Any hopes of a free and open game in the strong Autumn sunshine were quickly dashed by a thunderstorm and rain that descended in bucketsful as the game on the Sports Ground kicked off last Saturday. Thereafter slipping and sliding was to play a big part in what turned out to be a highly competitive match between Monmouth and RTB Ebbw Vale.
With both sides having missed long range penalty kicks at goal in the opening minutes, a deep clearing kick out of defence found touch for the visitors and prefaced a prolonged period of pressure in the Monmouth half. Eagerness to keep them out caused the home backs to stray offside and go three points behind to an easy kick after 13 minutes.
Penalties were being awarded evenly by the referee for varying offences largely related to rucks and tackle areas but with several being missed by both sides with the greasy underfoot kicking conditions, Ricketts capably levelled the scores when a visiting forward offended at a ruck.
With play alternating from end to end, Monmouth worked their way up the full length of the field through boot and hand but their progress was halted 10 metres out when failing to release the ball in a tackle.
The resulting penalty relieved pressure on RTB for a while, but Monmouth’s superior scrum drove them back metres with a resultant penalty from 24 metres proving no problem for fly half Ricketts. At 33 minutes Monmouth took the lead 6-3.
RTB heads were down now and a long kick upfield deep into their defence found left wing Matt Tabb up to catch their defender from whom centre Howells ripped the ball and fed it out to the overlapping flanker Mike Griffiths who scored in the left corner.
Rather than subdue the visitors further, RTB rallied and were soon harassing the Monmouth backs near their line. Scrambled passing left Ricketts in the lurch and caught behind his own line.
The scrum gave the ball back to RTB who used it creatively with one of their backs cutting inside three defenders as their feet slipped from under them. With the added two points for the kick the half-time whistle sounded leaving Monmouth with the slimmest of 11-10 leads.
RTB resumed well up the slope and into the bright sun and were able to charge down a rather casual clearance kick. The ball rebounded to a defender who knocked-on but at scrum that followed Monmouth were relieved to be awarded a free kick when it collapsed.
Their senses now focussed, Monmouth used their forward strength to hold up a maul some thirty yards from their line only to concede a further three points and the lead again for questioning the referee. Forty-five minutes gone and 11-13 down!
But Monmouth rallied immediately and led by scrum half White they found a touch 60 metres on the right. Ruck after ruck failed to breach the RTB defence and when a scrum was taken for an offside offence RTB succumbed to the battering their front row had sustained by claiming uncontested scrums which left the referee seemingly rather perplexed but unable to disagree. Opting for a kick at goal missed the target and what some might consider a cynical tactical ploy had prospered yet again.
This brought substitutions by the home team and a move to a lighter, more mobile front row with the arrival of Stacey Edwards at prop in this, his 21st season, supplemented by the experienced Davies arriving in the centre.
Monmouth continued to batter the opposition line but RTB held out well albeit with the assistance of the match official’s relaxed take on offside together with wrong options taken off the base of the Monmouth scrum. After three wasted minutes of being held up on the line, common sense prevailed and the strength and girth of No.8 Phillips was eventually used to break through and regain a 16-13 lead.
RTB continued to hold out often illegally and when they lost a player eventually to a yellow card, Tabb’s long kick ahead was touched down just before he arrived.
Play was now fast and furious, epitomised by a hasty decision to take a quick penalty 30 metres out and under the posts. Three certain points at this stage would have calmed things down a little rather than the smallest man on the field running into the secure arms of some of the RTB team.
With what turned out to be another 15 minutes with injury time added, the home defence were having to dig deep, but RTB were under the cosh too and when a defender knocked-on a high kick, his team-mate clearing up the mistake from an offside position brought three further points for Ricketts and a greater breathing space for the hectic closing stages and an ultimate 19-13 win.
Welcome encouragement indeed as Monmouth continue to climb the table prior to a hard game away next week against Ynysddu!
Try: M.Griffiths, N.Phillips
Pen: R.Ricketts (3)