11:50am Monday 9th April 2012 in Sport By Iwan Davies South Wales Argus
CROSS Keys head coach Greg Woods hailed his heroic troops after Saturday’s stunning 20-16 British & Irish Cup semi-final victory over Cornish Pirates at Pandy Park.
Keys are the first Welsh side to reach the final of the tournament and will face Munster A in Ireland in the last round on Saturday, April 28 after they defeated Leinster A 36-29 in Dublin on Friday.
Largely a semi-professional outfit, Woods’ magnificent men from the Premiership outplayed English Championship pros the Pirates and were more than worthy winners to defy the odds.
Outstanding wing Kristian Baller scored two sparkling tries and the assured boot of outside-half Steffan Jones yielded two penalties and two conversions.
The forward-oriented Pirates were limited to a penalty try and conversion and three penalties from their full back Rob Cook.
Keys raced into a 13-0 lead early on but the physical Pirates fought back well although the home side still went into the break 13-10 up after they lost lock Dan Hodge and loosehead Richard Cornock to the sin bin.
The Gwent side dominated large parts of the second half and played some tremendous rugby but couldn’t put the game out of reach.
Baller nearly scored his hat trick and a superb run by number eight Jevon Groves saw him also go agonisingly close.
Their failure to kill the game off meant they had to defend for their lives in the closing stages as the marauding Pirates sought to steal the game.
But they were not to be denied a famous victory and the jubilant scenes at the final whistle will long linger in the memory as Keys celebrated making their first ever cup final.
“We went 13-0 up early on and we were in dream land but we were under the pump then for a long time,” Woods said.
“I thought we created a lot, we looked dangerous with ball in hand where they just had the power game.
“We dug in but it could have been more comfortable had we finished off those two or three chances.”
Woods added: “I said to the players after the game, ‘We’ve just beaten the best side under the Aviva Premiership in England’.
“And it wasn’t a fluke. They were very gracious in defeat and told us that we deserved the victory.
“It’s just a small game to come against Munster in the final now!” Woods joked.
“It’s just a dream – Cross Keys versus Munster.”
Paying tribute to his team’s almost superhuman effort, he said: “Some of the boys, like (scrum half) Rhys Dyer, couldn’t walk after the game because of the effort they put in.
“Their commitment was never in doubt but what I like about us now is that we’ve also got the guile to go with it.
“We held them in the scrum, our defence was superb and we knew if we had the ball we could score.”