CROSS KEYS staged a valiant second-half comeback to get within seven points of powerful Pontypridd before the visitors took control again to run out convincing winners, writes Geoff Champion.

Flanker Scott Matthews, prop Scott Evans and replacement centre Duan Thomas all crossed for tries in the third quarter to add to the first half effort of No8 Ieuan Jones.

Keys best performer inside half James Leadbeater added the conversion points to all four tries which gave them a deserved bonus point.

Keys took a pounding early on conceding no fewer than five tries before the interval when they trailed 35-7.

Ponty’s arch executioners were left wing Dale Stuckey who grabbed a hat-trick of tries and full-back Lloyd Rowlands who snapped up a brace of touchdowns while No8 Hemi Barnes, flanker Rhys Shellard and replacement prop Joe Popple nipped in for the other tries.

Outside half Diggy Bird had a good day with the boot converting six tries while his replacement Jordan Rees kicking two conversions.

Cross Keys were beaten twice by Pontypridd in their Principality Premiership East Conference matches in the first part of the season but they were hoping to repeat their WRU National Cup first round success against the visitors when they ran out 21-16 winners at Pandy Park on January 6.

Pontypridd had a mathematical chance of snatching the Premiership title but they had to chalk up a bonus point win in this their final game of the season and hope that Merthyr would fail to gain a single point from their remaining games against Bargoed and Aberavon.

Pontypridd started brightly and went 7-0 ahead after just five minutes of play. Rhys Shellard and Morgan Sieniawski combined smoothly to set up a good attacking position for the visitors which allowed left wing Dale Stuckey to exploit some weak tackling and cross for a try converted by Diggy Bird.

Keys’ problems mounted five minutes later when full back Matthew Powell was sent to the sin bin for a late tackle and Ponty coasted to a 21-0 lead midway through the first half.

Keys eventually stopped the rot in the 31st minute when a charging run by prop Scott Evans resulted in Ieuan Jones crashing over for a touchdown converted by James Leadbeater.

Minutes later Ponty the inside half crossed the line after another flowing passing movement but he was recalled for an earlier forward pass.

But Ponty had the last word before the interval with Stuckey sprinting 60 metres down the flank for his second try, converted by the sure-footed Bird, to make the interval score 35-7 in their favour.

Keys fought back well in the second half but Ponty still ran out comfortable winners.

Cross Keys: M Powell (R Meredith 68); K Scrivens, B Snell (D Thomas 40), S Tennant (E Lloyd 63), J Thomas; I Burgwin, J Leadbeater; G Carpenter (T Hansen 59), D Hughes (Z Hewlett 68), S Evans (R Cornock 63), T Lampard, J Skinner, G Price ( D Lewis 66), S Matthews (capt) (J Thomas 66), I Jones.

Scorers: Tries: I Jones, S Matthews, S Evans , D Thomas; Cons: J Leadbeater (4)

Pontypridd: L RowlandsJ Rees 67) ( R Morgan 62); G Walsh, A Knott, G Williams, D Stuckey; D Bird ( J Rees 67), J Raikes (H Rees 59); I George ( H Owen 59), H Dowden (J Page 54), W Davies-King (J Popple 54), S Moore, C Dicomidis, M Sieniawski, R Shellard (capt) (R Morgan 67), H Barnes (S Edwards 59).

Scorers: Tries: D Stuckey (3), H Barnes, L Rowlands (2), R Shellard, J Popple; Cons: D Bird (6) J Rees (2)

Keys star man: James Leadbeater