All roads led to Parc de Pugh on Saturday where Brecon faced a stern test as they played host to high flying Newbridge.
Brecon RFC 43 - Newbridge RFC 15
Report by Ron Rowsell
Newbridge were newly-crowned as Division 1 Cup winners after their victory over Nant Conwy last Sunday at the Principality Stadium.
They had a 100 per cent win and bonus point record in the League accumulating 90 points from their 18 games, having scored 802 points with just 176 having been scored against them.
In the five matches Brecon have played against them in Division 1, Brecon have drawn one and lost four, with the last defeat taking place on January 7 when they lost by 36 points to 5.
Mounting a challenge was probably the most that the Brecon faithful were hoping for, but for Dale McIntosh and his coaching team, there was a genuine belief that their charges could pull off a notable victory. Their belief in their team proved to be entirely accurate and justified, although the 43 points to 15 victory, perhaps exceed even their expectations.
Brecon’s performance was certainly their best of the season so far. Every player made a significant contribution to the victory and it was certainly hard to select a Man of the Match when so many candidates played so well. It could have been argued that the Man of the Match award could have gone to the whole team but in the end a decision was made and it went right wing Ben Griffin.
Although Ben was not one of the five backs to score, his pace, elusive running and his ability to link with supporting players contributed enormously to the overall success of the team. His partners in the back three also had matches to remember. Jake Crockett, at full back, was always dangerous with ball in hand and safe in defence. His break and slick link with Owen Morgan set up Brecon’s second try and his run from deep to set up Brecon’s fifth was truly outstanding. Owen Morgan looked for work and his aggressive running posed problems for the Newbridge defence. His try in the right hand corner off his left wing position emphasised just how well he read the play and how hard he worked to be on the receiving end of Crockett’s link pass. Joseph Williams produced an impressive cameo off the bench with a try that he created by first showing strength to rip free the ball in a tackle, and then the power to hand off the cover as he ran in for his try.
A high standard was set by the whole team but if there was an area where a unit perhaps was the most effective then it was probably the midfield trio of outside half Dion Mcintosh, centres Tom Davies and Tom Richards together with replacement Ollie Lewis. McIntosh kicked four penalties and three conversions for a total of 18 points. While his kicking was immaculate it was his general play that really impressed. His distribution skills were superb, varying the point of attack with a range of passes and mixing that up with incisive running of his own. Tom Davies, Tom Richards and Ollie Lewis benefitted and made the most of the space they were given.
Tom Richards at outside centre had a great game. He showed how dangerous he was when he scored Brecon’s first try. Off a line-out on the Newbridge 22 McIntosh feigned to feed Tom Davies who was cutting inside and fed Richards who stepped inside his man to score. Davies also collected a try of his own which was reward for the quality of his defensive play and offensive distribution. He was the recipient of an inside pass from wing Ben Griffin after Crockett’s wonderful 40-metre run, which started with an ingenious kick pass by Geraint Workman just outside the Brecon 22, and was continued courtesy of a magnificent pick up off his toes by Ollie Lewis.
While, scrum half, Workman’s clever kick to clear up untidy ball started the final try, he was also a try scorer himself when he finished off, probably Brecon’s best effort. That move started unpromisingly from a drop out on Brecon’s try line after Newbridge had been held up over the line. Gathering the kick out just inside the Brecon half Newbridge attacked but the move was halted on the 22 with a powerful Andy Nicholl tackle. Number 8 Logan McIntosh was onto the ball in a flash and effected a brilliant turn over. Forwards Matthew Williams, and Ioan Edwards continued the move and put Tom Richards in possession. A lovely step off his left foot allowed him to cut through the Newbridge defence at pace. Approaching the visitors 22 he fed supporting Crockett on the inside. He in turn fed Workman with one man left to beat. He turned him outside before turning back inside and scoring under the posts.
