Saturday's Gwynedd Cup semi-final between Holyhead and Menai Bridge had all the making of classic Anglesey derby, and it lived up to expectations going literally down to the closing whistle!
The home side got off to a good start, being awarded a penalty within 20 seconds of the opening kick-off and converting it for a 3 - 0 lead. Both teams then settled down and started moving the ball but Bridge, despite large amounts of time in the home team's half, didn't capitalise on their opportunities and missed penalty kicks on 6 and 9 minutes.
Holyhead then broke out of their own half and, being awarded a second penalty, converted it on 12 minutes to take a 6 - 0 lead. Bridge then spent most of the next 6 minutes or so attacking the home side's try line against a solid Holyhead defence and eventually got the deserved breakthrough with flanker Gerwyn Morris barging in between the posts on 19 minutes and Dion McGrath kicking the conversion to give the visitors a 6 - 7 lead.
Both teams then enjoyed good spells of possession for the rest of the first half but strong defending saw no further points until Holyhead found a chink in the Bridge lines to score on 36 minutes and convert to take a 13 - 7 lead approaching half-time.
The action hadn't finished, however, with Bridge getting the ball back and forcing a line out a metre or so out from Holyhead 's try line. Bridge were unable to turn this in points and gave away a penalty which Holyhead kicked the length of the pitch to see it roll over the Bridge try line; there was some controversy as to whether the Bridge fullback had touched down or not before walking over the sideline but the referee ruled it had and awarded the visitors with a scrum all the way back on the Holyhead five.
Good scrummaging by the home side, however, saw them awarded a penalty which their scrum half use quickly to set up his backs to run in a try for the length of the pitch down the right hand sideline in front of a cheering home crowd who felt this a just reward for having been denied the ball on Bridge's try line minutes earlier. The conversion was unsuccessful but Holyhead went in 18-7 ahead at half-time in a half where Menai Bridge deserved to be closer.
The second half started with Holyhead playing the better rugby after Bridge gave them a scrum on the halfway line after the starting kick went out of bounds. Bridge gradually got back into the game and their attacking resulted in a successful penalty kick on 4 minutes to narrow the score to 18 - 10.
Holyhead then regained the ball on the restart and had a long period of possession on Bridge's five but robust defending again resulted in no points and eventually found the visitors moving the home side backwards into their own half. A penalty to Bridge saw them take possession inside Holyhead's 20 and, after several phases, Bridge's No 8 Sam Williams caught the home side's defence sleeping as he ran through the middle of their lines and scored a try on 14 minutes. A successful conversion saw Holyhead's lead reduced to a single point with the score 18 - 17.
Holyhead then enjoyed a good 14 minutes or so of possession in Bridge's half, often on the visitor's try line, before the relentless attacking pressure finally resulted in a try which, unconverted, pushed them ahead to 23-17 for a 6 point lead.
Both teams then had periods of possession but Bridge make the most of theirs and, after several phases inside the Holyhead 20, got the ball to fullback Daniel Hughes who danced around several defenders on the left side and ran in to touch down under the posts to the cheers of the visiting away supporters. An easy conversion saw Bridge take the lead at 24-23 with a few minutes left in the game.
The final minutes of the game then lived up the expectations of draw! The restart saw Bridge's player get tackled in the air when jumping to catch the ball and the resulting penalty kick saw Bridge with a line-out deep in Holyhead's half. Bridge had had a lot of success with rolling mauls throughout the game and almost got to the Holyhead try line with another but were unable to capitalise and, after two more exchanges of possession, a penalty by Bridge saw Holyhead kick the ball deep into Bridge's half for a line-out.
Bridge had the put-in but Holyhead got the ball and so commenced an epic battle for the remaining three minutes or so in which Holyhead crashed like an angry sea deity against the tired defensive line of Menai Bridge. The hits from both sides were a sight to see (the footage can be watched on Bridge's YouTube channel at https://t.co/RCp9o2ZDG0) and Holyhead did manage to cross the line once but were held up. The home team tried time and time again from one sideline to the other but a knock-on by Holyhead finally saw the referee blow the final whistle to the jubilation of the visiting players and supporters and the disbelief of the home side.
Bridge's reward is a place in the final of the Gwynedd Cup against Division 3 North champions Nant Conwy 2nds, to be played this coming Saturday (19th May) at a neutral venue to be confirmed.
Updated 20:55 - 14 May 2018 by Gary Williams