By: Paul Hopkins
Swansea’s positive run of form hit a speed bump in the shape of an excellent Merthyr side at The Wern.
With both sides fielding an exciting XV, it was the visitors who mounted the first attack when lock Lewis Jones took a lineout in the opposing half only for prop Tom Sloane to drop a regulation pass in midfield.
The home pack sounded an ominous warning when they earned a penalty at the game’s first scrum. Fly half Gareth Thompson found touch midway between the half way line and 22, but a powerful rolling maul was stopped, and the Swansea backs managed to halt the attack with a great spell of defensive play.
Fly half Luke Scully fired a floating pass out to winger Hanno Dirksen who was upended just short of the 22, before Lewis Jones spilled the ball forward and further offside gave Merthyr a relieving penalty.
The game’s first try came when Merthyr won ball against the head at a scrum and spread play quickly through the hands of the backs, which meant centre Dafydd Thomas was able to exploit out wide an overlap to score in the corner. Thompson converted.
Winger Adam Hoskins was penalised for a high tackle on opposite number Harri Houston with Scully finding touch just short of the 22. Hooker Garan Williams failed to throw straight at the lineout though.
A superb counter attack by Merthyr saw Hoskins race 40 metres upfield with the supporting Craig Locke tackled inside the 22, before the Swansea defence was penalised for offside. Thompson chipped the penalty deep into the corner and Locke took the lineout with a drive by the forwards allowing flanker Tom Daley to squeeze over for a try. Thompson converted.
Prop Chris Phillips stole in at the lineout with hooker Dan Wall providing support as he crashed into Dirksen. Number eight Phil Rees then powered forward, but he became isolated with an excellent Swansea defence reclaiming possession.
The Whites were soon back on the attack when scrum half Gareth J Rees threw a delayed pass through full back Mat Protheroe to Houston, but the winger was unable to retake the ball and the move broke down.
Protheroe showed his class when he glided through the middle after picking up a loose ball, but Houston wasn’t on the same page and dropped the pass.
Rees was yellow carded for a high tackle on centre Tom Florence on half way, with Scully opting to chip to the corner. Flanker Callum Bowden quickly pealed off a maul from the lineout and Protheroe got a quick pass out for Houston to dive over at the corner. Scully converted.
In a surprising turn of events, the Swansea pack earned a penalty at the scrum, but Scully hit the post with his long range effort at goal.
But Swansea continued to attack and a powerful run by flanker Morgan Morse caused panic in the Merthyr defence with Rees making further yards inside the 22. Protheroe failed to send a scoring pass out wide to Houston though with the home side able to clear.
Lock Liam Edwards took a lineout on the 22 and the visitors got quick ball out to the backs, although Scully’s pass to Protheroe was marginally forward so play was brought back.
With half time approaching centre Osian Knott almost wriggled through a tackle, but the Merthyr defence gave away a penalty. Rees took the penalty quickly and found Knott, but a mistake saw Merthyr turn the ball over.
Half-time:- Merthyr 14-7 Swansea
After the interval number eight Jon Fox did well to field a difficult bounce, but Rees’ clearance kick was fielded by winger Jarrod Cushion who got his side moving, but a scrappy period of play followed and the move broke down.
Merthyr were soon on the front foot again with Phillips charging forward and the Swansea defence struggled to get centre Rhys Davies down, instead giving away a penalty, which M10 chipped into touch.
Flanker Jack Perkins powered forward from the maul but Wall was held up over the line. Horrific ill-discipline by the Merthyr camp gifted Swansea a relieving penalty though.
Merthyr’s huge advantage up front was beginning to pay dividends as they drove their Swansea counterparts off a scrum to earn a penalty, which Thompson kicked deep inside the 22. From the lineout, a powerful drive by the Merthyr pack gave referee Simon Rees no option but to award a penalty try.
Thompson spilled forward a high kick to give Swansea a surprise attacking opportunity, but Protheroe’s chip ahead was easily marked by full back Ben Jones.
Perkins made a break into the Whites’ half and a chip ahead by Cushion was initially well dealt with by Houston, but his side were forced to clear to touch to give Merthyr an attacking lineout. The home side didn’t make the most of the chance though as they were penalised for diving over the top of a ruck at the next phase of play.
A Ben Jones mazy run from deep threatened to stretch the Swansea defence, with the supporting Daley making good yards upfield, but Perkins tried to force an impossible pass and lost possession.
A superb break by Scully up to half way began the first notable Whites attack of the second half, but Florence lost the ball forward under pressure. An inexplicable error then led to a Merthyr scrum five, with the home pack powering forward at the rate of knots, leading to a try for replacement scrum half James Soames. Thompson converted.
Scully chipped to the corner from a penalty as the Whites looked to gain a foothold in the game. Lewis Jones took the lineout, and the Swansea forwards battered the Merthyr line, but a magnificent defensive effort by Merthyr kept the visitors at bay for over 30 phases of play.
With a blink of an eye the home side put the result beyond doubt when Cushion raced down the wing and beat the covering defence to stretch over for a try in the corner. Thompson converted.
The Merthyr pack earned another scrum penalty and Thompson found touch on the 22. However, a mis-firing lineout replacement full back Matthew Jenkins pick up a loose ball and race 60 metres to score a consolation try for the All Whites. Scully converted.
Next up for Merthyr is a trip to league leaders Aberavon, while Swansea host winless Newport.
Full-time:- Merthyr 35-14 Swansea
Tries:- Dafydd Thomas (10), Tom Daley (17), Penalty try (50), James Soames (64), Adam Hoskins (75)
Cons:- Gareth Thompson (11, 18, 65, 76)
Yellow cards:- Phil Rees (26)
Tries:- Harri Houston (27), Matthew Jenkins (79)
Cons:- Luke Scully (28, 80)
Venue:- The Wern, Merthyr Tydfil
Weather:- Sunny, 15C
Referee:- Simon Rees
Man of the match:- Tom Daley
15 Ben Jones
14 Jarrod Cushion (rep: Cameron Davies 67)
13 Dafydd Thomas (rep: Jac Keenan 74)
12 Rhys Davies
11 Adam Hoskins
10 Gareth Thompson
9 Tavis Knoyle (rep: James Soanes 56)
1 Chris Phillips (rep: Callum Lewis 65)
2 Dan Wall (rep: Rhys Williams 76)
3 Rhys Lewis (rep: Louis Jones 65)
4 Craig Locke © (rep: Lloyd Ashley 46)
5 Callum Bradbury
6 Tom Daley
7 Jack Perkins (rep: Thomas Jeavons 59)
8 Phil Rees (rep: Craig Locke 80+1)
16 Rhys Williams
17 Callum Lewis
18 Louis Jones
19 Lloyd Ashley
20 Thomas Jeavons
21 James Soames
22 Jac Keenan
23 Cameron Davies
15 Mat Protheroe (rep: Matthew Jenkins 52)
14 Hanno Dirksen
13 Tom Florence
12 Osian Knott (rep: Keiran Williams 52)
11 Harri Houston
10 Luke Scully
9 Gareth J Rees (rep: Harvey Nash 65)
1 Tom Sloane © (rep: Cameron Jones 59)
2 Garan Williams (rep: Kian Jones 76)
3 Richard Murphy (rep: Kian Hire 59)
4 Liam Edwards
5 Lewis Jones
6 Morgan Morse
7 Callum Bowden
8 Jon Fox (rep: Charlie Davies 72)
16 Kian Jones
17 Cameron Jones
18 Kian Hire
19 Chris Thompson
20 Charlie Davies
21 Harvey Nash
22 Keiran Williams
23 Matthew Jenkins