CROSS Keys suffered a second dose of heartbreak at the hands of Pontypridd after being overpowered 38-17 in the Principality Premiership final at Sardis Road.
Just like in the Swalec Cup final at the Millennium Stadium, the Pandy Park outfit didn’t quite do themselves justice on the big stage against the standard bearers for Welsh semi-pro rugby.
It’s been a super season for Keys and there is no shame in coming second twice to Ponty, who have done the double double, but that won’t ease the pain of being the recipients of a second runners-up medal of the month.
They headed to Sardis Road looking to stretch their hosts like they had Carmarthen Quins in the semi-final out west.
But Ponty on their own patch is a much sterner challenge, even if Greg Woods’ side had triumphed 38-17 when the sides played at the ‘House of Pain’ in December.
This time it was a reversal of that scoreline because they had very little of the ball and when they did get it in their mitts they were confronted by a Ponty brick wall.
The champs defended with tenacity and had the more incisive, cutthroat attack to have one hand and four fingers on the trophy before the half-time oranges.
There was no lack of endeavour – and captain Leon Andrews ensured there was never any danger of a white flag being waved – but Ponty were just too good for them, winning the battle up front and making the better decisions.
Keys were starved of possession in the opening exchanges and didn’t look after the little ball that did come their way.
Ponty were good value for a 6-0 lead courtesy of a pair of penalties by fly-half Simon Humberstone and they would have been further ahead were it not for the covering of wing Nathan Trowbridge, who booted the ball over his line when scrum-half Joel Raikes was closing in on wing Matthew Nuthall’s kick through.
But the reprieve was short-lived, the hosts piled on the pressure from the resulting five-metre scrum and flanker Rhys Shellard powered over with Humberstone making it a 13-0 game before a quarter had been played.
Keys were given chance to settle when Ponty wing Lewis I Williams was yellow-carded on 16 minutes for taking number eight Adam Powell out in the air.
But instead it was the hosts that stretched away when, minutes after Keys fly-half Dorian Jones missed from the tee, Humberstone bisected the posts on 21 minutes.
At 16-0 things were looking grim and they got grimmer when flanker Jevon Groves was sent to the sin bin after one Keys breakdown too many for referee Gwyn Morris.
Bad choices were being made – and Ponty were punishing them.
When wing Williams exploited a huge overlap to dot down on the right it was 21-0 and, unfortunately, a damage limitation exercise.
Humberstone increased their buffer with another penalty four minutes into the second half and the hosts’ name was already being engraved on the trophy.
A complete hammering looked on the cards when number eight Dan Godfrey powered over from a driving lineout in the 54th minute... but Keys, to their great credit, rallied.
A quickfire brace by replacement scrum-half James Leadbeater, on permit from Newport, made it 31-12 to show that there was no shortage of fight in the visiting ranks.
Ponty replacement lock Jordan Sieniawski barged over the whitewash with eight minutes left but Keys had the final say when Trowbridge was put over by a super offload by fellow wing Elliott Jones.
Alas, it was merely a consolation score and there was to be no first title for Keys.
Pontypridd: G Walsh, L I Williams, G Dacey (A Summerhill 69), D Lockyer (captain), M Nuthall, S Humberstone (D Flanagan 73), J Raikes (L Williams 63), J Howe (C Phillips 70), L Belcher (A Morris 65), K Jenkins (L Jones 70), C Locke, C Dicomidis (J Sieniawski 65), W O’Connor (O Sheppeard 70), R Shellard, D Godrey.
Scorers: tries – R Shellard, L I Williams, D Godfrey, J Sieniawski; conversions – S Humberstone (3); penalties – S Humberstone (4)
Cross Keys: R Lee (N Williams 63), E Jones, L Andrews (captain), P Williams, N Trowbridge, D Jones, O Jones (J Leadbeater 44), R Cornock (L Garrett 49), D Hughes (H Palmer 70), A Lott (C Gould 53), D Hodge (R Tucker 49), T Lampard (S Higgins 70), I Jones, J Groves, A Powell (S Matthews 44).
Scorers: tries – J Leadbeater (2), N Trowbridge; conversion – D Jones
Referee: Gwyn Morris (Cardiff)
Argus star man: Leon Andrews