Craig Hawkins ran out at Parc y Scarlets in a Llanelli jersey for the final time last night, as the hooker brought the curtain down on his glittering career with victory over Pontypridd in the Principality Premiership.
With little riding on the match for either side - Llanelli unable to finish any higher than fifth and Ponty already assured of top spot - and with a Swalec Cup final on Sunday to think about, Paul John made a raft of changes to the one that agonisingly lost out in the British and Irish Cup semi at the weekend.
Llanelli’s Director of Rugby Anthony Buchanan talked before the match of giving Hawkins a fitting send off and the hosts took heed as they dominated the opening half.
Both sides were intent on running the ball but it was Llanelli’s supremacy up front that provided the first points. A line-out from eight metres out saw the hosts drive over, with man of the moment Hawkins emerging with the ball and a smile as referee Neil Hennessy awarded the try. Fly-half Josh Lewis added the tricky extras.
The hosts continued to have all the territory and possession with flanker Daniel Thomas, who is also moving on at the end of this season, thriving in the loose. Llanelli were guilty of butchering several chances with Justin James and Lewis Rawlins the culprits.
However, a penalty from Lewis just before the interval extended Llanelli’s lead to 10-0 at half time.
Going into the match Llanelli had only won one of their last six encounters, a run of form that has seen them miss out on the Premiership play-offs, but they continued to dictate after the break.
And they extended their lead ten minutes into the second-half, a line-out in the Ponty 22 saw the ball move swiftly off the top to Dafydd Lewis off his wing, and the speedster cut the visitors' defence to go beneath the sticks. Lewis slotted the simplest of conversions.
The score seemed to wake the reigning Premiership champions from their slumber when they made their first real foray into Llanelli territory that saw them come away with a try. A series of successive penalties pushed Ponty deep into the Llanelli 22 and they produced a carbon copy of Llanelli’s first score to drive over out-wide, with No. 8 Owen Sheppeard claiming the touchdown.
Any sign of a revival was quickly quashed by Buchanan’s troops-replacement James Ball outpaced the Ponty cover defence to reach a hack on before showing great footballing skills and gather the ball for a sublime score.
With six minutes remaining, Hawkins left to a fitting ovation and the hosts wrapped up victory with their fourth try. Great vision from Lewis in mid-field saw the fly-half produce a perfectly judged cross-field kick that landed in the arms of replacement winger Dion Jones who finished well.
The result sees Llanelli end their campaign on a high, despite a season of mixed fortunes, while Pontypridd won’t care too much about the result with the chance of a consecutive League and Cup double well within their grasp.
Llanelli 29 - 5 Pontypridd
Courtesy of Laura Murton