By Jonathan Twigg, photos by Sue Bows
HENDY remained top of the Division 2 West table with a bonus point 28-17 victory over Carmarthen Athletic, in the only league game to survive the weather on Saturday (Mar 3).
In a year which will see them celebrate their 125th Anniversary Season with a gala dinner at the Strady Park Hotel on Saturday (June 1) promotion remains a priority for the coaching team of Dorian Jones, Chris Morgan and the Shingler brothers, Aaron and Steven.
The icing on the cake would be to pip challengers Whitland to the title, their showdown game scheduled for Saturday (May 5) at Hendy but there is a lot of rugby to be played before that date.
The micro climate that hovered over the village on Saturday allowed the aptly named groundsman Steve ‘Snowy’ Williams to perform wonders in ensuring the game was played. The ground resembled conditions akin to an early season friendly, the pitch able to take a stud but was hard in places.
Snowy, a local landscape gardener had his work cut out to maintain the surface to allow it to go ahead, after close dialogue with Llangennach based referee Jack Boswell and East Wales based match referee Lee Gibbs.
The Beast from the East certainly wasn’t Gibbs and once the game was under way the home side broke the deadlock through centre Josh Davies, who benefitted from the silky hands of full back Jake Newman putting him into space to score under the posts.
Versatile player Josh Batcup, playing at outside half as regular Rhydian Morris was unable to travel due to the snow in Cardiff slotted over the conversion. The move started with off the top line out ball from second row Rhodri Hughes who alongside prop Ben Batcup had outstanding games, not only at the set piece but also around the park with their tackling and tracking back.
Such play was reminiscent of former flanker Max Easey who tragically passed away recently, the two sides showing impeccable respect for his life before kick-off, the first opportunity Hendy have had to pull on the ‘jersey’ in seven weeks to acknowledge such an emotional tribute.
Athletic full back Robbie Thomas skated over to equalise the scores after winger Tom Gravell kicked the conversion, before Newman intercepted the ball on the ten metre line to race clear and just manage to touchdown despite pressure from his opposite number Thomas.
Gravell kicked a penalty to reduce the deficit to two points at 12-10 before the well drilled home set piece set up two more tries from driving line outs. Hughes was again the key component in the tries, the first to boiler house partner Ashley Banford and the second to live wire flanker Matthew Wotherspoon to establish a 22-10 half time lead.
The Athletic scored the only try of the second half through Marcus Francis-Curtis converted by Gravell to bring the game back within a score, which was a just reward for the physical and direct play from the red and blacks.
Hendy skipper Chris Bowen had led his side well in the second half, kicking for touch to set up the game deep in the opposition half and capitalising on the mistakes made, eventually opting for two long range penalties from Newman to ensure the victory.
Guest speaker Scott Quinnell will have a lot to talk about at the gala dinner and the situation surrounding the only game to be played, although the Athletic are no strangers to being involved in games when everything else is postponed. In 1985 their fixture survived the frost as did the only other game played involving Cardiff RFC.
Chris Morgan, Hendy coach said: “We are delighted with the result, with the conditions difficult, with the hard ground and late afternoon rain making it difficult for the players. We have kept the players spirits high but missing games for such a long period was bound to leave us rusty.
“Opportunities arose in the second half, but we didn’t capitalise on the territory we had fought for, especially as the Athletic were tenacious at the breakdown and probably edged the play on the gain line.”
Hendy make the trip to Llanybydder on Saturday (Mar 10), whom they defeated in the reverse fixture 38-6. Morgan has an ‘expectation for another physical encounter, against a side whose bottom of the table position doesn’t give a true reflection of their ability’.
The Athletic meanwhile welcome local rivals Tumble to Ystrad Fields hoping to record a double over the Magpies after the 24-13 victory in November and in doing so consolidate their position in the top four with six games of the season remaining.