North Wales Crusaders won the Welsh derby with victory over South Wales, but it took an improved second half to see the brave Ironmen off.
Crusaders scored five second half tries to overturn a 6-12 deficit and collect their fifth win of the league campaign by 36-12.
With youngster Jaxon Langford watching on, the game got off to an inauspicious start as Taylor Prell spilled the kick off for Crusaders and the Ironmen opening the score with Conner Farrer nipping over from close range. That was converted by Paul Emaunelli to open a 6-0 lead.
On their next set Christiaan Roets made good ground but that work was undone by a handling error when the ball came inside. Earl Hurst then made good inroads for Crusaders from a scrum but was hauled in touch.
The hosts had another chance down the left in the 7th minute but Hurst couldn’t get the ball away cleanly to Dale Bloomfield.
The Crusaders had another raid two minutes later with Simon Atherton crashing through from close range after Callum Mulkeen had been stopped short. Tommy Johnson goaled and the game was level at 6-6.
North Wales went close to a further score as Houghton cut through and then the last brought a boot to the air by Ryan Smith.
The Ironmen went downfield constructively with Jack Uren tackled in the 20 before the ball was dabbed to touch from close range by Emanuelli.
Good work from Uren saw him reach an Andy Moulsdale kick ahead of Atherton and an ambitious pass from Connor Parker put pressure on before North Wales charged a clearing kick down to give more possession to their derby rivals.
A penalty took the Ironmen close and after Errol Carter was tackled, the ball came inside and there was no stopping Parker’s direct route. Emanuelli struck his second goal and the visitors led 12-6 after 19 minutes.
Enterprising last tackle play saw Ryan Smith, Bloomfield and Hurst combine but fine last ditch defence stopped a try and the spirited Ironmen moved to halfway before a booming kick by Emanuelli was taken confidently by Johnson.
The Wrexham-based side created another opportunity when Prell ran and kicked forward but it was too strong. Although Ironmen lost the ball on their next set Hurst spilled possession on the try line and then conceded a penalty.
Kenny Baker saw a try wiped off for a forward pass after 27 minutes and much of the game continued to be played in the South Wales half with Crusaders cleaning up a couple of inventive kicks from Emanuelli.
Good scramble held Mulkeen at bay on the right before Hurst had the ball dislodged from his grasp. It saw Crusaders with another set but Alex Whalley got excited and spilled the ball on the try line.
In the last ten minutes before half-time South Wales defended superbly and counter-attacked well. Carter handled a Moulsdale high kick and the Ironmen came forward with Emanuelli’s guile causing issues. Only Atherton’s quick thinking pick up saved Crusaders, who put another chance down when Baker drove in.
The hosts had one final chance before the break but South Wales hunted down attackers on two kicks and took a hard fought 12-6 lead to the break.
Crusaders created the first meaningful chance of the second half, but Bloomfield found Hurst’s pass too hot to handle.
South Wales failed to complete their next two sets and conceded a penalty. It proved too much for their over-worked defence and Atherton hit a Moulsdale pass to claim his second try of the game after 46 minutes. Johnson’s second goal levelled the game at 12-12.
Zak Williams came to the rescue of the Ironmen when cleaning up a low kick and the South Wales side forced Crusaders to come from their own twenty.
They did it perfectly when Warren Thompson rumbled in and flicked the ball away for Baker to run twenty metres to score. Johnson kicked the conversion and Crusaders led for the first time – 18-12.
A thirty metre run from Thompson set the platform for a probing half break by Ryan Smith and the visitors were forced to punch the ball dead when Moulsdale kicked for the in-goal.
It handed Crusaders a drop-out. Crusaders’ big men were certainly doing damage and Baker was soon under the posts for his second try. Johnson nudged over his second goal and it was complete turnaround with Crusaders up 24-12 after 56 minutes.
Thankfully for South Wales Ryan Smith put the ball down after the gap had been created, and then Baker couldn’t take a Warren Thompson pass. Thompson was in everything, even launching an angled kick after 62 minutes that could have seen Atherton claim his hat-trick.
With Martyn Reilly, Calcott and Williams putting their work in the middle of the field, South Wales remained competitive into the final ten minutes, but ultimately didn’t have enough fire power or possession in Crusaders’ twenty to pose problems and the hosts secured the win five minutes from time when Smith followed up a Moulsdale crossfield kick to score their fourth try of the half.
Johnson maintained his 100% record from the boot and North Wales led 30-12.
Two minutes later, Crusaders top try scorer Smith was at it again, supporting on the inside to go under the posts for Johnson to convert.
There was some interesting post siren play, but it ultimately came to nought with North Wales securing the victory.
North Wales Crusaders: Tommy Johnson, Taylor Prell, Callum Mulkeen, Earl Hurst, Dale Bloomfield; Andy Moulsdale, Ryan Smith; Jonny Walker, James Dandy, Kenny Baker, Jack Houghton, Simon Atherton, Luke Warburton. Subs: Aaron Moore, Warren Thompson, Alex Whalley, Joe Bate.
Tries: Simon Atherton 2, Kenny Baker 2, Ryan Smith 2.
Goals: Tommy Johnson 6/6.
South Wales Ironmen: Jack Uren, Sam Hodge, Morgan Jeffries, Errol Carter, Ben Jones; Andy Gray, Paul Emanuelli; Will Calcott, Conner Farrer, Connor Parker, Zak Williams, Christiaan Roets, Martyn Reilly. Subs: Kade Breen, Jamie I’Anson, Mike Edward, Cobi Green.
Tries: Connor Farrer, Connor Parker.
Goals: Paul Emanuelli 2/2
Referee: Mr M Griffiths.