of which saw Dan Hodge sin-binned for killing the ball in the 22, before centre Gavin Dacey darted through the weak tackles of centre Luke Ford and Nash to go under the sticks.
Nash was then lucky to stay on the field after a trip was missed by referee James Jones – it should have been yellow and could easily have been red, though Nash was later to receive both.
Ponty led 13-3 at the break, but after botching a handful of golden opportunities, stretched away afterwards when prop Chris Phillips barged over.
If it wasn’t game over when Nash was yellow-carded then it certainly was when minutes later he was shown straight red and the visitors applied some gloss when wing Lewis Williams darted over in the corner.
There were some positives – new number eight Adam Powell kept plugging away and young scrum-half Jonathan Lewis looks a real livewire – but this was a game Keys will want to forget in a hurry.