Llantwit Major RFC got back to winning ways on Saturday as they eventually overcame a stubborn and resilient Caerau Ely side in the league to record a 20-34 win.
The fixture was played in beautiful sunshine at the splendid Trelai Park in Cardiff, which is more locally known as the Ely Racecourse as it was once a venue for horse racing until its demise in the 1930s.
As the teams took to the pitch though racing pundits could only have described the going as heavy as several days of rainfall had taken its toll; the game being only one of three in the league not postponed due to waterlogged pitches.
It was some surprise then and credit to the players of both sides that the game managed eight tries especially as only five points were awarded in the first half.
The conditions naturally had a huge affect on play as both packs rumbled back and for as their half backs attempted to gain territory with tactical kicking.
The home side gaining the upper hand in these early exchanges as their outside half showed why he has played at championship level with neighbours Glamorgan Wanderers with some huge touch-finding kicks.
In doing so he was able to time and time again to nurse his pack towards the Llantwit line and eventually despite some good defending, the much bigger Caerau pack drove over to record the first score of the game.
The game continued in the same vain until the break as any plays Llantwit could muster would be quickly downed in the increasingly muddy surface and quickly peppered back by the big boot of the Caerau number 10.
The only further incident of note seeing the hot-headed Llantwit outside-half Josh Austin traipsing off to cool down for 10 minutes for a lack of discipline.
An area however it must be said has seen a significant improvement by the team since their new year’s resolution, hopefully this just being a relapse.
The break required a change at scrum half for Llantwit with Iestyn Jones having to replace Ryan Evans who was unable to continue with a knee injury.
The second period then saw a much different Llantwit who decided they had had enough of this mud wrestling rugby and set about attempting to tire out the big Caerau pack by playing short and quick passes for their their back row of Jamie Lewis, Donovan Stoppel and Gareth Watts to make hard yards with across the gain line.
The tactic quickly rewarded with a penalty, kicked by Dan Powell. With the Llantonians now back to 15 players they began turning the screw on their opponents and upping the pace and number of their runs.
The moves finally to the delight of their coaches coming off quick ball with players running onto passes instead of receiving them statically to make valuable gains in territory.
The tactic came to fruition as dominant play in the Caerau 22 resulted in staunch lock Shaun Shea on seeing a mismatch in defence put his arms to good use in taking a quick penalty and releasing centre Wise Vakacegu to dive over, the try converted by Powell.
Llantwit were now taking charge of the game and took advantage of a strong bench to make more changes and now knowing exactly how to get the ball away from the Caerau pack they stuck to the same tactics and with their fitness beginning to show more and more gaps opened up.
Both lock Tom Winter and number eight Jamie Lewis went on big exciting runs from their own half, Lewis’ being more adept to the final furlongs of the Grand National as he kept galloping away, leaving defenders trailing, falling as his legs gave way in the mud before getting back up again to charge forward before just falling short of the try line. The try eventually came with Jack Austin crossing, converted by Powell.
Caerau it may seem had folded but this was far from the truth as they resolutely defended and still caused Llantwit problems across the park, grabbing a try and a penalty of their own.
Llantwit, though, after a good tongue lashing from captain Huw Williams soon got back into the right field positions and a well-worked driving lineout allowed Iestyn Jones to break away before slipping a pass inside to Jamie Lewis to finally get across the whitewash.
The Caerau defence was now being fully exposed and several breaks eventually allowed Luke Dawes to show his speed racing along the old racecourse like a thoroughbred before diving in at the corner.
This was quickly followed by Jack Austin going over again after excellent handling by the three quarters in such bad conditions, again converted by Powell.
Caerau were not finished though and had the final say grabbing a late consolation try and a just reward for their efforts in a highly entertaining encounter.
Man of the match was Iestyn Jones who despite still being in the youth team showed maturity and confidence above his years in taking over in the unaccustomed number nine jersey. Once settled into the game, he continued to shine with good skills in quick accurate passing and some solid kicking out of hand.
Further mention going to Tom Winter who had a solid display in the lineout and grandad Tony Burrows who once again put his retirement plans on hold to prop up the scrum.
There is no game this weekend as the second round of Six Nations take place. All the games are being shown at the rugby club and some great special drinks promotions are on offer; members and non-members are warmly invited to attend.
The next game will be on Saturday, February 17, as we welcome the runaway league leaders Cefn Coed RFC to the Recreation Ground kick-off 2.30pm.