Bridgend Ravens suffered a disappointing defeat at the hands of last season’s SWALEC cup winners Cross Keys at Pandy Park.
The rapid Ravens backline would have been enthused by the glorious sunshine on display in Gwent, but the superb Keys back row starved them of any meaningful attacking ball.
Bridgend were slow out of the blocks, conceding two early penalties which were kicked by outside half Dean Gunter to give the Gwent side a 6-0 lead. However, off a fine restart from Jamie Murphy, the Ravens chased well and Lloyd Evans superbly earned Bridgend a chance to get on the board. Ospreys’ youngster Ross Jones comfortably slotted the points to bring the Ravens back into the contest.
The home side continued to dominate at the breakdown and had numerous try scoring opportunities, but the Bridgend defence excelled and kept Keys at bay.
Despite the hard work of the Ravens defenders, Cross Keys captain Rob Nash was able to sneak over for a try after thirteen minutes to extend the lead. The superb Dean Gunter added the extras and it seemed that the game was getting away from the visitors.
Despite this, the Ravens dug in deep and the forwards began to dominate, particularly at scrum time. Kyle Barrett and Jamie Murphy were able to get ball and involve the exciting back line which had impressed against Llanelli the previous week. Hooker Ash James, Murphy and Rhys Williams all came close for Bridgend but Keys stood firm. Ross Jones punished the home sides indiscipline with a penalty to close the gap to 7 points, but sloppiness from the restart saw Gunter restore the 10 point gap.
With the pace of the game intensifying, Keys began their dominance of the tie. Following a quick tapped penalty by Gareth David, flanker Jamie Sollis scored following indecision amongst the Ravens defence. Again, Gunter added the extras.
Ross Jones gave Bridgend some hope before half time with an excellent penalty from distance to cut the deficit to nine points.
HT: Cross Keys 23-12 Bridgend Ravens.
Cheered on by a large vocal away support, the Ravens started the second half with renewed hope. Jon Leyshon and Nathan Edwards made breaks to no avail, but Jones was able to add a further three points to offer a lifeline for the visitors. Cross Keys began to crumble and conceded a number of penalties, resulting in referee Simon Rees sending players to the sin bin. The Ravens had plenty of ball but were thwarted by some fine Keys defence.
With time running out, Cross Keys centre Luke Ford cut through the heart of the Bridgend defence following a flat ball from Gunter. Despite the attention of Ravens defenders, he was able to sneak over the line to put the game almost beyond doubt.
Ravens forwards coach Paul Young will be delighted by the response of his pack in the scrum following this fatal blow. Bridgend now began to turn the screw at scrum time and became a real threat at the set play. Again, they found some superb Keys defence in the way and were unable to create a clear opportunity, despite the best efforts of Rhys Williams and Luke Morgan who both came close.
Ben Rose made changes, with the lively Ben Thomas replacing Murphy and injecting more fluidity into the backline. Scrum half Chris Williams and full back Ashley Evans came on to make their Ravens debuts as the game came to its conclusion.
The tie was not finished though, with Keys chasing a vital four try bonus point. Bridgend seemed to have seen off the final attack, but with the last play of the game, ex-Raven Nathan Trowbridge crossed to put the seal on an impressive afternoons work for the Keys. Gunter kicked the conversion to secure an impressive 35-15 win for Cross Keys.
Ravens captain Jonathon Vaughan was disappointed in the performance and result from his side. ‘I didn’t feel that they were much better than us. There were a few decisive moments in the game which didn’t go our way today but that’s rugby.’
‘I’d like to thank the supporters for coming to support the boys today. Hopefully they will make the trip west to Llandovery where we will be looking today’s wrongs right.’
Bridgend Ravens scorers: Penalties: Ross Jones x5 (7, 6, 24, 36 & 41).
Bridgend Ravens: Ross Jones, Luke Morgan, Nathan Edwards, Jon Leyshon (Ashley Evans 74), Rhys Williams, Jamie Murphy (Ben Thomas 61), Kyle Barrett (Chris Williams 78); Marc Thomas (Ken Dowding 57), Ash James (Matt Dwyer 57), Jon Thomas (Dan Suter 57), Lloyd Peers, Lee Davies (Alex Jones 61), Jonathon Vaughan (c), Lloyd Evans (Andrew Waite 65), Adam Hillier-Rees.
Bridgend Ravens Man of the Match: Rhys Williams