By Jonathan Twigg
WHITLAND emerged from their local derby with a 23-17 victory over Carmarthen Athletic at Park Llwyn Ty Gwyn on Saturday (Jan 6), in a game which saw the sides share five tries whilst both had a player yellow carded by Trimsaran referee Alan Emmanual.
On a pitch, described as spongy at best to a quagmire in places and where a biting Northerly wind made handling errors more pronounced, the game was won in the last ten minutes when Whitland capitalised on outside half Nico Setaro’s rebounded penalty attempt from the upright.
Having just conceded a converted try to lead 17-16 the green machine showed true character to take play deep into their visitor’s territory and glean a penalty when down to 14 men after winger Liam Price was side lined for being off side at the ruck.
Setaro’s kick from in front of the stand fell nicely into the hands of flanker Ryan Morgan following up the kick. He set up a ruck situation which allowed the ball to be recycled by replacement scrum half aaron Ebsworth to Setaro who put his skipper Marc Jones on a straight angle in space.
As he was tackled the ball was popped up to supporting second row Micaiah Jones who crashed over wide out, capping a fine all round performance from the youngster alongside his boiler house partner Raff Williams.
Promotion chasing Whitland had led throughout the game after Setaro had opened the scoring just after a quarter of an hour when hi slotted over his second penalty attempt after good work by scrum half Adam Davies had made ground down the blindside with his winger Liam Price before the penalty for offside was awarded.
The referee’s whistle was a predominant feature of the opening period with the black and red shirts running a close line on infringements which Setaro had decided to nurture into touch until he was comfortably within his kicking range.
The plethora of home penalties’ had come as the outside half ran an array offensive of lines, incorporating inside centre Josh Thomas on the heavy ball down the middle interlinked with missed passes from which Price and fellow winger Scott Candler benefitted from.
Number 8 Jack Mason, like his opposite number Richard Bloomfield was excellent carrying from the base of the scrum, setting up second phase from which Davies and Setaro could stream quick ball.
The opening try came after a free kick for delaying the scrum was kept alive by prop Aaron Mayne taking a quick tap penalty; Davies and Setaro found their skipper Jones in midfield and the hooker made ground with Kirk who put centre Johnny Thomas in the clear to score in the corner.
Whitland had the upper hand, having more than parity in the scrum set piece but for all their game time dominance they weren’t clinical in turning the possession into points.
Prop Dafydd Bowen scored an excellent try for the Athletic after second row Williams caught the ball in an offside position as they got a foothold in the game.
Centre Gethin Francis had put in a thumping tackle on Thomas in midfield, as young skipper Dan Evans and second row Llyr Owen came to the fore alongside Bloomfield.
From the penalty given for Williams offside the visitors set up a line out, won by James Williams and his pack got a head of steam in the maul to destroy the home defence, with Owen touching down for an unconverted try.
The first half ended 8-5 with the visitors reduced to 14 men after hooker Paul Gravell took a yellow card after Emmanuel’s tolerance gave way, but it was a catalyst for the Athletic to start the second half with tenacity and spirit. Full back Robbie Davies was adventurous when running the Setaro line kicks back upfield linking well with his back row and scrum half Nick Rees.
Mason, for the green machine and his backrow colleague Ryan Morgan were doing a lot of unsung work on the floor and Mason set up the second try as the hour mark approached.
He won the wrestle for the ball as it went to ground, allowing Setaro to free Johnny Thomas and Price to make haste down the field. Young centre Josh Thomas had held pace with the fast moving break up field to arrive on a definitive angle where his strength carried him over by the posts for a converted try and a 15-5 lead.
Whitland were off colour with their finishing, perhaps the upshot of playing back to back derby games had clouded their focus as they lacked a spark and fizz from their back division.
Carmarthen were back in the game thanks to the opportunism of winger Josh Watson, after the flyer received the ball from Bloomfield.
Prop Carwyn Francis and Evans created the platform before Watson saw a half gap appear and he didn’t need a second invitation to put on the afterburners to leave his opponents failing in his wake, for Tom Gravell to convert.
Setaro extended the lead to 18-10 thanks to another penalty but the Athletic had an attacking axis as Carwyn Evans and Chris Howells set up a line out deep in the Whitland 22 metre area.
The catching line out had been an attacking platform all game and the visitors from up the A40 saw this as their D day.
Formed as a Club on June 6, 1944 they went through over a dozen phases of play where the forwards made small and direct gains, with Bloomfield the centre of the cyclone. Liam Price was dismissed and with a man advantage at the scrum the no 8 and Evans set up an opportunity for fellow back row man Rhydian Walters to score and Gravell convert.
Credit to Whitland who knuckled down to win the game when perhaps in seasons past the opportunity would have passed them by.
“We maintained our belief and mental toughness despite facing a storm in the final onslaught” said a delighted home coach Gareth Bennett.
“We showed tremendous character to come away with a victory and the players heads are down as they felt it should have been more comfortable than what it was in the end. We play with a smile on our faces and will work on the learning points in training this week.”
Whitland head to bottom of the table Llanybydder on Saturday (Jan 13) welcoming Loughor in a needle encounter the week after before heading to Hendy at the end of the month.
“One game at a time” chortled Bennett. “Let’s enjoy today’s result but both Dan (Mason) and I know where we have to improve and will be nurturing the players along this week towards our goal, promotion back to Division 1 West.”
Carmarthen Athletic next welcome St Clears to Trinity Fields with the confidence shown by their young side allowing them to fear no opponents in the Division.
Sometimes the difference between winning and losing is miniscule or on the ball falling kindly.
If the Setaro penalty hadn’t fallen back into a team mates hands the Athletic boys may have been waking up ‘Early in the morning’ and looking back on a win as opposed to just the losing bonus point they achieved in the Swansea Building Society sponsored match.