THE Drovers went down to their first home defeat of the season when defending Premiership champions Pontypridd edged a terrific battle at Church Bank, writes Huw S Thomas.
The setback means the Drovers slip to third at the halfway point of the season but in a rousing encounter, they went agonisingly close to beating an outstanding side.
A dozen or so former Llandovery captains in the crowd, including Rusty Jones, Nigel Clarke, Carwyn Williams and Geraint Williams, even suggested that it might have been the most enthralling game to have been staged at the ground since it opened in 1985.
Both teams played to the top of their form with sweeping attacks, wonderful cover defence and boundless energy, emphasising the high quality of the play.
Ponty just about deserved the win thanks to their edge in aggression and commitment at the breakdown but there was so little to choose between the two sides that a draw would have been a just result.
Both fly halves – James Garland and Dai Flanagan - had a faultless day with the boot, each kicking four penalties, but Ponty’s Flanagan also added the conversion to a first half try from hooker Huw Dowden.
The try came in the 20th minute after a wonderful weaving run from wing Lewis I Williams but there was controversy soon after when Llandovery scrum half Rhodri Williams sprinted away for a try only to be recalled and penalised for being in an offside position at the original breakdown.
Contrary to referee Neil Hennessy’s interpretation of events, video evidence suggested Williams had snatched up a loose ball in an onside position before haring away.
“It was an absolutely crucial decision,”
reflected Llandovery coach Lyndon Lewis, “as it represented a 10- point turn around.
“Instead of being 10-0 down we would have been level at 7-7 and that would have been a different ball game.”
Flanagan had rubbed salt into the wound by kicking the 40-metre penalty before he and Garland swapped penalties to make it 10-3 at the interval.
The home pack, with locks Shaun Jones and Bryn Griffiths to the fore, edged the third quarter, helped by the yellow carding of Ponty centre Gavin Dacey, and the Drovers took a 12-10 lead through three well-struck Garland penalties.
But the visitors rode the storm and, well led as always by their Cypriot international lock Chris Dicomidis, regained control.
The deft touches of the elegant Flanagan - out of hand and off the boot - and three confidently struck penalties took the visitors to 19-12 but the Drovers launched themselves into furious attack to try to at least get a draw.
The darting Williams and full back Lee Rees threatened to break through and a number of forward drives were held at bay only by some great cover defence from the more than relieved champions.
Llandovery return to British and Irish Cup action this Saturday when Doncaster Knights, directed by former Wales defence coach Clive Griffiths, are the visitors to Church Bank (KO 3pm).