THERE will be a rematch of the 2012 Swalec Cup final after Cross Keys and Pontypridd overcame Llandovery and Aberavon respectively to set up a mouth-watering showdown at the Millennium Stadium next month.
While the reigning champions battered Aberavon 32-3 at Bridgend’s Brewery Field, Keys and the Drovers played out an absolute classic at Neath’s the Gnoll.
A strong candidate for game of the season, Keys’ head coach Greg Woods hailed it as an “outstanding advert” for top flight club rugby in Wales.
He wasn’t wrong for this was a thrilling match that went right to the wire and there wouldn’t have been too many complaints from Keys had it been the West Walians who had taken the spoils, both sides emerging from this absorbing contest with the utmost respect.
That will be of little comfort to adventurous Llandovery and their exciting brand of rugby but it was the more powerful, pragmatic and structured men of Gwent who sneaked it, despite the West Walians having the bit between their teeth in the closing stages.
Keys got off to an almost dream start when their promising young wing James Cordy-Redden crossed for an unconverted try after just two minutes.
They dominated the opening quarter and fly-half Dorian Jones extended their lead to 8-0 after 14 minutes with his first penalty as Keys opted to take three easy points in front of the posts when they had their opponents’ scrum on the ropes.
His opposite number James Garland got the Drovers on the scoreboard in the 20th minute with a penalty before his side hit back with a fine try.
A loose kick by Jones from a missed touch finder from a Llandovery penalty saw full-back Mike Evans gather well before a counter attack was launched, captain and blindside flanker Phil Day scoring, Garland putting his side in the lead for the first time with the conversion.
A penalty on the half hour mark restored Keys’ lead before they got a vital sucker punch score just before the interval.
A superb turnover secured by sublime openside flanker Scott Matthews from a Llandovery attack launched from deep in their own half saw the ball quickly moved into the hands of captain and centre Leon Andrews who tore through the West Walians’ defence to score an excellent individual try under the posts, converted by Jones.
The half-time score ended with Keys deservedly in the lead by 18-10 after a high octane Act One.
And if the audience thought that was good, they hadn’t seen anything yet.
It was the Drovers who started the second half like a supersonic jet as they put Keys under intense pressure before centre Craig Woodhall crossed for an unconverted try.
Replacement scrum-half Rhys Dyer was unlucky not to cross for a try for the Pandy Park side, only to be held out by some remarkable last-ditch defending.
But their Mr Reliable, Jones slotted over two penalties to put his side into a 24-15 lead before a late rally brought the Drovers back to within an ace of taking the spoils in a pulsating dénouement.
Hooker Luke Lewis powered over with a quarter of an hour to go for another unconverted try from a driving five-metre lineout.
With six minutes to go, they had a great chance to take the lead for just the second time from another driving lineout only for Keys to hold firm.
A superb chip and chase by replacement wing Elliot Jones in the last minute saw him cross for an unconverted try which made the game safe for Keys.
But there was still time for the 2007 winners to get a consolation try through Garland, which he converted, with the last play as the 2012 champions progressed to the final without having played a single tie at home.
A delighted Woods said after the game: “We had a fantastic start, racing into an 8-0 lead, and we were initially really in control, but just couldn’t get away from them and put ourselves under severe pressure at the end of the game and they nearly ran us ragged.
“Llandovery are an excellent side – as their league position suggests, being one point above us in the league.
“Elliot Jones got a superb try to make it safe for us and I thought our back row of Reuben Tucker, Scott Matthews and Adam Powell were superb, as was centre Aled James with his defence.”
He added: “Again we won despite not playing particularly well – but it doesn’t matter.
“We are suffering from lapses in concentration and we go from situations of total control to that of total chaos.
“But I think we deserve to be in the final against Pontypridd, which will be a showdown between the two best club sides in Wales.”
Cross Keys: Steffan Jones, James Cordy-Redden (Elliott Jones 62), Leon Andrews (capt), Aled James, Nathan Trowbridge, Dorian Jones, Ryan James (Rhys Dyer 19), Richard Cornock (Luke Garrett 60), Darren Hughes, Craig Gould (Anthony Lott 60), Danny Hodge, Tom Lampard, Reuben Tucker (Scott Andrews 71), Scott Matthews, Adam Powell.
Replacements: Henry Palmer, Phil Williams, Ollie Hodge.
Cross Keys scorers: Tries – James Cordy-Redden, Leon Andrews, Elliot Jones, Conversion – Dorian Jones, Penalties – D Jones (4)
Llandovery: Mike Evans, Chris Knight, Rhodri Jones, Craig Woodall, Sam Soul, James Garland, Lee Rees, Wyn Jones, Luke Lewis, Andrew Jones (Dean Howells 73), Richard Catchpole, Llewelyn Jones, Phil Day (captain), Shaun Miles (Lawrence Reynolds 62), Richard Brooks
Replacements: Greg Cuniffe, Dorian Williams, Tom Ball, Lee Evans, Ian Brooks, Gareth Rees.
Llandovery scorers: Tries – Phil Day, Craig Woodhall, Luke Lewis, James Garland, Conversions – James Garland (2), Penalty – J Garland.
Referee: Sean Brickell (WRU)
Argus star man: Scott Matthews