Rugby Union: Pontypridd stay on right side of Borders

Scottish Borders 16 Pontypridd 23
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The Independent Online
Pontypridd were on their best behaviour against Borders at Poynder Park, Kelso, to record their first victory in Pool C of the Heineken European Cup. There was not a punch thrown all evening and afterwards the bar was a haven of peace and conviviality. Maybe the air in Scotland at this time of year is cleaner than it is in South-west France.

Whether the Welsh Champions can build on this untidy win and gain a place in November's quarter-finals remains to be seen. For the moment Pontypridd will no doubt be content that, while playing nowhere near their best, they eventually got the better of a lively Borders team.

It is difficult not to have some sympathy for Borders. With the strength of Scottish rugby below international level based squarely on their District Championship, Borders would be immeasurably stronger if the likes of Gary Armstrong, Doddie Weir, Gregor Townsend, Alan Tait and Craig Joiner were still available to them, rather than playing for English Division One clubs.

Not that Borders betrayed any more of a sense of inferiority than they did when running Bath close at Hawick last Sunday. They began against Pontypridd, who were notably taller at the line-out and bulkier almost everywhere else, by running every scrap of possession and could have gone ahead if Tony Stanger had not be held inches short of the Welshmen's line.

Instead, it was left to Scott Welsh to open the home account with a 28- metre penalty. Having then weathered a determined response by Pontypridd, Borders extended their lead to 6-0 when Welsh struck again after the Ponty midfield had encroached. We waited for Pontypridd to complete any number of promising moves with the clinical finishing which has made them such a powerful influence in Wales.

They created plenty of chances, but invariably the final pass was spilled or a scrum conceded and all they had to show for their first-half endeavours was a penalty by Neil Jenkins.

Craig Chalmers, who replaced Kevin Utterson in the Borders centre after the break, made an immediate impression by setting Stanger free only for Dafydd James to make the try-saving tackle. Having seen their defence tested to the limit, Pontypridd then constructed the most convincing attack of the match for Kevin Morgan to latch on to Steele Lewis's pass for a stunning try. Jenkins converted, then slotted a 40-metre penalty and Pontypridd were on their way.

Paul John ensured that they would journey back to the Rhondda with something tangible to celebrate by scoring a fine individual try. Jenkins converted to make 20-6 before kicking his third penalty. Borders plugged away gamely in a losing cause with Michael Dods claiming their only try. Welsh converted and kicked a penalty.

Borders: G Aitchison; S Nichol, T Stanger, K Utterson (C Chalmers, h- t), M Dods; S Welsh, B Redpath (capt); N McIlroy, J Hay, P Wright (S Ferguson, 69), R Brown, I Fullarton, R Kirkpatrick, A Roxburgh, C Hogg.

Pontypridd: K Morgan; G Wyatt, J Lewis, S Lewis, D James; N Jenkins (captain), P John; M Griffiths, P John, A Metcalfe (N Eynon, 24), G Prosser, S Roy, M Spiller, M Williams, G Lewis (P Thomas, 51).

Referee: C White (Cheltenham).