The Welsh National Plate Semi-Final between Division Two East Abercarn and Division One West Central Ystalyfera, took place at neutral Llanharan in glorious sunshine, with an appreciative number of supporters present from both sides. Ystalyfera kicked off facing the sun and a catching breeze, the clubhouse at their backs. An immediate turnover earned the ‘Fera a penalty for offside, which outside half Gareth James kicked over in the first minute. Ystalyfera were looking sharp early on and after the first lineout, a breakout by Abercarn was halted by a dropped ball. A free kick after the first scrum set Ystalyfera up in the Abercarn half. A midfield contest now ensued with possession shifting from one side to the other, play gradually moving into the ‘Fera half. In the tenth minute an excellent move by Abercarn from a lineout earned a return penalty for offside, and outside half Jamie Baker equalised the score 3 – 3. The east wales side gained confidence from this and began to open up their game. Sturdy defence by the ‘Fera back line stood true however, clearances by full back Steffan Castle most effective. With both sides now attempting to kick for good position Ystalyfera were losing out, and a spell in their 22 saw a penalty for lifting a scrum allow a lineout on the 5m line. Ystalyfera tackling was now ferocious and further penalties kept the game in the Clubhouse corner. In the 26th minute ‘Fera hooker Owen Phillips was yellow carded for a deliberate knock on and the referee awarded a penalty try. Jamie Baker promptly converted score: 10 – 3 to Abercarn. Offside at the restart the current leaders allowed Stephan Castle to put the ‘Fera in for a 5m lineout. A catch and drive move followed by strong forward play, allowed Ystalyfera captain and No8 Stephan Jones to push over for the first ‘Fera try in the 30th minute. Gareth James converted to level the match at 10 – 10. Abercarn became motivated and the “West Walians” came under great pressure. The ‘Fera forwards were having to work hard and the halfbacks forced into clearance kicks to keep Abercarn out. After Owen Phillips returned to the fray, a penalty attempt by ‘Gareth James hit a post, Abercarn knocking on for a 10m scrum. The half ended with Abercarn attempting to kick for better position but the ‘Fera defence was solid.
An immediate penalty given away by Ystalyfera in the first minute of the second half, allowed Jamie Baker to restore the Abercarn lead. Successfully opening up their game, the leaders were moving the ball across the field looking for openings in the Ystalyfera defence. Holding their line the ‘Fera backs remained alert and centre Mathew Scott was unlucky with an interception attempt. After a long drop goal effort by an Abercarn centre, a scrum infringement in the 54th minute saw Jamie Baker increase the Abercarn lead 16 – 10. Ystalyfera raised the pace and the contest shifted into the Aber half. A determined attack in the 62nd minute let Gareth James pull back a penalty 13 – 16. Ystalyfera were now full on with their familiar attacks across the width of the field, and in the 67th minute the reward came thru Mathew Scott who darted around the back of a scrum to score the second ‘Fera try, regaining the lead: score 16 – 18. The match was now end to end with both sides taking risks to lift their score. A fourth penalty kick was converted by Jamie Baker in the 74th minute, changing the lead again, but the Ystalyfera side were fully fired up with energy motivated by their vociferous supporters. Steffan Castle catching a high kick burst through the Abercarn defence only to be fouled by an opponent. Kicking over himself in the 77th minute, he restored the lead to Ystalyfera 19 – 21. With the game now wide open Abercarn sought to run with the ball into open spaces. Being stopped in the ‘Fera 22, the ball was passed back to full back Jason Evans who dutifully pushed over a drop goal right on full time: score 22 – 21 to Abercarn. As always Ystalyfera never give up and with the referee adding four minutes of injury time they attacked again. Pressure in the Abercarn 22 was intense and from under the posts a pass back to Steffan Castle saw him put over a perfect drop goal in the 83rd minute. ‘Fera win 22 – 24.
A Semi-final of a Welsh National tournament expects a rousing spectacle and this game certainly was that. Two good sides gave their all and either one could have finished as winners. Neutral spectators were entertained as much as any partisan followers, the lead changing back and fore repeatedly. Ystalyfera scoring two trys deservedly go on to the final where they meet previous winners and last years losing finalists Penallta.
Penalty counts were 12 for Ystalyfera and 8 against – 4 of which were converted;
1 for hands in the ruck, 1 holding after a tackle, 3 scrum offences, 1 deliberate knock on and 2 offside.
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