PONTYPOOL needed extra time to beat Bridgend Ravens 21-11 in a thrilling National Cup quarter-final on Saturday, played in front of an estimated crowd of nearly 2,000, writes Ian Golden.

The match was a potential dress rehearsal for a promotion-relegation play-off at the end of the season.

The unbeaten Pontypool are heading for the title for the third successive season so are certain to be in that clash.

Just one of Bridgend, Bedwas, Llanelli or Cross Keys will stay up in the Premiership, with one of the others having to face Pooler in May.

Bridgend took just 90 seconds to get on the scoreboard after Jamie Murphy kicked over a long-range penalty goal.

Pontypool levelled on 19 minutes after Matthew Jones booted one from a similar distance.

Possession was fairly even for the first quarter of the game with neither side being able to build on the metres they created.

Poolers’ big advantage came on 23 minutes. Their hooker Darren Hughes was elbowed by Bridgend prop Cai Lewis, who received his marching orders. Bridgend’s Murphy and Pontypool’s Danny Hodge were each given a yellow card for their part in the brawl that followed, making it 14 v 13 for ten minutes.

However Pontypool couldn’t take advantage of the open space, neither could Bridgend regain the lead, despite being given a kickable penalty four minutes before the break. Ryan Evans sliced that one wide, just before regular kicker Murphy returned to the field. It remained 3-3 at the break.

But it didn’t take long for Pooler to get the first try of the game. Less than four minutes into the second half and Rob Nash dived over in the corner from a rolling maul. Jones’ conversion attempt was just wide.

Bridgend tried to fight back and spent a number of minutes in the Pooler half, but despite five pairs of fresh legs compared to Pontypool’s lone replacement, and winning a penalty on the Pooler 22, they couldn’t break the home side. Hodge making a try saving turnover from a scrum five.

Then with 10 minutes to go, Pooler made them pay. Jones kicked a sneaky drop-goal to crucially extended his side’s advantage to eight points.

Bridgend hit back straight away. Replacement Aaron Grabham dived over in the corner and following a lengthy injury delay, Murphy missed the tricky conversion attempt.

But the German international made no mistake from his next goal attempt, this one a 30-metre penalty in the 80th minute to take the game into extra time.

Pontypool regained the lead via a Keiran Meek penalty on 83 minutes and they soon increased that advantage as Meek ran through a gap in the Ravens line to ground and then convert.

Bridgend were now struggling. Being a man down was starting to show, and they had to patch up replacement prop Garyn Daniel, who limped through most of extra time with an injured knee.

The home side were 21-11 up at the extra time break and that was enough. Bridgend were making errors and couldn’t advance up the field, whilst Pontypool were happy to keep possession and qualify for the semi-finals.

It’s been 368 days since Pontypool last lost a match, that being a 21-6 loss at Merthyr in last year’s Cup, and this record is going to extend further as the National Cup semi-finals await.

Pontypool : G Walsh; L Lewis, J Mahoney (C Gullis 92), K Meek, J Thomas; M Jones (M Luckwell 72) , A Quick (M Lewis 72); A Coundley (J Jeune 50), D Hughes (A Watkins 95), O Drake (C Price 92); D Hodge, C Gregory, S Matthews, R Nash (M Herbert 74), B Sparks (B Lampitt 3, B Sparks 7). Tries: R Nash, K Meek. Conversions: K Meek. Penalties: M Jones, K Meek. Drop Goals: M Jones.

Bridgend Ravens: R Evans (A Grabham 61); C Woolerton, M Jones (S Ellis 38), N Edwards, M Powell (J Little 91); J Murphy, C Williams; O Jordan (O Evans 57), G Harvey (I Merriman 91), C Lewis; J Pope (C Tantum 91), B Jones, J Collier, A Evans (G Daniel 26), D Davies (T Morgan 57).

Tries: A Grabham. Penalties: J Murphy (2).

Man of the Match: Keiron Meek (Pontypool)