The final of the 2016-17 WRU National Plate between last year finalists Penallta and Ystalyfera, took place at the Principality Stadium with the roof open. Sunshine had been replaced with a thin cloud cover and a slight drizzle of rain. The ‘Fera kicked off and gained an immediate penalty, setting the first contest between the forwards in the Penallta 22. The first scrum then returned a penalty back to Penallta. A further penalty after the second scrum allowed Penallta to make their first entry into the Ystalyfera half, where both packs tussled for possession. In the 8th minute ‘Fera were judged to be offside and Penallta outside half Joseph Scrivens converted his first attempt – score: 3 – 0. Ystalyfera returned with a strong attack from the restart, and both sides searched positively for gaps in their opponents’ line. The first penalty effort by ‘Fera full back Steffan Castle went off target and both teams continued to compete for an advantage. In the 15th minute Penallta gained a second penalty kick by Scrivens after illegal hands in a ruck – score: 6 – 0. From this second restart Steffan Castle broke thru a gap and was tackled dangerously, he converting the resultant 24m penalty in the 17th minute – score: 6 – 3. All the players were now settling into their game and from a long kick by ‘Fera outside half Gareth James which bounced badly, Penallta broke thru along the wing. Penallta lock Cory Tucker took the unexpected opportunity which came to him and he raced up the field to run in the first Try in the 20th minute. This was not converted – score: 11 – 3. Ystalyfera attacked back into the leaders’ half and after a catch and drive move, a penalty was awarded for offside. Before this was taken the referee stopped proceedings and after consultation with the linesman and 4th official, issued ‘Fera flanker Jesse Patton with a red card for a head butt on a Penallta prop. Ystalyfera were now under pressure and the game continued in their 22. Penallta attempted to gain further advantage via line outs and scrums but the ‘Fera defence was resolute. Despite a man short, clearance kicks and short bursts did provide short breaks into the Penallta half but the leaders continued to press their advantage. Ystalyfera prop Robat White had to leave the field in the 38th minute, being replaced by his brother Daniel White. On the stroke of half time ‘Fera scrum half Nathan Cornelius tore thru a break in the Penallta line but was unlucky with the ball crossing the touchline. Half time score: 11 – 3 to Penallta.
The large and loud crowd of mixed supporters were seemingly working as hard as the players, and everyone expected the man advantage to be the telling difference between the sides in the second half. The ‘Fera team certainly did not, and were ‘full on’ from the restart. 3 minutes in and centre Mathew Scott was substituted by Scott Gibson. Ystalyfera continued to attack and won a line out in the Penallta corner. Scrums ensued and pressing hard with their familiar powerful pack a push over Try for captain Steffan Jones was given by the referee. However after a re-play check this was disallowed for a knock-on. The resultant scrum was driven again and the referee was forced to award a penalty Try and yellow card to Penallta prop Mathew Angel, for continual dropping. Staffan Castle converted to lift the score: 10 – 11 in the 49th minute. Every Ystalyfera supporter in the crowd was now a ‘Sheddie’ and the game continued with 14 a side. With everything to play for events on the field began to open up. Both teams needed to score and contest for possession was ferocious. In the 58th minute ‘Fera prop Jonathan Williams was yellow carded for not clearing out of a maul and Penallta were back with a man advantage. Gareth Jones now had to enter the field for scrums to continue, lock Cameron Miguel having to leave. Ystalyfera forwards were now very effective and fresh Penallta attacks were repulsed. In the 63rd minute ‘Fera centre Martyn Davies was replaced by Ryan Evans and the side re-organised. Now moving the ball well, Ystalyfera took the game into the Penallta half, and the ‘Fera assault to gain the lead was forcing Penallta to kick clear at every opportunity. In the 68th minute a smart pass to Staffan Castle saw him deliver a clean and perfect drop goal getting Ystalyfera the lead 11 – 13. From the restart play was back in the Penallta half who were caught offside. This penalty was again put over by Steffan Castle lifting the ‘Fera lead to 11 – 16 with 8 minutes to go. Penallta now brought on a quartet of substitutes to attempt redress of the situation, Kevin Allen replaced Owen Phillips up front for Ystalyfera. Penalties were now being won by the East Wales side and line kicks were being applied. In the 78th minute Penallta gained a chance to run the ball wide and replacement flanker Max George appeared to score in the corner. After a careful check by the officials for possible forward pass and/or knock on, the Try was granted lifting the score to 16 – 16. Joseph Scrivens missed the conversion and play continued. Both sides were now well spent and the game ended as a draw. By the rules the Plate was awarded to the side with the most Trys, who were Penallta.
This was a final in every sense of the word. Played at high intensity by two very good sides, all the players gave their all. Penallta were odds on favourites and were pushed by underdogs Ystalyfera all the way to the end. Statistics show red and yellow cards and a high penalty count (19 against Penallta and 23 against Ystalyfera), but this was only the result of a hard fought final of great intensity, and by no means sign of a dirty, mean contest. Penallta won the Plate after their disappointment last season, Ystalyfera won the respect of everyone for a brave and gutsy performance.
Ystalyfera are now the only side ever to not lose a National Final and be runners up. .
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