By: Paul Hopkins
The All Whites opened their historic 150th season with a resounding 63-7 victory over Northern Irish side Ballynahinch at Sketty Lane.
The match marked the first time since October 2010 that Swansea have faced Irish opposition when they lost 12-32 to Ulster A at St Helen’s in the now defunct British and Irish Cup.
It was a promising start for Ballynahinch as they were awarded a penalty when the home defence failed to roll away after the tackle. The visitors didn’t make the most of the opportunity though as centre Hanno Dirksen secured a turnover and cleared long.
The visitors looked to attack again but scrum half Rhodri Lewis picked up a loose ball, chipped ahead and gathered to score a superb solo effort. Fly half James Davies converted.
Lock Matt Dodd got caught in two minds at the restart as Ballynahinch regathered possession, but he made amends by securing a turnover with Davies clearing the danger.
The visitors’ fly half showed great pace to race inside the Swansea half, but he threw a loose pass out to his outside centre and the Whites defence forced the tighthead prop into a mistake.
In the early exchanges the Whites’ pack struggled to cope with their Irish counterparts, but Lewis was alert to the situation and got quick ball out to centre Dan O’Sullivan, who made crucial yards as the home side managed to clear.
Swansea doubled their lead after 12 minutes when impressive full back Morgan Rees chipped ahead for Lewis to chase, with the scrum half feeding flanker Jay Williams for a try under the posts. Davies converted.
A third try almost followed when Dodd found himself racing through the middle with one man to beat, but the pass to him was deemed forward.
Following a break down of play, the Ballynahinch winger picked up a loose ball and raced towards the line. He was initially held up, but a supporting forward squeezed over for a try, which was also converted.
Jay Williams charged forward and found number eight Jon Fox in support, before winger Llien Morgan popped up and was tackled a metre short of the try line, but new Whites captain Tom Sloane was on hand to dive over to score. Davies converted.
A superb chip through saw winger Willis Wood and the Ballynahinch outside centre both sprint to the line, but the visitors put off Wood enough for him to hack into touch.
The home front eight struggled again at the scrum and were in fact pushed off their own set piece, but a mistake by the visitors gave the Whites another scrum. This time it was the Swansea pack who bullied their opponents, earning a penalty which the sharp Lewis tapped quickly to score a try. Davies converted.
Swansea were now well on top in all aspects of the game and almost grabbed a fifth try, but Jay Williams’ pass to Morgan was well forward.
Things went from bad to worse for Ballynahinch as their fly half dropped an elementary pass in a clear case of pre-season blues, and it put his side under pressure as the Whites earned a penalty, which Davies kicked to the corner,
Dodd collected the resulting lineout and O’Sullivan took a crash ball, before Dodd was held up just short of the line. Swansea recycled possession quickly out wide, but Davies’ pass to Rees was well forward.
It mattered little though as Rees sidestepped past four tacklers, before he was brought to ground. The full back got back into position and the ball was recycled out wide for him to score a well taken try on the stroke of half time. Davies converted.
Half-time:- Swansea 35-7 Ballynahinch
With the weather conditions and pitch set perfect for running rugby, Morgan chose to stretch his legs after the interval by sprinting clear of the Ballynahinch defence to score a great solo effort. Davies converted.
A powerful drive by the Swansea pack threatened to force the visitors off the ball at a scrum, but they just about managed to recycle possession, until replacement hooker Garin Lloyd nipped in to intercept a pass and race clear to score under the posts. Davies converted.
Then replacement backs Iwan Johnes and Rory Case combined well in midfield with a pass fired out to Morgan for his second try. Davies converted.
To their credit, the Northern Irish side never gave up and they stole possession from the restart to embark on a rare attack, although a handling error brought an end to the move. Swansea gave away a penalty though and the Ballynahinch fly half chipped to the corner. From the lineout, the visitors’ pack almost fashioned a try, but were penalised for holding on after the tackle.
Lloyd burst through a tackle and fed replacement scrum half Ben Ley, but he failed to make the return pass which would have almost certainly resulting in a try, and the visitors were able to clear.
Dirksen ripped a ball out of a tackle and kicked high with replacement fly half Chris Morgans collecting possession on the wing, but a handling error brought an end to the move.
Ballynahinch came desperately close to a second try when their forwards mauled over the 22 and earned a penalty, which their fly half chipped to the corner. Although the forwards managed to take the lineout, Swansea were soon back in possession and were able to clear.
In the dying seconds Rees showed another sharp turn of pace from inside his own half and comfortable beat a tired visitors defence to score under the posts. Morgans dropped kicked the conversion.
Hugh Gustafson, head coach at Swansea Rugby, said he was pleased that much of the squad were able to feature in the first pre-season match.
“I was impressed with the shape we showed, especially as last season we sacrificed a bit of rugby detail for conditioning, but we played with some real intent out there today. I was really impressed with how we chased back and although there were a few inevitable mistakes given it was our first friendly, it was good to give about six or seven senior debuts to players.
“It promises to be an exciting season ahead, particularly with our new partnership with the Ospreys and investment in the club, so I think we have a bright future ahead.
“We had a tough year after the COVID rugby shutdown and we’ve been trying to find our feet, and we’ve been able to reinforce the squad with greater strength in depth. I’m already looking forward to our next game away at Stourbridge.”
Full-time:- Swansea 62-7 Ballynahinch
Tries:- Rhodri Lewis (5, 33), Jay Williams (12), Tom Sloane (25), Morgan Rees (40+9, 78), Llien Morgan (43, 55), Garin Lloyd (53)
Cons:- James Davies (6, 13, 26, 34, 40+10, 44, 54, 56), Chris Morgans (79)
Venue:- Sketty Lane Playing Fields, Swansea
Weather:- Sunny, 33C
Man of the match:- Morgan Rees
15 Morgan Rees
14 Willis Wood
13 Hanno Dirksen
12 Dan O’Sullivan
11 Llien Morgan
10 James Davies
9 Rhodri Lewis
1 Tom Sloane ©
2 Garan Williams
3 Louie Fletcher
4 Lewis Marsh
5 Matt Dodd
6 Jay Williams
7 Callum Bowden
8 Jon Fox
Replacements (all used):
16 Garin Lloyd
17 Tom Crockett
18 Scott Jenkins
19 Richard Murphy
20 Billy Moxey
21 Dai Francis
22 Ben Asprea
23 Tom Northey
24 Ben Ley
25 Chris Morgans
26 Iwan Johnes
27 Rory Case