Following a 20-3 reversal in the rearranged game away at Oakdale on Wednesday (1 April) in appalling conditions, last Saturday’s game at Llanhilleth was played in truly Spring-like warmth despite a driving wind down the field.
The result was no better this time even though the mid-week score had not totally reflected the game, but in fairness, Llanhilleth was the better coordinated team from the start with purposeful and driving forays into the wind. Despite the advantage of the elements Monmouth remained penned in their own half with all their emphasis seeming to be to try to run the ball out of defence when deep touch-finders would have helped ease the pressure on many occasions.
That said, not only did they keep their slate clean, partly thanks to some fine heroics in defence, sadly with consequential injuries, but amazingly from virtually their only three significant incursions into home territory they scored three converted tries without reply to lead 0-21 at the half-time break.
First Mike Price broke clean through, and following a sizeable pause while wing Matt Tabb was assisted from the field with a nasty looking knee injury, a poor pass in an attack by the home team produced a loose ball which wing Rob Farr pounced upon to run 70 metres to score under the posts.
James Smith was next to punish mis-handling by the homesters when a ball was thrown forward and he, in turn, capitalised on the gift with a long clear run-in under the posts.
Llanhilleth again rallied and, not long after Monmouth captain Harding luckily avoided greater punishment than a penalty for a high tackle on an opponent, when one of their players was obstructed by a Monmouth forward, a bout of fisticuffs erupted and to the annoyance of their small but voluble crowd, it was one of their players who received a yellow card and was sent from the field for 10 minutes to cool down.
Monmouth used their superiority in numbers to make ground into the left hand corner but when a defender went off-side at a ruck in an act of desperate defence, he, too, was yellow-carded. Time was up though and inexplicably Monmouth chose to end the half by kicking the ball dead without bothering to try the admittedly difficult kick at goal - a hint of complacency too soon?
Within a minute of the re-start, a re-invigorated Llanhilleth 13 man team earned a penalty which failed, but their use of long kicks to touch deep in Monmouth’s half boded ill and when the visiting team came up too fast in defence, the next penalty from 22 metres out in front of the posts saw Llanhilleth begin the big climb back.
Monmouth knew what they needed to do but failed to initially capitalise on the reduced numbers facing them. But once restored Harding lead the way with an excellent break up-field. His kick ahead only needed to be gathered for fly half White to score but the ball eluded himand an important chance was lost.
Substitutions began and despite the fresh legs some of the cohesion in the Monmouth team was lost. Llanhilleth narrowed the gap to 25 points with another penalty and when the visitors displayed dissent over a questionable off-side they were driven back deeper in their half. A further penalty led to the now dominant home pack driving over for an unconverted try.
Stockley who had been put on to shore things up left the field after only two minutes and a damaged hamstring which must be his shortest and least successful appearance in a long and illustrious Monmouth career and Monmouth were now truly in trouble.
The defence became desperate and ragged as Smith, Monmouth’s best back on the day, also left the field injured. Tackles became weaker or non-existent at times as Llanhilleth upped the anti but veteran Davies was at least prominent in breaking up one attacking movement but the ship was nevertheless going down.
A questionable penalty for a high tackle, when many thought the player had ducked into it, brought a penalty and a scrum which predictably saw Monmouth driven back again and their lead overtaken 23-21 with 5 minutes left to play.
By now scrums had moved to uncontested but one final flurry by Llanhilleth whose break and kick took them deep into Monmouth’s corner. A scrum resulted and a nifty break by a back row forward wrong-footed the defence and scored another try, the failure to convert which allowed Monmouth to scrape a losing bonus point as the final whistle was blown for a 28-21 loss.
Chepstow at home next Saturday (11th) gives them a chance to redeem themselves (k.o. 2.30p.m. at the Sports Ground.)
Tries: M.Price, R.Farr, J.Smith
Conv: M.King (3)