WRU East One
Risca 27 Monmouth RFC 40
What entertainment for those watching, and how constantly challenging for those playing, reports PETE WALTERS.
On Saturday Monmouth travelled to Risca seeking to repeat their 23-19 victory at home in early November, and they were made to work hard for it by the surprisingly nippy and penetrative young backs against them.
At half-time, with Risca enjoying a deserved 20-19 lead thanks to an unconverted try as half-time approached, Monmouth were going to have to calm themselves, make their tackles and stick to their game plan after the restart.
It was certainly end to end stuff keeping all on tenterhooks right to the end with Risca pushing hard.
But Monmouth created a necessary cushion with a converted try to stretch the gap between the two sides to two scores needed with ten minutes to go.
From the start both sides were up for it, playing exciting interconnecting rugby. And at a line-out on the right, second row Shaun Hobbs rose high for a clean take and went over for the first score of the game after just eight minutes.
Kicking was to surprisingly be an issue for both sides at times given the still conditions, as the conversion went awry.
Monmouth then lost a back row player to a nasty accidental bang to his face, but despite reasonable bench depth in this respect it was a forced pass to touch out of a tackle that deprived Risca of a score next on the left wing.
Several strong tackles were needed not least by diminutive fly-half Dan White to stem pressure from the hosts, followed by Risca next driving over the line only for the ball to be declared held up.
Risca were quite lively at this stage. And from a touch following a penalty for a high tackle they stretched the defence wide on their left and levelled the score 13 minutes into the game.
The kick missed but in no time at all their centre cut an amazing line in the visitors’ 22 to go over untouched for a converted try and a 12-5 lead.
Regular penalties were awarded against both sides as the referee meticulously policed offside and Risca seemed unusually to dominate the lines out, although when they speculatively knocked back one such throw, Monmouth pounced on the error and their prop Tom Green made good headway only to be called back for a penalty for crossing. Too tricky this time by far?
Play went to and fro and captain and centre Dan Dunmore made up for a missed tackle by making a good break which ricocheted for Monmouth to pounce and White to go all the way for a converted try near the posts.
Monmouth then scored again via scrum-half Oliver Scriven to take a 19-12 lead.
Full back Lewis Bates was again on the ball with another of his eventual five conversions.
Risca’s highly elusive left wing then put Monmouth to the test, but over confidence, or perhaps greed on his part allowed Monmouth to close down the move.
Play was called back for a kickable penalty to narrow the gap to four points followed soon by a poorly defended scrum by Monmouth when the home scrum-half had oodles of space on the blind side to gain great territory, but the defence scrambled back and held again.
The referee warned both sides about too many high tackles, but it was another for offside that Risca kicked for a corner touch which they drove, and when halted a long miss pass created the gap which took them into a 20-19 lead in injury time prior to the half-time whistle.
Monmouth must have received a stern talking to as they came out to win a penalty for not rolling away in the tackle.
From the subsequent touch, they drove a maul and then released the ball along the line for flanker Cory Harper to complete the score to retake the lead 26-20.
A penalty found a touch on halfway which was lost again, but when retaken as a scrum for not having been straight, White linked well by throwing a good long pass which he is successfully doing more of these days to good effect.
Dunmore kept it going but when chopped down, the ruck was won and the ball put though hands again for Harry Whelan to score for a 33-20 lead.
Risca fought back well with a deep break which was solidly stopped although high, resulting in another penalty, taken as a scrum which after a re-set was nearly pushed over.
Subs aplenty arrived and then a potential disaster as a yellow card for another high tackle robbed them of a player.
Unsurprisingly Risca were able to drive over for a further seven points.
But not to be outdone, Monmouth kept playing good rugby and substitute centre Morgan Jeffs neatly drew his man to find Bates up in support for the sixth and final try and then it was a matter of holding firm over the final minutes for a good win.
Internationals intervene now so Monmouth 1st XV’s next league match will be Abergavenny – 17-10 home winners over Pontypool United at the weekend – at home in a local derby on Saturday, February 17.
Elsewhere, Usk beat derby visitors Caerleon 25-0 in East 2, while Chepstow just lost out 16-14 at runaway East 3 leaders Abercarn.