PONTYPOOL head coach Leighton Jones had nothing but praise for his side’s character after they pushed double-chasing WRU National Cup holders Merthyr all the way in a classic semi-final encounter at Eugene Cross Park on Saturday.

But while disappointed that Pooler won’t be gracing the final following their 20-18 last-four loss, Jones knows it is now all about refocusing and getting ready for May’s huge Principality Premiership play-off.

Jones’ men, already crowned winners of the Championship, will tackle the team that finishes 12th in the Premiership for the right to play in the top flight next season, something Pooler have been striving for since their demotion in 2012.

“The cup is lovely to play in and it’s great for the fans, but at the start of the season it was all about the league,” said Jones.

“The league is won and now we’ve got five games to work on some stuff for the play-off game, which is the most important game of our season.

“The three-year plan was to get promotion and back then we didn’t know there was going to be a play-off, but that is our big game now.”

Having beaten Premiership pair Cross Keys and Bridgend in this season’s cup and pushed reigning top-tier champions Merthyr so close, Pontypool have shown they are well-equipped for promotion.

And but for Matthew Jarvis’ right foot on Saturday, Pooler would be going to the Principality Stadium on April 28 for a cup final against Cardiff.

Reflecting on a titanic clash in Ebbw Vale, Jones added: “We spoke all week about having a big start, but it didn’t happen, and we probably had the worst start we could have had.

“I just think we probably gave them a bit too much respect.

“Once we went 14-0 down, the boys put in a big shift and they can be hugely proud of going all the way with the best team in Wales.

“The boys showed a lot of character and belief in themselves to come back. They showed how tight a group they are and how hard they work for each other.

“I think we deserved to get in front, but Merthyr are not champions for no reason, and they can grind out wins.”

And on that long-range Jarvis penalty that won the tie, he said: “If you’re one point up and defending inside your own half with a kicker like Jarvis then you’re asking for trouble because you only need a 50-50 decision to go against you.

“We were just thinking about getting out of our half because he’s got a siege-gun boot on him.

“But we had six or seven 20-year-old boys in the squad and they can take a lot from this game, as we all can, especially with what’s to come in the league.”