Brecon on brink of Championship after edging first leg of play-off
WRU NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISION 1 PLAY OFF
BRECON RFC hold a slight advantage going into this weekend’s play-off second leg following a home victory in the battle for a place in Welsh rugby’s national championship.
Former giants Neath, the once fearsome Welsh All Blacks beset by financial woes, have already been relegated to the Championship from the Premiership. This season’s undefeated Championship winners Pontypool will, on Friday night, play-off against Llanelli, to determine whether they are promoted to claim the last remaining place in the reduced top tier or if Llanelli following a dismal season drop down.
However for Division One East winners Brecon to join the Championship they must defeat the winners of the parallel Division One Central, Glamorgan Wanderers, who were relegated from the Championship in 2013 and had been a Premiership side until 2011.
While Brecon, who have already won the WRU Plate competition, are aiming for new heights for the Wanderers the play-off represents the opportunity to climb back towards the higher reaches of the game in Wales having been founder members of the old Welsh Premiership in 1990 and before leagues regular opponents of Merit Table clubs.
But Brecon’s team of youthful and mainly local players couldn’t afford to be intimidated by the reputation and size of their opponents on a beautiful spring afternoon in front of one of the largest crowds seen at Parc De Pugh in many years.
The home side played with pace and intensity and put the visitors under pressure but it was the Wanderers who opened the scoring.
Outside half Luke Fish made one of his few handling errors of the day as a pass fell aimlessly behind his back line near the home ten metre line. The bouncing ball caused confusion in the Brecon defence and left wing Cameron Gibbon made the most of his opportunity.
He showed pace on the outside and then put in a neat chip which he re-gathered and crossed the line for the opening score. Fish, who struck the ball beautifully all afternoon, converted.
Brecon were hampered by their inability to capitalise on good positions as a result of their failure to secure line possession in threatening areas of the field.
Still behind with quarter of the match completed Brecon needed something to show for their efforts and it finally came through a lovely piece of interplay. Brecon won ball at a line out on their opponents 22 and initially drove. As the drive was halted captain and number eight Ewan Williams broke off. He was tackled but the ball was recycled quickly and centre Sam Campbell drove hard over the gain line and sucked in defenders. Again the ball was re-cycled quickly and this time outside half Dean Gunter worked a neat switch with centre Eifion Jones who not only hit the line at pace and on a lovely angle but showed strength to make the line for a try which Gunter converted.
Brecon wing Ryan Price pulled off a great covering tap tackle to prevent Gibbon from adding a second. The game ebbed and flowed with neither side gaining ascendancy. Finally Wanderers regained the lead after Brecon gave away a penalty just outside the 22. The kick was easy for Fish, whose brother the Cardiff Blues full back Dan attended as part of the coaching team. Gunter added a penalty of his own when the Wanderers were caught offside at the kick off.
But Fish converted his second penalty to put the Wanderers ahead by three on the stroke of half-time before adding his third almost as soon as play re-started.
A monster kick from Gunter, wide out and almost at the half way line, pulled the deficit back to three points and his trusty boot soon had them level.
Within minutes of the score the Wanderers were reduced to 14 men as back row Max Wooton was shown a yellow card but despite their depleted numbers the Wanderers thwarted Brecon at a scrum, awarded when Jon James couldn’t ground the ball after crossing the line.
The chance seemed to have gone particularly as Glamorgan Wanderers moved dangerously deep into Brecon territory.
Suddenly Brecon turned defence into attack. Lock Darren Witcomb pulled off a great turn-over in his 22. Bravely the ball was moved wide and full back Jake Crockett found some space. He broke between two defenders and crossed half way.
With cover coming across he chipped ahead and when last defender failed to gather the bouncing ball he pounced for a magnificent length of the field try and Brecon led for the first time in the game.
With just ten minutes to go Brecon grew in confidence and took the game to their opponents. From a scrum on the Wanderers 22 wing Lewys Cooke gathered a loose ball and good hands from Brecon fed Crockett who claimed his second try. Gunter converted to give Brecon a 12 point advantage with minutes remaining.
As the game entered time added on for injury so Wanderers emphatically pulled themselves back into the tie.
After being awarded a penalty close to the Brecon line the visitors opted for a scrum and after numerous phases Fish made the most of his bulk and charged over for a try which the outside half converted.
The final whistle left the tie finely balanced. Brecon have the advantage of the win and a five point lead but with the next match in Cardiff at the Wanderers Memorial Ground in Ely on Saturday, May 18 it is still all to play for.