WRU East 1
THE pitch at Monmouth Sports Ground is known for its ability to drain quickly and well but the downpour two hours before Saturday’s kick-off ensured that the surface was extremely greasy, reports PETE WALTERS.
Combined with the accompanying strong cross-winds of Storm Eunice, the conditions combined to make for an error-strewn encounter.
Winless Blaenavon, however, had come armed with many apparent ‘guest’ players to ensure their superiority on the day.
And it resulted in a bonus point four-try win for the basement boys, while the hosts - made up exclusively of local players - had to make do with one consolation try.
From the off there was some hint of promise for the hosts as No 8 Tom Hawkins received the kick-off and made a good first carry.
Scrum-half Dan White equally made a good long break downfield before Blaenavon had really got up to speed, but he ignored a player clear on his right resulting in the move being snuffed out.
Hawkins then needed replacing to have a bleeding mouth attended to, with the visitors taking advantage and driving over in the top right hand corner for their first try after 15 minutes, completed by a superb conversion on the wind.
The home pack which had been struggling to hold their own were then granted a reprieve when the visitors substituted their loose-head prop.
And Monmouth after a strong scrum were awarded a penalty which wing Matt Tabb comfortably converted on the half-hour despite the wind.
The visitors, though, were the more threatening with their rampaging style.
And despite heroic defence by the local youngsters and a good break by Tabb which ended with him slipping as he changed direction, a Monmouth flanker was sin-binned for collapsing a driving maul in defence.
The visitors soon capitalised on this forward mis-match, scoring again to take the half-time score to 14-3.
In a game where Monmouth came a distinct second best in the overall penalty count, they suffered again when with their winger broke clear to score in the left hand corner, only for the move to be halted by the referee because an injured player was at risk of impeding play or further harm to himself.
The fact that play had already passed this area seemed harsh indeed.
Play was recalled to a mid-field penalty and Monmouth’s choice to forego a kick at goal or even to the corner brought them no reward and suddenly some key visiting players seemed fired into action and the pressure switched to Monmouth’s 22.
In a good attacking move, the ball flew left across the field with the home team saved only by a fortuitous forward pass.
But Monmouth were now under the cosh and even more so when prop Dean Bartlett was yellow-carded for a ‘deliberate’ knock-on.
A recovery of some 30 metres was wasted as another penalty was driven into the corner resulting eventually in a ruck which required just a simple pick up and drop over the line to increase the score to 19-3.
Twice Monmouth kicked up-field to relieve pressure but the counter-attacks were strong and deep resulting in some quite stirring passages of play.
One of the better Blaenavon centres when chasing up a kick was sin-binned for an unintentional high tackle, though, which seemed to stir Monmouth.
They now were able to put some three-quarter moves together and despite the visitors managing to turn the ball over near their line after one such move, in the closing stages Monmouth moved the ball first right and then left for centre Jordan Howells to find a gap to storm through for an easily kickable conversion.
It proved little consolation though, as with a dry pitch the game would have seen much more open and error free rugby and, who knows, given Blaenavon’s previous form, maybe a different result.
But the visitors prevailed 24-10, with Callum Rowlands scoring nine points as they moved off the bottom of the table to within a point of their hosts in 10th.
With Six Nations games again interrupting, hopefully, the next scheduled game for Monmouth is away at Brynmawr with an early kick-off next Saturday (26th), while Blaenavon host Brynmawr a week later.