A devastating display of attacking rugby in the second half by unbeaten Aberavon saw Cross Keys not only chasing shadows on Saturday afternoon but also chasing the leading pack for any hopes of a top 8 finish come the mid-season split in January.
It was the Principality Premiership leaders, Aberavon who started the game brighter than Keys but despite several attacks deep in to Keys territory, along with having the lion’s share of possession early on, the Wizards were unable to make their efforts show as the game remained scoreless thanks largely to some incredible work in defence by Keys, who cleared their lines time and time again inside the opening 15 minutes or so.
As it was that defensive effort united the Keys and it was the home side who eventually went on to open the scoring after 18 minutes. Keys won a penalty just inside the Wizards half and found touch inside the Wizards 22 from the resulting kick. They secured possession from the throw and set up a driving maul which then led to a scrum being awarded in the home side as they went close to crossing for the game’s opening score. From the scrum Keys powered their way toward the Wizard’s try line once more and as a series of rucks were set up a pick and go from skipper for the day, Darren Hughes saw him cross for the first try with almost 20 minutes played, after Danny Hodge, Simon Williams and Ieuan Jones had all gone close to crossing in the scoreboard corner of the ground. Full back Josh Prosser added the conversion as Keys led, although it was probably against the run of play.
The remainder of the first half saw both sides have chances go to waste before Wizards winger Steffan Andrews eventually scored in the far corner after good work in midfield, around the Keys 22 by the visitors saw them create space on the flank saw Andrews benefit from some missed tackles by the Keys defence to score in the corner for a try that went unconverted just a few minutes from the interval.
Half time Score Cross Keys 7 Aberavon 5
The second half was fairly equal once again, for the first 10 minutes anyway, although the Wizards did get off to a perfect start to the half when winger David Evans received a scoring pass from Wizards full back Richard Carter, who had attacked from deep before Evans did the rest to put his side in to the lead for the first time with a try just under 2 minutes in to the half. The conversion was again missed.
Keys responded wonderfully although initially they couldn’t break through the well organised Wizards defence. Keys though went through the motions and again went for the corner from a penalty around the halfway line and it was from this field position, around the Wizards 22 that Keys set about powering their way toward the Wizards line once more. They spent 5 minutes or more attacking the line and eventually forced their way over when Josh Skinner did brilliantly to hold on to the ball and stretch over for Keys 2nd try and for the home side to take the lead once more. Josh Prosser added the conversion with a little over 50 minutes on the clock.
What happened next was simply not like Keys at all and perhaps shows why the Wizards look like the team to beat this season as the visitors crossed for 5 unanswered tries as Keys pressed the self-destruct button, despite being in a good position to enable the Wizards to remain unbeaten and frankly embarrass Keys on their own patch.
Almost immediately from the restart following Skinner’s try, the Wizards had all the play deep in the Keys 22 and number 8 Chris Davies benefitted from a powerful push forward by the visitors pack to cross for his side’s 3rd try as they took the lead once again with 53 minutes on the clock. The conversion was successful by James Garland.
As both sides rang the changes it was the Wizards bench who undoubtedly had the biggest impact when they secured their bonus point with just over an hour played when they cut Keys to shreds for replacement Ben Davies to cross comfortably as the Keys defence seemed to disappear. Garland added the extras with Keys confidence now looking extremely low. The Wizards came back once again as scrum half David Pritchard got in on the scoring act as he opened up Keys all too easily once again to cross for the Wizards’ 5th try with a little under 10 minutes remaining.
The visitors 6th try came with 5 minutes remaining, as they turned the ball over around the halfway line and replacement Luke Joseph was freed down the touchline and had plenty of support but held on to the ball himself with only Nathan Trowbridge in pursuit as Keys basically looked to have thrown the towel in, Joseph had the legs and crossed in the corner as the Wizards passed the 30 point barrier. The touchline conversion was unsuccessful as Keys must have been hoping for the final whistle to be blown, but there was still time for the Wizards to finish off the rout with a 7th try, through winger Steffan Andrews who crossed for his 2nd try with the last play of the game as Keys once again missed too many one on one tackles and Andrews was worked in to space to again cross with relative ease thanks to a lack of numbers in the Keys defensive line. The score remained under 40 only thanks to another missed conversion from out wide.
Based on the second half performance it’s very difficult to remain positive after such a heavy defeat but it’s not difficult to see why the Wizards’ are where they are this season, although Keys really need to pick up their performance if there is to be any hope of making this season one to remember for all the right reasons!
Cross Keys Scorers:-
Tries: Darren Hughes & Josh Skinner
Conversions: Josh Prosser (x2)
Tries: Steffan Andrews (x2), David Evans, Chris Davies, David Pritchard, Ben Davies & Luke Joseph
Conversions: James Garland (x2)
Keys Man of the Match: Ieuan Jones