Spring truly had arrived when Brecon entertained Caerleon in a mid-table battle at Parc de Pugh. Beneath clear blue skies and with balmy temperatures the teams made the most of the conditions as they served up some outstanding entertainment in a match that had everything. Both sides scored 5 outstanding and the lead changed hands four times before the final decisive score which wasn't recorded until the penultimate play. As the teams lined up for the kick off there was little to choose, statistically, between the two adversaries. Both teams had played eighteen matches, winning nine apiece, but with Caerleon having gained 2 extra bonus points. Those two points were all that separated the 5th and sixth placed teams. In the previous encounter, Caerleon had just taken the spoils and Brecon were eager for both revenge and to leap frog their opponents into 5th place. There was, therefore, a lot at stake for both sides and yet both showed a willingness to play 15 man rugby and to take risks, thus creating a superb spectacle in which the game flowed from end to end.
During the match, in which neither side ever achieved overall superiority, there were a number of critical situations. The early phases saw Brecon take control territorially and yet they were unable to convert pressure into points. They crossed the line almost from the kick off but were held up. That was followed a number of promising attacks which broke down as Brecon, either spilled the ball or lost it in contact. Caerleon held out and when they were given the opportunity they took it with a move that started deep in their half. Their full back picked up a loose kick and countered brilliantly. Drawing defenders towards him he put his right wing away. Latching onto what appeared to some to be a forward pass, the winger showed great pace to race away from half way to score a try which was converted.
In that one move Caerleon served notice that they would be a threat with ball in hand. They also showed that they would pose Brecon problems at the scrum. For the first 30 minutes of the match they drove Brecon back at this phase and the home side were fortunate to have an accomplished No 8 in Ewan Williams who was able to deal with the retreating possession. In spite of his efforts, Caerleon began to build a lead, first through a penalty and then through a second try which started with a quick tap penalty on their own ten metre line and finished with their right wing again showing his paces as he sped in from half way.
Fifteen points down Brecon were facing a mounting crisis, which early season could well have led to a collapse. As they have now shown in recent months they are far more resilient these days and so it proved again. They battled back with forwards Jim Williams, Richie Davies, Davey Herdman and Ewan Williams being prominent with ball in hand. In the backs too accuracy improved and Eifion Jones, who had an outstanding game, together with Jake Newman and Jake Crockett began to find gaps in the visitors defence. Pressure brought a penalty which Newman kicked and then Brecon scored their first try. Richie Davies and Jim Williams made ground before outside half Gari Davies received the ball. He took the tackle stayed strong and reached out for the line to score. Newman converted.
Now only 5 points down and with the scrum beginning to hold its own Brecon surged forward towards the visitors’ line. When the forwards were held up just short Dan Edwards moved the ball out to the backs. Under the shadow of the posts Eifion Jones stood up in the tackle and off loaded to Jake Newman who scored and converted to put Brecon into a short lived lead.
Caerleon hit back almost from the kick off. An old failing of not securing the re-start came back to haunt them as Brecon allowed the Caerleon wing, the shortest man on the field, to steal the ball in the air. With possession in the Brecon half Caerleon were always going to be dangerous but when a score came a number of Brecon defenders will regret the fact that they failed to haul down the big Caerleon tight head prop and allowed him to show great hands when putting his hooker in for a converted try. Having worked so hard to give themselves the lead it was disappointing to see the way it was surrendered. However, on the half time whistle Brecon the reduced the deficit with a second Newman penalty.
The second half didn’t start well for the home side. A dropped ball allowed Caerleon to gain a foothold in Brecon territory and then the tight head again crashed through the Brecon defence again to win the visitors a penalty. They went for a line out in the corner, drove and when they were held, spun the ball wide to their lively wing who side stepped his way over in the corner.
Again Brecon were forced to re-build. Now with good possession from line out and scrum they drove Caerleon back and showed the confidence to spurn a kick at goal and to go for the corner instead. It was the right decision as the pack executed a move straight off the training field. Mark Squirrel won the line out, Davey Herdman took the ball on a peel around the front and fed Jim Williams who crossed unchallenged.
Now the game swung in Brecon’s favour. Caerleon were forced to live off limited possession and to battle hard to keep Brecon out. Keep them out they did for a long period. Finally, however, Brecon reaped the reward for their efforts. After being held up and turned over just short of the line they countered from the relieving kick. Crockett seemed to be held but somehow broke free and put Jake Newman in for his second try which he again converted to again restore a Brecon lead.
The match then entered an evenly balanced phase with Brecon holding on to their lead up until the 75th minute. The Caerleon centre then created space for his wing with a lovely piece of individual play. He sliced through the wide defence and Caerleon again held a two point lead with less than 5 minutes to play.
Brecon needed to keep the ball in hand and they seemed to have blown their last chance when they kicked directly into touch and were brought back to their ten metre line for a line out. They battled hard and drove Caerleon into touch for a line out of their own. It was won cleanly and moved to mid-field, where Eifion Jones cut past his opposite number. He fed Jake Newman who then dummied to Crockett and cut straight through the middle to score his third try of the afternoon. His conversion left him with a total haul of 27 points and gave Brecon a 5 point lead with just the kick off remaining. This they secured, kicked to touch and won a remarkable victory at the end of a tense, exciting contest.