Following their disappointing cup defeat at Bedwas, Brecon faced another severe challenge at the home of this season’s unbeaten league leaders Narberth.
During the week between the fixtures there had been time for coaches Dale McIntosh, Gavin Dacey and Owen Sheppeard to reflect on what had been an unsatisfactory performance the previous week.
If their charges were to have any chance of restoring pride then some straight talking was needed and the intensity and focus in training had to be restored.
The feedback from those sessions had been positive and in spite of the severity of the challenge ahead, there was renewed belief as the squad made their long journey along the A40.
NARBERTH 19 - BRECON 15
WRU CHAMPIONSHIP WEST
The atmosphere at the clubhouse and around the ground was full of anticipation as a very large, excited crowd looked forward to this top of the table clash.
It would have been easy for Brecon to have been intimidated but instead the team responded with a show of positive energy. Playing with the slope and with a breeze at their backs, they certainly started the better of the two sides, deservedly taking an early lead and ending the half leading by 15 points to 6. There was genuine belief that they could cause an upset. They looked the more threatening of the two sides and frustrated the Narberth coaching team as they won quick ball at the breakdown and slowed the home side’s presentation. In this phase the back row of Osian Davies, Kristian Dacey and Logan McIntosh were prominent. Brecon also won the battle at the line-out where Alwyn Lee, Geraint Powell, Osian Davies and replacement Ioan Edwards won clean ball on their throw and regularly disrupted their opponent’s line-out.
The second half was always going to be more difficult as Narberth benefitted from the slope and breeze and yet for the greater part of the half Brecon looked the more creative team. The fact that they lost their lead, and eventually the game by 19 points to 15, was down to a combination of factors. Front row forwards Andy Nicholl, Aneurin James, Owain James, Sam May and Richie Davies held their own apart from the middle period of the second half. The introduction of player coach Ricky Guest brought power and experience to the Narberth front row and they took control at this phase for a period, putting Brecon on the backfoot and winning penalties. With those penalties came points, as Narberth benefitted from the accuracy of outside half Jonathan Rogers’ boot. He kicked a total of 14 points with a conversion and three penalties. The final reason for the reverse was linked to the failure of Brecon to add to their first half total particularly during the opening and closing 10 minutes when they threatened, came incredibly close, thought they had scored, but finally ended the half without adding to their total.
Everything seemed so hopeful with the way Brecon started. They looked sharp, handled well, frustrated their opponents at the breakdown and caused problems for the Narberth line-out. It was from a line-out that the first score came. After some good build up play and an excellent Andy Nicholl drive, Dion McIntosh put his team in a great position with a superb 50/22 kick. The line-out was won cleanly and a maul set. Narberth held at first but Brecon were patient, rolled to the right and captain Alwyn Lee scored with Dion McIntosh adding the conversion. Narberth responded but Brecon broke out of defence thanks to a great Ollie Lewis break and some accurate Geraint Workman box kicking allied to a good chase. After a long injury break Narberth opened their account with a long Rogers penalty kick after Brecon were penalised on their 10 metre line.
Brecon hit back with a penalty of their own after, first Sam Jones threatened on the right wing, then Ollie Lewis made a break to the home 22 where Narberth were penalised at the breakdown. McIntosh converted to restore Brecon’s seven-point lead. Almost immediately Narberth claimed their second score when Rogers hit his second successful penalty when Brecon were penalised for early engagement at a 10-metre line-out.
With the half entering the last ten minutes Brecon struck again. This time it was the backs who created and scored. Not for the only time in the game Tomos Davies showed great hands in midfield as the ball was moved across the back line. Full back Jake Newman entered the line and put in a lovely grubber kick behind the defence. The Narberth cover couldn’t deal with it and as the ball sprung loose Tom Richards, who had a great game with his pace and evasive running, pounced and scored. Narberth were desperate to hit back before half time, but Brecon held their lead to the whistle.
The first 10 minutes of the second half belonged to Brecon. Tom Richards came close with a run and chip but the score just evaded him. However, a promising position was set up with a Brecon scrum on five metres. From this great position everything went wrong for the visitors. Off the scrum Ollie Lewis took a straight line but the play was well read and he was hammered backwards and robbed of the ball. Narberth cleared as far as halfway. Jake Newman gathered and chipped ahead. The chase was good but Brecon failed to make the tackle. Narberth put in a huge kick downfield. Brecon’s clearance was poor, landing infield and still in the Brecon half. The Narberth full back had time and space and Brecon fell off the first tackle. Once behind the defence he was clinical, showing pace and then throwing a scoring pass inside. The conversion was a formality.
Narberth’s two-point deficit soon became a one point advantage as a Brecon forward foolishly man handled an opponent on the 10-metre line. Rogers gratefully accepted the chance and put his team in the lead for the first time. They soon extended that to four points when he converted from a scrum penalty. With 10 minutes remaining Breon gave their all in looking for a winner. They came close. Twice Sam Jones was brought down just short and replacement Dafydd Edwards also got close before Brecon earned a line-out deep in the home 22 with minutes to play. They won the throw cleanly, set the maul and drove. As the maul collapsed over the line they appeared to have scored. The referee took an age to make a decision. Finally, he broke Brecon’s hearts as he awarded a drop out on the goal line. Brecon won a final chance as McIntosh kicked a penalty into touch near the home line. The ball was deemed to be not straight. Narberth had the final scrum, won a penalty, kicked to touch and won what had been a high quality, exciting game of rugby.
At home Brecon’s disappointment was somewhat tempered with the news that the Athletic had claimed a prized scalp in defeating high flying Beddau 18 points to 13 and that the Youth returned home from Llantwit Fadre with a 48 points to 19 victory.