That move included all three back row players who, together with substitute Chris Davies, formed an outstanding breakaway trio that complemented one another. McIntosh was a destructive force in defence and ran aggressively in attack. In combination with Edwards, Williams and Davies they were competitive at the breakdown against far bigger opponents. Edwards and Williams were two of Brecon’s main line-out targets and their work rate around the field was truly outstanding. As the game entered the final quarter, Chris Davies entered the fray and made a significant contribution. All four showed great touches with ball in hand and never died with the ball.
While not making the scoresheet, the work of the front five unit, including props, Andy Nicholl, Richie Davies, Iwan Dowling Jones, hookers, Aneurin James and Dewi Edwards and second rows Alwyn Lee and Will Prosser cannot be understated. They had a titanic battle with the much-vaunted Newbridge front five but never took a backward step. They held the massive Newbridge scrum, won good line-out ball, made their presence felt at the breakdown and carried and tackled with great energy and effectiveness. The win was sealed by the pace and skill of the backs but it was surely based on the foundations of possession secured, and lines defended, by the grafting forwards.
The pattern of the game itself was interesting. Brecon dominated the first 15 minutes which was played almost exclusively in the Newbridge half. They looked inventive and sharp but the Newbridge defence held and Brecon’s first, and important score came after 17 minutes when McIntosh slotted his first penalty. Newbridge finally got into Brecon’s half after 20 minutes of play but Brecon held firm and a great Richie Davies turn over led to a penalty some 45 metres out from the posts. McIntosh brilliantly slotted the ball between the uprights.
Almost immediately Brecon extended the lead with their first converted try. From a line-out deep in their own half they set up a great driving maul which took play from the Brecon 22 to just short of halfway. From there Dion McIntosh kicked a lovely 50-22 to win an attacking line-out. From good possession Tom Richards scored a try which was converted.
After 26 minutes Brecon were 13 nil up but Newbridge hit back with a try of their own. They won a penalty on Brecon’s 22 and their scrum half took a quick tap. He was impeded and the referee awarded a penalty and issued a yellow card. Newbridge opted for a scrum and stretched Brecon, now one short in the backs, to allow a score in the corner.
Almost immediately Brecon restored and increased their lead. Two great Iwan Dowling Jones charges created a position and Logan McIntosh drove the defensive line further back before Workman’s pass allowed Crockett and Morgan combine for a try which McIntosh converted from the touchline.
With just minutes to go before half-time Brecon suffered a setback. A penalty gave Newbridge an attacking line-out. For the only time in the game the breached the Brecon midfield defence and then, after a period of sustained pressure, they scored in the corner.
Brecon restarted the second half with a 10-point advantage and fully restored to 15 men. Newbridge cut that lead to five points after they took advantage of a penalty and set up a five metre line-out. They set their maul and for the only time in the game Brecon failed to stop the power of their drive. Their score brought them to within five points and there was a concern that they may now be working their way back into the game. That anxiety was eased slightly as Mcintosh kicked his third penalty.
Then Brecon produced the score of the afternoon when Workman touched down under the posts. McIntosh’s conversion took Brecon 15 points clear and then another penalty, on the 52nd minute, increased the lead to 18 points. With 28 minutes to play Newbridge had time to hit back but their attacks floundered on a rock solid defence. A great Ben Griffin run and then excellent work involving Logan McIntosh, Edwards and Griffin again almost brought a score. It didn’t come then but within minutes substitute Joseph Williams claimed his try. With a deficit of 23 points Newbridge now looked a tired and dejected team. There was still time for Brecon to hammer the nail into the coffin with their fifth try created by Jake Crockett and scored by Tom Davies.
Now after the euphoria of this remarkable win Brecon have to focus on doing the job of securing promotion and ending the season in second place behind Newbridge. They have a task in that they may have to play six games in three weeks but now they know that three wins will guarantee promotion and four bonus point wins will guarantee second place. The first step will be again at Parc de Pugh on Saturday, May 6 against ninth-placed Dowlais.