After the mid season break for Internationals, supporters of the above teams turned out in good numbers last Saturday at the Sportsground to watch some live Division East 1 rugby, writes Peter Walters.
It may have been one of the mildest days yet this winter but the strong gusting cross-field wind limited the ability of kickers to direct kicks predictably most of the time.
Tactical high kicks upfield for territory by Monmouth rarely made the distance hoped for with minimal errors by those catching them, so much so that fly half and ace kicker Johnson ran the ball more than usual and often to good effect. A thought for the future perhaps? His size and power helping him make good inroads into opposition territory might be more constructive at times than speculative high kicks up into the air.
But one should not take away his ability in normal weather for making long clearing kicks out of hand.
Penallta generated nearly all the pressure in the early stages with the home team defending well, so much so, that it was 15 minutes before Monmouth made any significant advance to the visitors’ 22.
Both sides gave away many penalties largely for offside but with the apparently younger visiting players appearing to be the more tetchy. Johnson unusually missed a kick at goal but scrum half
Ryan continued to make good ground with sniping runs and more memorably a good kick and chase.
The visitors responded and upon winning a penalty for offside 15 metres out elected for a scrum before firing it along their line only to see the ball intercepted by an offside player. Both sides were tackling firmly which did not make for good tempers and following one fracas, a player from both sides was sent to the bin to cool off.
Play then became frenetic with Penallta the one gaining most ground until a promising move by them was stopped short by a stunning tackle by Johnson. Monmouth in return piled on the pressure and despite seeing a quick penalty opportunity go astray near the line, kept up their bombardment of the line to see centre Dunmore break clean through for a try which was easily converted by Johnson almost on half-time.
Penallta saw the benefit of levelling the scores by the break though and poor high tackling attempts on their largest player let them in for an unconverted try just minutes later for a half time 7-5 score.
Monmouth set off after the break the more incisively and within 5 minutes of the re-start centre Jeffs made a great break which his fellow centre Dunmore turned into a try, the conversion of which Johnson sadly missed.
12-5 with 35 minutes to defend brought another opportunity when following a failure to release in the tackle, Johnson (and the wind) put the penalty long and high but wide.
Scrum half Ryan went down injured, and the referee when the injury was drawn to his attention was reported to have said “Oh. Injured his tongue has he?” But the injury was more significant than that and he was soon substituted.
Whether it was his personal contribution that was missing or even being in the ear of the match official, or maybe a long kick ahead going dead, but Penallta’s spirits around then resurged, to coincide with Monmouth seeming to go off the boil at the same time. Equally, a dominant scrum push by the home pack was penalised for not pushing straight, resulting in Penallta working their way back into Monmouth territory.
Monmouth now began running the ball from deep defence instead of clearing their line. When a visiting forward was sent off for stamping, Penallta rallied even more and four minutes before normal time drove over after a series of rucks. The difficult kick from far out, although with what wind there now was, levelled the scores and Monmouth were made to survive the closing minutes whilst still trying to batter their way from near their line when at times a deep relieving kick might have been the better option.
They did survive though, having missed the victory they so badly need and will now face Risca away on 4 March, assuming , of course, the England game next Saturday is not cancelled due to Professional player strikes when rearranged games or friendliest might perhaps be a possibility?