If you’ve ever been to Blackwood, you’ll know that the locals are stoic. They’ve lived through the miners’ strike, de-industrialisation, the rise of the Manic Street Preachers and survived it all. Their miners’ institute has been dismantled and moved to St Fagan’s. They still have a Chartists bridge, but the chartists are long gone. Number 1 in the Top Things to Do on Trip Advisor is the local pond. Number 9 is Gibbon Equipment hire (your go to place for a JCB). But they are still there: Yma o hyd.
So, Blackwood people are grounded. And Colts Forwards Coach Tom Baldwin is a Blackwood person. On Sunday, he had his grounded face on for the visit of London Irish for a Waterfalls Cup fixture. (If you’ve not seen his grounded face – it’s craggy. Stern. Borderline unsettling. Think a giant Shaun Edwards in an Oddballs hat).
Irish had brought an understrength team and Welsh had two Ls from previous cup ties. The team that got a strong start was likely to knock the opposition off their stride. Fortunately, Welsh struck first: captain Fin Lowry took a quick tap penalty for a first score, converted by 10 Mauro Miller. 7-0 to the hosts.
The game was played with uncontested scrums, potentially taking away a Welsh strength, but following the early try, the Welsh pack began to assert themselves. Prop Oliver ‘Swaino’ Swainson was very much in evidence, making some hard yards, with the forwards recycling confidently. A line break from blindside Dewi Beer put Fin Lowry through on a typical threatening run, with big second row Louis Guisti taking it on for a trademark short range crash move for our second try.
Welsh kept the pressure up and whilst some Irish tackling was solid, the pressure began to yield penalties. Another move from a penalty saw strong defence on the Irish line, before it buckled and big Louis crashed over for a third try, taking the score to 19-0.
Welsh tails were up now. Our back row looked lively in the loose with Alfie Thompson making good yards and Con Silcott a real handful, all over the ball. Con and Lowry were a real menace to Irish possession, looking to get their hands on the ball for turnovers at every opportunity. The lineout ran well, with Mr Consistency Roman Sellers a source of clean, quality ball.
With Shay Dunne and Mauro Miller pulling the strings at half back, the Welsh strike runners came into play. Maneesh, Seb and Louie were all making themselves available to get on the ball, happy to run from deep and looking to put it through hands wherever possible. Danger man Will Dao scored a classic long distance try started in our own half, showing both his pace and ability to take a good line. It was awarded as a penalty try for a high tackle as he crossed the line.
Alfie moved into cover front row, with Alex Mpinga coming into the back row. Scrum ball in the Irish half then led to series of solid rucks, with Alex making some strong runs in the tight, before the Welsh full back crashed into the line for a well taken try. Great to see Alex back after a lengthy lay off, looking strong, fit and up for it. 31-0 to Welsh.
The Irish coach was encouraging his struggling team to go through phases and from the restart they worked their way into the Welsh half, only for blindside Beer to jackal a turnover penalty. From the tap penalty, Alfie kicked into space, with great follow up running from Con putting real pressure on Irish. A try looked certain for Con, but a great Irish tackle pulled him down short of the line. Welsh might have expected a chance to pressure the Irish line but the ref awarded a knock on and Irish were able to exit, putting together one of their better series of phases, before knocking on themselves. The final play of any significance was a lovely mazy run from outside half Miller, ended by another try saving tackle. Half time score was 31-0.
It could have been a trick of the light, but I thought I detected a jauntiness to the Oddball hat as the coach got onto the pitch for his half time talk.
The second half started brightly. Owen Croxon, on for the second half, looked lively, seeking a 3rd try in 3 games. Croxon made a couple of flying breaks, looking like a young David Duckham (before your time – look him up), on one occasion hauled down just short of the line.
Irish managed to work their way out of their half with a solid clearance kick, only for it to be beautifully taken by Croxon who launched another Welsh attack. Louis Guisti drove on in a promising move, but Welsh spilled possession and Irish broke out again, with their scum half covering a lot of ground in both defence and attack. Welsh line out ball (a strength hitherto) wasn’t straight and gave Irish an attacking scrum. But Welsh defence was comfortable, and we held out.
Roman won clean, quick ball at an ensuing line out, giving Alfie the chance for a searing break. Again, Irish defence was strong, hauling the runner down just short of the line. But the relief was very temporary: a lovely Welsh back move producing a break by Louie leading to a try for Fin Lowry.
Maneesh and Roman came off at this point, with the Welsh bench used to the full. Alfie made yet another break down the wing, only for the move to be ended by a knock on. Rightly, the ref was pinging any Welsh error to balance the game and so we needed to be a tad more clinical.
Welsh won a penalty at the breakdown, which was taken quickly, and Alfie made another break. The backs moved the ball well along the line, and Will Dao went over for his second try.
Fair play, Irish heads had not got down and they had set their sights on a consolation try. Equally, Welsh were aiming to keep them on nil. An Irish kick into the Welsh 22 could have caused trouble, but Owen Croxon is very confident under the high ball and started a counter, with Dewi then Alfie making yards before the back again putting the ball through hands well for a lovely team move covering most of the pitch, completed by Will Dao to clinch his hattrick.
Irish launched a last attack. They kicked a penalty to secure an attacking line out, but it was kept in play acrobatically by Miller. Louis Guisti was showing up well in defence before seeing yellow for one seat belt tackle too many. Even with 14 on the pitch, the Welsh defence held out and at the final whistle had carved out a 53-0 win. Mauro Miller missed the last conversion, and he also missed the post-match dinner, leaving his parents waiting in the pagoda room. The club disciplinary team has been informed.
A much-needed win for Welsh and some fine play. However, against weak opposition, some loose play went unpunished and there is still a need for greater team cohesion, discipline and tightening up.
The weather had stayed sunny throughout and I can’t be 100% sure, as the sun was in my eyes at the final whistle: but I thought I saw the slightest hint of smile on the Blackwood boy’s face under that Oddball hat.