(by Paul Williams)

If Aberavon’s victory over Bridgend a week earlier was all about a good squad performance, this affair at St Helens owed much to opportunism, hard work and a masterful display from fly-half and captain James Garland, who finished the match with two tries, four conversions and a dropped-goal but, most importantly, took the right options at the right times to keep his team’s nose ahead against a dogged home team that tackled like demons and worked hard to disrupt the Wizards’ free-flowing offloading game.

Indeed, it was the All Whites who took up the early running, and were soon leading 6-nil thanks to a brace of penalties from Owen Howe, with the Aberavon pack at this stage struggling to secure quality ball, particularly from a strangely misfiring lineout – an area that had been particularly productive during their previous outing. Their cause was hardly helped by a knee injury to lock Sam Williams just a couple of minutes into the match.

However, with Ben Jones an eminently suitable candidate to take Williams’ place, the Wizards eventually began to put their game together, and two tries in quick succession early in the second quarter finally got them into a lead they were never to lose.

First up came a swift attack down the left flank, with an accurate long pass from hard-tackling centre Rheon James creating the space for full-back Jonathan Phillips to cross out wide for an unconverted try. Three minutes later Swansea made something of a hash of recycling ball near halfway, and Garland read the situation perfectly and went racing through to intercept in midfield and go clear to the posts, adding the conversion to make the score 6-12.

The Wizards then survived a ten-minute period without hard-tackling flanker Lee Purnell, very harshly yellow carded on the advice of an assistant referee, before extending their lead when a copybook driving lineout ended with hooker Luke Davies grounding the ball for his second try in as many games. Garland’s touchline conversion made it a more comfortable looking 6-19, but Howe had the last word of the first half by sending over his third penalty.

Ben Thomas replace Purnell at half time, necessitating a back-row reshuffle, but the Wizards were swiftly onto the front foot when another display of crisp passing released Shaun Pearce into space down the left flank. The speedy winger had the gas to outstrip the cover defence and add a third touchdown to the two he’d scored during the previous outing. However, a Swansea breakout saw them all but cross the Aberavon line before Craig Price was adjudged to have killed the ball and sent to the sin-bin. Almost inevitably, a Swansea score would follow and it was Howe who touched down to maintain his monopoly of the home team’s scoring with an unconverted try.

The Swansea resurgence continued and it was very much a case of nervous times, from an Aberavon viewpoint, when replacement hooker Tom Ball burrowed over from a lineout for Howe to convert. With the margin narrowed to just five points a further score was crucial from an Aberavon viewpoint, and it fell to skipper Garland to provide his team with a little breathing space as he coolly dropped a goal. It proved to be a crucial score, as home centre Rhys Williams darted in for a try, with Howe’s conversion narrowing the gap to a single point, but it did mean that the Wizards remained ahead, and as the match drew to a close they finished by far the stronger of the two teams, with first Ben Jones crashing over from a driving lineout to make it 28-34, before a loose ball in midfield was seized by Garland who raced away for his second try, to which he added the conversion.

From the restart, the Wizards were content to let the clock run down and finally put the ball out of play to leave with their second bonus-point win from two league outings.

Swansea 28 - 41 Aberavon

Aberavon Team:
Jonathan Phillips (rep Liam Popham 44 min); Shaun Pearce, Joe Thomas, Rheon James (rep Will Price 56 min), David Evans (rep Steffen Williams 66 min); James Garland (capt), Jacob Flynn; Rowan Jenkins (rep Jordan Walters 73 min), Luke Davies (rep Ieuan Davies 56 min), Rhys Henry (rep Jon Thomas 68 min), James Ratti, Sam Williams (rep Ben Jones 3 min), Lee Purnell (rep Ben Thomas half-time), Luke Joseph, Craig Price.

Club debut for Jordan Walters.
Joe Thomas, Rowan Jenkins, Rhys Henry, James Ratti & Jordan Walters appeared from the Ospreys

Aberavon Scorers:
T - James Garland (2), Jonathan Phillips, Luke Davies, Shaun Pearce, Ben Jones
C - James Garland (4)
DG - James Garland

Swansea Scorers:
T - Owen Howe, Tom Ball, Rhys Williams
C - Owen Howe (2)
PG - Owen Howe (3)

Ben Breakspear

Man Of The Match:
1 - James Garland
2 - Craig Price
3 - Lee Purnell

Time Line:
12 min: Swansea - PG - Owen Howe (3 - 0)
17 min: Swansea - PG - Owen Howe (6 - 0)
25 min: Aberavon - T - Jonathan Phillips (6 - 5)
28 min: Aberavon - T - James Garland & C - James Garland (6 - 12)
32 min: Aberavon - Yellow Card - Lee Purnell
40+2 min: Aberavon - End Yellow Card - Lee Purnell
40+3 min: Aberavon - T - Luke Davies & C - James Garland (6 - 19)
40+7 min: Swansea - PG - Owen Howe (9 - 19)
40+7 min: Half Time
48 min: Aberavon - T - Shaun Pearce & C - James Garland (9 - 26)
50 min: Aberavon - Yellow Card - Craig Price
51 min: Swansea - T - Owen Howe (14 - 26)
59 min: Swansea - T - Tom Ball & C - Owen Howe (21 - 26)
60 min: Aberavon - End Yellow Card - Craig Price
63 min: Aberavon - DG - James Garland (21 - 29)
72 min: Swansea - T - Rhys Williams & C - Owen Howe (28 - 29)
76 min: Swansea - Yellow Card - Jay Williams
77 min: Aberavon - T - Ben Jones (28 - 34)
79 min: Aberavon - T - James Garland & C - James Garland (28 - 41)
80+6 min: Full Time