By Tony Poole
At The Whitworth
IT seemed as if the world was Llanelli’s oyster during the halfway stage of this Welsh Premiership clash at Tonmawr last Sunday.
The second-placed Parc y Scarlets side had already recorded two tries, and a 23-0 scoreline was a fair reflection of a one-sided half.
Most around the Whitworth felt a bonus-point victory was on the cards, but Llanelli then suffered a bout of butter fingers.
Nothing went to hand during the second half and as time dragged on so Tonmawr showed a marked improvement.
They shed the ring-rusty tag that had displayed during the first half to become more competitive.
More time was spent in the Llanelli half and with it went any hope of the Sospans returning home with a bonus point.
Those to the fore for Llanelli were lock Adam Powell, who was their prime ball carrier, and No 8 Matt Gilbert.
Among the backs, scrum-half Gareth Davies was able to muster a few eye-catching runs, but during the second period Llanelli’s play lacked tempo or precision.
But they were nevertheless relieved to make it eight wins from nine league starts, and close to within six points of leaders Pontypridd.
This league showdown formed the prelude to the Swalec Cup meeting between the clubs – at the same venue - later in the month.
However, in all likelihood on this occasion Ton will start the tie with all guns blazing as opposed to the stuttering start made after an absence of three weeks.
During the opening half, Llanelli packed too much all-round punch for the Whitworth men, who were but a shadow of the side that won at Aberavon last month.
Llanelli were without top-points scorer Steve Shingler – Owen Williams filling the fly-half berth – and they included on the bench for a first time Scarlets Academy wing Jake Russell along with Uwic scrum-half Gareth Walters.
Llanelli spurned several try-scoring chances early on – wing Justin James and full-back Dan Evans both going close – and eventually went ahead via an eighth-minute penalty.
Full-back Dan Evans obliged from wide out, and four minutes later wing Justin James twisted over for a try that full-back Evans goaled.
By the end of the first quarter, they were 16 points to the good after full-back Evans completed a quickfire penalty hat-trick.
Ton then enjoyed a spell close to the Llanelli try-line without opening their account, and they fell further behind in the 33rd minute.
A scrum on the home 22 resulted in No 8 Matt Gilbert and scrum-half Gareth Davies created the space for centre Chris Keenan to touchdown.
The conversion from full-back Evans made it 23-0, but soon after he failed for the first time with a penalty.
A minor altercation - involving Tonmawr hooker Darryl Harvey and Llanelli prop Shaun Hopkins – then produced yellow cards, as the visitors ended the half in complete control.
On the restart Llanelli continued to press with wing James fluffing a try-scoring pass from No 8 Matt Gilbert while lock Adam Powell lost control of the ball in the act of touching down.
They eventually increased the lead in the 52nd minute via a fourth Evans penalty before Ton opened their account.
Scrum-half Iwan Mainwaring went blind from a 58th-minute scrum five to touchdown with fly-half Dai Flanagan landing the touchline conversion.
That score encouraged Ton, who began to pose more of a threat, and a 65th-minute run from wing Gareth John was held up just short of the try-line.
The closing stages were mainly played out in Llanelli territory, and a steal from a five-metre lineout prevented Ton capitalising on field position.
During time added on, it was Llanelli’s turn to attack, but slipshod handling prevented them recording a third try.
Tonmawr: Try – I. Mainwaring; Con: D. Flanagan
Team: E. Frewen; K. Phillips, D. Ritchie (T. Selley 55 mins), G. John; D. Flanagan, I. Mainwaring (L. Richards 63); O. Ford, D. Harvey (I. Dobbs 27-33, 40+3), C. Griffiths, A. Gwynne, B. Davies, L. Purnell, R. Hill (capt) (H. Stoddart 48), G. Beer (S. Kenny 40+5 – 48, C. Price 48)
Llanelli: Tries – J. James, C. Keenan; Cons: D. Evans (2); Pens: D. Evans (4)
Team: D. Evans; J. Lewis, N. Reynolds, C. Keenan, J. James (R. Bayliss 59); O. Williams, G. Davies; S. Hopkins (C. Hawkins (capt) (R. Lawrence 73), A. Hopkins, N. White (temp R. Thomas jnr) , Adam Powell (Allan Powell 58), A. Shingler, M. Gilbert, N. Cudd
Yellow cards: S. Hopkins (Llanelli), D. Harvey (Tonmawr) both 40+3 mins
Referee: Neil Hennessy