20 May 2018 / Club News

Bridgend Athletic Youth 12 Pontypridd Youth 29 National League Play Off Final – Sat May 19th, 2018 –

Bathed in glorious evening sunshine before a sizeable crowd Bridgend Athletic Youth, Ospreys A League Champions looked to defend their National League title against Blues Regional Champions Pontypridd at Rodney Parade. The physical size of the Pontypridd 8 took its toll on the Athletic in the second half and although the Bridgend side matched Ponty with two tries apiece they conceded a raft of penalties gratefully received by Ponty captain and centre Rhodri Smith. Smith’s match haul of 19 points from 5 penalties and two conversions proved too much for the Athletic and a half time 6-5 deficit turned into a Ponty 29-12 full time victory. 
Smith missed an early penalty but kicked his side ahead after 7 minutes when the Athletic were penalised for not releasing at the ruck. From the restart the Athletic were awarded a kickable penalty but elected for full back Levi Hallett to kick to the corner. Fortune favoured the brave. Lock Jac Bassett won the throw in and the far lighter Athletic 8 showing good technique driving low pushed the heavier Ponty 8 backwards for prop Morgan Clemett to peel away and dive low over the try line. This gave the Athletic a 5-3 lead. Attempting to run out of their 22 an Athletic player became isolated and was penalised for holding on. Smith restored Pont’s lead with his second penalty. Full back Hallett was hurt in a tackle and was replaced in the 15th minute by Cameron Lewis.
The rest of the half was keenly contested, but the game swung in the 5-minute periods before and after half time. Athletic outside half Morgan Roberts grubber kicked behind the Ponty defence on half way regathered and excellent inter passing between himself and centre Caine Woolerton saw Woolerton race 25 metres to get over the try line with a tackler holding on to him. The referee adjudged Woolerton had been held up and failed to ground the ball, so the game remained 6-5 in favour of Ponty at half time.
From the restart Ponty came hard at the Athletic and within two minutes lively scrum hal Carl Blacker broke from ruck 20 metres out to race under the posts. Before the Athletic could regain their composure, a flowing back move saw centre Ioan Evans cross for Ponty’s second try. Smith’s two conversions put his side in the driving seat with a 20-5 advantage, which he quickly increased to 23-5 with his third penalty of the match. To the Athletics’ credit they did not crumble as Ponty turned the screw. Outside half Morgan Roberts sent a long clearance upfield behind the Ponty defence. No 8 Will Barraclough went in pursuit and was on hand when the defence fumbled the ball to pick up and run in for his 20th try of the season. Scrum half Matthew Hobby converted to renew hope with the travelling Athletic support at 23-12.
However, the Ponty pack were relentless. Having failed to pick off the Athletic wide out where centres Joe Patterson, Caine Woolerton and wings Sam Palmer and Nathan Willis defended well Ponty looked to grind down the Athletic with their heavier pack.  The Athletic front row of Clemett, Tom Zielinski and Chris Crupton and replacements Callum Swinford and Jack Obbard refused to buckle in the set scrum, while Tom Davies, Jac Bassett and Owain Leyshon were competitive against taller and heavier opponents in the line out, stealing some vital throws. The back row of Davies, Barraclough and captain Joe Grabham were playing well, but on the day the Ponty back row of Welsh Youth flanker Callun James, Dafydd Smith and Dewi Thomas played better as a unit especially at the breakdown. The Athletic gave the remainder of their young bench Danny Osirigie, Sean Vigus, Josh Tidy and Kasari Mehta a taste of Cup Final action.
Desperately trying to get back in the game the Athletic largely pinned inside their own half found themselves isolated at breakdowns and conceded two further penalties which Smith converted to give his side a deserved victory on the day.
The game marked the end of a three-year youth coaching tenure for head coach Lee Grabham and two seasons for assistants Kevin Gamble and Keith Hobby, while new coaches this season Paul Obbard and Mike Groom came up with last season’s U16 side to coach the Rags. Paul will remain as a youth team coach. It is proposed the youth will join the seniors in training next season to familiarise themselves with senior play patterns in readiness for taking the next step in their rugby careers. Lee has been coaching the senior youth players for 13 years since Under 7’s. Kevin & Keith have been involved for 12 & 10 years. Lee started coaching the youth jointly along with his Under 16 side aided by a fellow Athletic stalwart John Doherty. John stayed two seasons. Keven & Keith followed their boys into youth 2 seasons ago. Lee is also grateful to Steve Bassett who has been a great physio throughout Lee’s 13 years and other match day helpers particularly Martin Willis.
The trio of long term coaches can be well pleased with overseeing one of the best periods for Athletic Youth rugby since the Youth team was formed in 1976. A Rags (Athletic 2nd Youth team) reached the final of the Welsh Bowl in their first year. The team won the District cup, and for the past two seasons the 1ST Youth XV have won the Ospreys Youth A League. Last season’s side won the National League Cup Final and were beaten finalists this season. Seven of last season’s Youth are now 1st XV squad members. Two of this season’s players captain Joe Grabham & Caine Woolerton have been awarded Ospreys Development contracts. Well done and thanks Lee, Kevin & Keith. You have etched yourselves into Athletic Youth history with your coaching success and firmly put the Athletic Youth team on the Welsh rugby map.
Please note the joint Senior & Youth Ath Presentation Night is at the Heronston Hotel on Saturday June 2nd - details on Ath sites.

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