PONTYPOOL saw off the very tough challenge of Neath in the semi-final of the WRU Championship Cup at Ciner Glass Community Stadium, Ebbw Vale (Eugene Cross Park) on Saturday afternoon and booked a Sunday outing to the Principality Stadium on April 23, writes Ray Ruddick.

Pontypool had narrowly beaten Neath in both league games this season so it was always going to be a very difficult game and Pooler produced a superb performance to defeat the Welsh All Blacks for a third time in this campaign – only the second season in the club’s rich and wonderful history has this been achieved. The other time was in season 1974-75 when Pooler won both club games, home and away, and they were victorious at The Gnoll in the WRU Cup. That season Pooler went on to win the Welsh Club’s Unofficial Championship and Welsh Merit Table, with the likes of the legendary Pontypool Front Row and the great captain and hugely influential player Terry Cobner.

Pontypool kicked off attacking the clubhouse end of the ground on a fine but breezy afternoon. A significant amount of rain had fallen in South Wales in the previous few days so the ground was very heavy and credit and thanks to the ground staff for getting the pitch in such good order. Pooler had the breeze in their favour in the first half and started well but Neath’s defence held firm. In the 13th minute Pooler’s loose head prop Sam Cochrane took a blow to the ribs and was replaced by Wales Under 20 prop Dylan Kelleher-Griffiths. Six minutes later Neath were penalised at a ruck on their 22, 20 metres infield on Pooler’s left and outside half Matthew Jarvis kicked the goal to put his side in the lead (3-0). In the 27th minute Neath were guilty of handling in a ruck in front of their posts so up stepped Matthew Jarvis to slot the relatively easy shot at goal to double Pooler’s advantage (6-0). There was no further scoring in this very keenly contested first 40 minutes with very little to choose between the two sides.

Half time score – Pontypool 6 Neath 0.

At the start of the second half Pooler made a change when Garin Price replaced veteran second row Ashley Sweet, who was celebrating his 34th birthday. In the 44th minute a powerful drive by the Pooler pack took play into Neath’s 22 and the Welsh All Blacks were penalised for collapsing the maul. Pontypool opted for the kick to the right corner and, from the ensuing lineout, Garin Price made an impact almost straight away by scoring the game’s opening try in the corner thanks to another controlled surge to the goal line by his fellow forwards. This score was converted by Matthew Jarvis with a superb kick (13-0).

In the 51st minute Pooler were adjudged to be offside in front of their posts and Neath outside half Steff Williams slotted his relatively easy shot at goal (13-3). Three minutes later Pontypool were penalised at a ruck inside their 22, to the left of the posts and Steff Williams added a further penalty (13-6). Pooler made another change with Mike Herbert taking over from the impressive Callum Davies at open side flanker. In the 62nd minute Darren Hughes came on for Peter Lloyd in the middle of the Pontypool front row. Four minutes later Neath were guilty of a high tackle in front of their uprights and Matthew Jarvis kicked his hat trick of penalties to extend his side’s lead to more than one score (16-6).

In the 75th minute Pontypool were penalised at a lineout on their 10-metre line, 15 metres infield on Neath’s right but the attempt at goal went wide. Two minutes later Pooler were guilty of a high tackle on their 22 in front of their posts and this time Steff Williams made no mistake from the tee (16-9). Wales Under 20 hooker Sam Scarfe, who was covering the back row, then replaced No 8 Ieuan Jones for Pontypool and packed down at flanker with captain Scott Matthews moving over to the No 8 position, and Kyan Best took over from tight head prop Kelvyn Williams.

Going into injury time Neath’s replacement Gareth Lloyd was yellow carded for a high tackle inside Neath’s 22 to the left of the posts and Matthew Jarvis restored Pooler’s 10-point advantage with his fourth successful penalty shot (19-9). In the fourth minute of time added on, Pooler made a couple more changes when Owain Leonard replaced scrum half and man-of-the-match Dai Jones and young Huw Anderson took over from right wing Mathew Powell. In the 86th and final minute Pooler sealed a great victory when, from a lineout near Pooler’s 10-metre line, Mike Herbert broke free, charged fully 40 metres up field and was brought down on Neath’s 22. The ball was recycled and play went left, then right and Sam Scarfe gave the scoring pass to centre Deon Smith who dived over for a try, 15 metres in from the right corner. Matthew Jarvis added a further two points for Pontypool to record a well-earned victory.

Final score – Pontypool 26 Neath 9.

The large crowd witnessed a typical Welsh cup tie, so well done to Neath for battling hard but Pontypool, with a tight defence and forceful in attack, were the better side on the day and fully deserved their success, so many congratulations to all concerned.

The final will be against Ystrad Rhondda (kick-off 3.15pm) and it will be Pontypool’s first game at the Principality Stadium as previous appearances in two finals (beat Swansea 18-6 in 1983 and lost 9-24 to Llanelli in 1991) and a semi-final (beat Swansea 28-10 in 1991) of the WRU Cup were at the old National Stadium.

On the same day both Newbridge (kick-off 1.00pm) and Newport (kick-off 5.35pm) will contest their respective finals so Gwent will have representation in all three finals, so it should be a great day out at the Principality Stadium.

Pontypool return to WRU Admiral National Championship league action next Saturday when they welcome old rivals Glamorgan Wanderers to Pontypool Park, kick-off will be the usual 2.30pm.

Pontypool: Geraint Walsh, Mathew Powell (replaced by Huw Anderson), Deon Smith, Joel Mahoney, Amosa Nove, Matthew Jarvis, Dai Jones (replaced by Owain Leonard), Sam Cochrane (replaced by Dylan Kelleher-Griffiths), Peter Lloyd (replaced by Darren Hughes), Kelvyn Williams (replaced by Kyan Best), Adam Brown, Ashley Sweet (replaced by Garin Price), Scott Matthews (captain), Callum Davies (replaced by Mike Herbert) and Ieuan Jones (replaced by Sam Scarfe).

Pontypool scorers: Tries by Garin Price and Deon Smith. Conversions by Matthew Jarvis (2). Penalties by Matthew Jarvis (4).

Neath: Jon Bayliss (replaced by Rhys Harris), James Roberts, Sean Wilcox, Aaron Bramwell, Aled Brew, Steff Williams, Luc Jones (replaced by Macauley Griffiths), Jack Powell (replaced by Gareth Lloyd, then by Morgan Thomas), Josh Clark (replaced by Evan Kneath), Tim Ryan, Matthew Davies (replaced by Ioan Jones), Jon Barley, Jacob Blackmore (replaced by Morgan Kneath), Owain Morgan (captain, replaced by Dyfan Ceredig) and David Griggs.

Neath scorer: Penalties by Steff Williams (3).

Referee: Mr John Darcy (Cardiff).