CROSS Keys head coach Greg Woods believes his side can still qualify for the last eight of the British and Irish Cup but knows they will only do so by taking maximum points in their two remaining clashes.
The Gwent team face Ealing at home before taking on Moseley away, both showdowns next month, as they look to get through to the quarter-finals by finishing as one of two best group runners-up.
Reigning cup champions Leinster A can’t be caught now in pool one after their bonus point victory at Pandy Park followed up their five-pointer at Donnybrook last week, that game ending in a 31-0 triumph for the Dublin-based team.
Keys, bolstered by several Newport Gwent Dragons players, were far more competitive against the full-time professionals this time, the visitors’ young development side a well-drilled and powerful outfit.
The Irish province only led 12-11 at the interval as Woods’ men put up a tremendous fight in the first half before the heavy rain of the second half suited the powerful forwards of the opposition, the hosts also running out of steam.
But they can still hold their heads up high after a spirited display at Pandy Park.
Woods was certainly proud of his troops: “They were really strong and I thought their driving lineout was superb and they had us under the pump for a lot of the game but we played well in patches. It was the try they scored just after half-time that really killed us.
“I’m pleased with the way we’ve performed over the last two weeks against a very powerful side – we have been very competitive and we’ve shown the Premiership in a good light.”
Woods added: “And we aren’t out of this tournament yet but we do need to get the maximum ten points from our next two games.
“I thought players like James Cordy-Redden, Leon Andrews, Scott Matthews, Ieuan Jones and Jevon Groves carried well and we stuck at it and never gave up.”
On a foul day in the Gwent valleys, played in driving rain, howling wind and the bitter cold, Leinster A started strongly and put Keys under enormous pressure early on, scrum-half Luke McGrath crossing for an unconverted try in the seventh minute after they’d turned down the opportunity of slotting over two kickable penalties.
Keys though fought hard to get back in the game but it was visiting captain Dominic Ryan who crashed over in the 24th minute for their second try as his side showed how clinical they could be when given the opportunity after repulsing the hosts’ efforts to get on the scoreboard, fly-half Cathal Marsh’s conversion giving them a 12-0 lead.
But tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong’s yellow card minutes later proved very costly as the hosts’ No 10 Dorian Jones made them pay by kicking two penalties.
By a quirk, Keys’ half backs this weekend are the sons of two former Wales international flankers and both senior members of the current Dragons coaching set up, Dorian the son of the region’s forwards coach Kingsley Jones while director of rugby Lyn Jones is the father of scrum-half Luc Jones.
Both proud dads were there to see their boys in action.
After their quick six points, the home side capitalised again when wing Lewis Hudd crossed in the corner for a well-worked unconverted try, Keys taking advantage of Leinster A’s 14 men to bring the score back to 12-11.
There were hopes of an upset but the Irish side got off to a dream start after the interval when replacement back Adam Byrne finished off in style with an unconverted try in the corner following some sloppy defending.
The visitors took complete control of the game thereafter, a remarkable monster penalty by Marsh stretched his team’s lead to 20-11, another well-struck effort by the fly-half in appalling conditions then taking them well clear.
Italy international Kris Burton, who replaced Dorian Jones, got the home side back in it with one of his own as conditions deteriorated badly.
But Leinster A scored an almost inevitable bonus point try in the 55th minute when number eight Leo Auva'a powered over from a driving lineout as their powerful pack continued to dominate proceedings, another superb kick by Marsh, from the touchline, adding the extras and taking his side into a 30-14 lead.
Keys never gave up and threatened to claim a late consolation score but it was Girvan Dempsey’s men who controlled the final quarter as they marched into the last eight.
Cross Keys: J Cordy-Redden, L Hudd (E Jones 62), L Andrews (capt), A James, A Hewitt, D Jones (K Burton 46), L Jones (K Baller 55), A Coundley (N Williams 46), G Price (E Dee 46), C Gould (A Lott 46), S Andrews (T Lampard 46), A Jones, J Groves, S Matthews, I Jones.
Cross Keys scorers: Tries – Lewis Hudd (36), Penalties – Dorian Jones (27) (30), Kris Burton (52).
Leinster A: D Hudson, A Boyle (A Byrne 35), C O'Shea (D Fanning 17), J Coghlan, S Coghlan-Murray, C Marsh, L McGrath (Adam Griggs 72), J O'Connell, J Tracy, T Furlong (B McGovern 77), Q Roux (R Molony 68), B Marshall, J Conan (B Byrne 30), D Ryan (capt), L Auva'a.
Replacement: Josh van der Flier
Leinster A scorers: Tries – Luke McGrath (7), Dominic Ryan (24), Adam Byrne (43), Leo Auva'a (55), Conversions – Cathal Marsh (24) (55), Penalties – Marsh (45) (50).
Referee: Simon Harding (RFU)
Argus star man: Dominic Ryan