Any slim hopes of Cross Keys finishing in the top 8 come the controversial mid-season split were ended as they were defeated by Pontypridd at Sardis Road on New Years Eve, in a hugely entertaining clash played out in front of the S4C cameras.
The Keys probably started off the game better than the hosts but despite enjoying more possession and a greater territorial advantage in the early exchanges it was in fact the hosts that went ahead when impressive outside half Ben Jones kicked a long range penalty from some 40 yards after 5 minutes of play.
Keys didn’t let their heads drop and they continued to press hard in to the Ponty half. Good field position just inside the Ponty 22 allowed Keys to play quickly from a ruck and good service from scrum half Owain Leonard who spread the ball to Josh Prosser who showed slick hands to produce a well-timed pass to winger Mathew Powell. Powell still had plenty of work to do but evaded a number of tackle attempts by dancing through to work himself in to space before turning on the after burners and break free to finish wonderfully for an excellent try with 8 minutes on the clock. Outside half Josh Prosser failed to add the conversion from out wide, but Keys were well worth the early lead.
Keys came back once again and continued to threaten deep in Ponty territory and they were awarded for their composure when Josh Prosser slotted over a penalty to better Keys’ lead with around 13 minutes played. Ponty seemed to use this as a wake up call and used their centre Dafydd Lockyer as their main playmaker as he time and time again tore shreds in to Keys’ defence as the game entered the second quarter.
A big break forward by Lockyer’s fellow centre Bradley Coombes who broke through the halfway line after a little over 20 minutes opened up Keys defence which was left chasing shadows, and Coombes found scrum half Dane Blacker on his inside shoulder as he approached the Keys 22, and Blacker had the relatively simple task of doing the rest to score under the posts for his side’s first try of the day, which was converted by Ben Jones. Keys were really finding hard to stop the rampaging Lockyer, who was continuing to make big ground for the home side. Keys conceded a penalty with just under 30 minutes played and Jones converted it to further the home side’s lead with Keys excellent start to the game now looking like a distant memory.
Keys did occasionally look dangerous on the counter and 2 breakthroughs in to Ponty by Owain Leonard and Joe Goodchild, who looked very impressive on his first start for Keys, almost led to Keys closing the gap but on each occasion Keys couldn’t make the final pass and Ponty cleared any danger.
Ponty’s lead was extended just before the break when Ben Jones added a pair of penalties from similar areas. The second of those penalties saw Keys centre Leon Andrews harshly sent to the sin bin by referee Dan Jones for an apparent deliberate knock on, although it looked pretty clear that the ball had in fact been palmed backwards by the retreating Andrews.
Half Time Score Pontypridd 19 Cross Keys 8
Despite being a man down Keys again applied plenty of pressure early in the second half but any early chances came to nothing. On 47 minutes, and still down to 14 men Keys conceded a penalty just outside their own 22 and were caught napping when Ponty’s star man Ben Jones singled that he would kick to the corner rather than opt for the fairly inviting 3 points that were on offer. Keys backs were turned and Jones spotted this so then took a quick tap penalty and raced through the gaps that had formed as Keys awaited the kick to the corner, Jones finished excellently for a real opportunist try that effectively ended the game as a contest despite there being just over 30 minutes remaining. Jones failed to add the tricky extras to his own try.
Ponty were now firmly back in control and extended their lead once again when a clearance kick from Keys was won by the Valley Commandos around the halfway line and the ball was worked to full back Gary Williams who ran hard in space before off-loading to scrum half Dane Blacker who broke free to score his second try of the game on 55 minutes despite the best defensive efforts of Keys’ full back Joe Goodchild. Outside half Jones added the conversion.
With nothing to lose Keys then began to throw everything at the hosts and were rewarded for their efforts when patient play deep inside the Ponty 22 saw the ball being moved from side to side with a gap eventually forming in the Ponty defensive line for Ellis Shipp to deliver a scoring pass to fellow replacement Rhys Fitzgerald, who was excellent when he came on to score near the posts on 67 minutes. Replacement outside half James Thomas added the conversion.
There was still time for Keys to mount futher attacks in to Ponty territory and with the last play of an entertaining encounter Keys went deep in to the Ponty 22 once more and just after it appeared as if Keys had lost the ball in the tackle area the ball was stolen back by replacement Phil Williams who drove hard to force his way over for Keys 3rd try in the corner. The try was again converted by replacement James Thomas.
Overall perhaps a tough one for Keys to take as a the number of penalties conceded aided by a number of excellent individual performances by Ponty paved the way for this victory and ultimately condemn Keys to finishing in the bottom 8 when the league splits in 2 after the fixtures that take place on 7th January. Keys face Ebbw Vale at Eugene Cross Park in a game that Ebbw must win for the Champions to be certain of their place in the top 8. With that in mind the game will be shown live on S4C.
Tries: Dane Blacker (x2) & Ben Jones
Conversions: Ben Jones (x2)
Penalties: Ben Jones (x4)
Cross Keys Scorers:-
Tries: Mathew Powell, Rhys Fitzgerald & Phil Williams
Conversions: James Thomas (x2)
Penalty: Josh Prosser