Pontypridd have been narrowly defeated 25-22 by Sale Sharks in the final of the PARKER PEN SHIELD 2002, and in doing so have failed in their attempt to win the double, and in a double blow, have missed out on a Heineken Cup spot next year...
Zurich Premiership runners up Sale Sharks won the 2002 Parker Pen shield with a powerful and creative 25-22 performance that underlines their status as one of the best sides in Europe this season.
Jim Mallinders men deservedly took home the silverware after 80 minutes of pulsating rugby that saw the lead change, and change again in a great advert for European rugby.
Sale went into this match as favourites, but Pontypridd have proved this season that they enjoy the status of underdogs, and indeed it was Ponty who looked the sharper in the early exchanges.
Ponty's marauding pack were causing all manner of problems for Sale, and within fifteen minutes, two penalties from the boot of Davey, plus a sublime drop goal from young talent Ceri Sweeney gave the Sardis road outfit a nine point advantage before Sale had put any attacking rugby together.
Ponty had said all week their tactic was to starve the likes of Robinson and Hanley of ball, and this tactic worked extremely well in the opening period. Ill discipline from Sale and accurate shooting from Davey meant Pontypridd went in 15-3 to the good at half time, and they were looking good for the win.
"The coach told us at half time really, he said we were giving away too many penalties, and you cant do that with a kicker of Bret Daveys quality," said Charles Hodgson.
And it was a different Sale side that emerged for the second half. Now they were playing with the flourish that has brought them such high accolade all season. Two tries in three minutes stunned Ponty and fired up Sale, and from that point the Heywood road outfit were in command.
Pushed forward by the impressive Charles Hodgeson, Sale began to work the ball from many angles. Centre Martin Shaw scored the first try, and then Steve Hanley raced away from the chasing Ponty backs, shrugging off tackles by Gareth Wyatt and Brett Davey to touch down under the posts.
Ponty refused to lie down and die, and a beautiful try touched down by hooker Mefin Davies restored the Pontypridd advantage.
But in the end, Sale had too many tricks and too much guile to let this trophy slip away, and clever play from Hodgson set up replacement Dan Harris for the decisive score.
"You cant take anything away from Sale, they played very well," said Ponty coach Lyn Howells.
"They moved the ball well and were able to spin it wide, and it was difficult to defend against," said Howells.
Sale will now be aiming for a unique double- they still have a chance of winning the Zurich Championship. And they have the prospect of Heineken Cup rugby to look forward to next season.
Pontyridd have missed out on qualification for Europe's premier competition for the second year running. Swansea fans will be happier though, Pontys defeat means that by virtue of the Whites fifth place Welsh/Scottish league finish, they claim the final Welsh qualification spot for next seasons Heineken Cup.
Nearly 40 players were involved in the first Wales Under 18 training session of the season. WRU National Performance Manager Gethin Watts is excited at the potential shown by the group and expects the Regional Under 18 Championship to hone their skills even further.