The skies opened on Sunday morning, and Old Deer Park looked more like Pontypool Park, shrouded in proper valleys murk. Perhaps the rain was meant as a heavenly curtain raiser, as the visiting side, Monmouth School, are of course the old school of the late Eddie Butler, the Poet of Pontypool.
Luckily, the rain had ceased by kick off. The first 15 minutes passed without score. Welsh started brightly, recycling the ball well and winning a penalty. Monmouth’s defence was up sharply however, and well organised. Welsh were going through phases but not making significant inroad to the Monmouth defence.
On the 16th minute Monmouth won clean scrum ball and put it through hands quickly, scoring out wide. A shot across Welsh bows, and a statement of intent. Monmouth would aim to get ball out wide quickly, where they had plenty of pace and players running great support lines. Monmouth missed their conversion, to lead 0-5.
Welsh maintained their bright start, their rucking and line out much improved on previous weeks, with Reid Blackiston and Dewi Beer to the fore. Monmouth were getting a proper challenge up front. Matthew Massett made some strong early carries. The Welsh scrum held up well, with the front row of Swainson, Lowry and Graco putting in a real shift. But Monmouth looked to run any ball generated and their backline threatened. A great tackle by Milo Thomas brought one move to a halt, only for Monmouth to quickly recycle and spin the ball out wide for a second try. Welsh defence was game but needing more in the way of double tackles – Monmouth were finding it too easy to offload out of tackles and sustain attacks. Monmouth converted from the touchline to make it 0-12.
Welsh replied with a forward break out of their own half with good support running. Monmouth countered with a break by their lively number 8, setting off a lovely move down the right flank that swept through the Welsh half. Mauro Miller made a superb scramble tackle in the Welsh 22, only to jump up immediately to tackle a Monmouth support runner. Unfortunately, Monmouth’s support running was exemplary, and a third player was present to receive the offload and cross the line for an unconverted Monmouth try. 0-17.
Welsh came again, showing real spirit. Captain Fin Lowry won some great turnovers, winning Welsh some much needed momentum. A Welsh penalty allowed Mauro Miller to kick into the Monmouth 22 and set up an attacking platform. Welsh line out ball was clean, and the pack set up some sustained pressure on the Monmouth line. Monmouth held out, but not without giving away two penalties. Fin Lowry crossed for a deserved try after a tap move for the second. Unconverted, the the score was 5-17, but Welsh had secured a foothold in the game and exerted a period of dominance up-front.
Welsh needed to consolidate their effort with a further score, but Monmouth won scrum ball on the 22 and Welsh missed a couple of first up tackles. Monmouth showed excellent hands again to score out wide, stretching the half time score to 5-22, just when it looked as though Welsh were playing themselves back in.
Welsh started the second half as brightly as the first, exerting some pressure and winning an attacking line out in Monmouth territory. Unfortunately, the ball went astray, and Monmouth were off the hook. Monmouth broke out and kicked deep into the Welsh 22, but this time Welsh defence held and cleared their lines. Composure under pressure.
Welsh won a line out on halfway, and Mauro Miller chipped beautifully ahead for winger Will Dao to collect and make a searing break into opposition territory. But he was isolated in the tackle and Monmouth turned over the ball to clear their lines. From halfway, they won clean lineout ball and passed it through hands wit accuracy and speed. Welsh defence yawned gaps and the excellent Monmouth 14 scored out wide. 5-29. Another break down the opposite wing by the pacy Monmouth outside half earned another try to make it 5-36.
Welsh were under pressure but came back commendably to win good ball and exert more forward pressure. Fin Lowry dropped a lovely goal to nudge the scoreboard forward and restore some pride. 8-36.
From kick off, Mauro Miller made another lovely run, taken on by Lowry. But Monmouth defence was excellent and Welsh ran out of support runners. Monmouth turned over the ball and ran it right back. Second row Louis Guisti made a great man and ball tackle to snuff out the move. The game was opening up and given Monmouth’s pace and execution in the back line, this was a worrying development.
Welsh won two penalties to establish another attacking line out, but lost ball in yet another turnover. Monmouth put the ball through hands yet again and Welsh pressure had turned into another reverse. 8-41. The floodgates seemed to have opened somewhat and the Monmouth number 4 made a great break through a creaking Welsh defence, showing real pace for a front five forward. 8-48. Sensing a tiring opposition, Monmouth attacked again, with their right-wing bagging another try, despite a second man and ball tackle from Louis Guisti. 8-55.
Fair play, Welsh heads didn’t go down. They launched another attack with Louis Guisti making a strong carry before offloading to Lowry. Welsh won a penalty from an ensuing Monmouth infringement. Sacha Araujo took a clever tap and ran in the final try of the game, which was converted to make it 15-55 at the whistle.
On paper, the result may look grim but it was a good game. Monmouth were a strong team with far more game time and training under their belt. They were crisp, pacey, disciplined and made good decisions. The young Welsh pack matched them up front, our set piece went well and the whole squad committed throughout. A great match to watch.
Eddie would have enjoyed it.