CROSS Keys recorded their first British and Irish Cup victory of the season against the Connacht Eagles running out 17-12 winners – but it was a desperately close call!
The main difference was that Keys managed to capitalise on a powerful driving maul arising from a lineout near the visitors’ line by snapping up a 32nd minute unconverted try through their big lock Ollie Hodge.
The Eagles, in contrast, threw away at least half a dozen try – scoring opportunities because of poor finishing in a second half which they completely dominated.
All the other points came from the boot – home outside half Steffan Jones kicking four penalty goals while centre Tadgh Leader and outsider half Jack Carty popped over three and one respectively for the Eagles.
While it is true that the visitors can only blame themselves for missing out on the try opportunities, the home defence also deserves praise for pulling off some tremendous last-ditch tackles to protect their line.
None did better in this respect than outstanding flankers Tom Lampard and Scott Matthews, ably supported in the back division by centre Leon Andrews and right wing Dorian Jones. The Eagles – a development side made up of young, full-time players and part of the Connacht provincial set-up – showed their strength with their free-flowing and pacey passing movements but they made far too many handling errors.
Cross Keys more than matched their opponents up front with a strong scrummage and by securing a stream of good possession at the lines out.
Both teams were resigned to the fact that they would not reach the knock-out stages of this year’s competition – each having been beaten by their other Pool 4 opponents Newcastle Falcons and Newport.
However, there was still a lot of pride at stake, particularly for Keys who were desperate for a win having reached the final last season before losing to Munster A.
Ryan James and his men started well and they thoroughly deserved their 14-3 interval lead thanks to Hodge’s try and three Jones penalties – one from 50 metres.
The second half was a totally different affair with Keys pinned back deep in their own territory and the Eagles launching a series of dangerous attacks only to see them come to nought because of their own mistakes and that brave home defence.
Keys replacement centre Rhys Dyer needed extensive treatment on the field after being knocked out while trying to make a tackle.
He was carried off on a stretcher and the referee had to add 14 minutes of injury time.
Jones clinched the victory for Keys by kicking his fourth penalty goal in the eighth minute of injury time after Carty was sin-binned for a deliberate knock on that stopped a dangerous Keys’ passing movement on the visitors’ 22 metres line.
Home hooker Gerwyn Price had also been shown a yellow card midway through the second half.
Cross Keys head coach Greg Woods said after the match: “That was a really tough game. I was pleased with our first-half performance but we were badly disrupted for a time in the second half with three inside halves and two outside halves in our back line.
The Eagles played with a lot of pace after the interval but it was good that we managed to hold out for the win after all their pressure.
Now we can look forward to our trip to Ireland to play them again next Saturday.”
Cross Keys: G. David; D. Jones, L. Andrews, D. Gunter (R. Dyer 60) (D. Hodge 80), L. Williams; S. Jones, R. James (capt); R. Cornock (J Johnstone 80+6), G. Price, A. Lott (C. Gould 80), S. Higgins (R. Nash 59), O. Hodge, T. Lampard, S. Matthews (G. Horrigan 67) and A. Powell.
Try: O. Hodge (32 mins). Pens: S. Jones (3, 16, 26, and 80+8 mins) Connacht Eagles: J. Loxton; M. McCrea (S. Toal-Lennon 65), T. Leader (F. Gormley 67), B. Murphy, M. Healey; J. Carty, D. Moore (M. Walsh 64); R. Sweeney, K. O’Byrne (K. Haupt 59), P.Reilly (P. Griffin 68), J. Gardiner. D. Gannon (C. Kindregan 63), D. Heffernan, E. Grace (capt) and A. Conneely (T.J.Anderson 63).
Pens: T. Leader (38, 59, and 66 mins). J Carty (80 mins).
Referee: Matt Carley (RFU) Star man: Tom Lampard