James Hook sent off!!!
Flanagan gets the drop on Neath
May 8 2006 Andy Howell, Western Mail
Neath 25-26 Pontypridd
IT had been billed as the James Hook Show, but his and Neath's dream of a league and cup double were shot down by baby-faced assassin Dai Flanagan.
His amazing injury-time drop-goal gave Pontypridd the narrowest of victories and put the lid on a sensational Konica-Minolta Cup final at the Millennium Stadium.
It would have been a travesty if Pontypridd had lost because they were the better side for threequarters of the match.
But they came close to blowing it as Neath, improved by a glut of replacements, mounted a remarkable comeback befitting of Principality Premiership champions.
The Welsh All Blacks looked out of it when they trailed by 10 points with just 25 minutes of normal time remaining following a super try from Ponty's impressive right wing Chris Clayton.
But the sin-binning of his lock team-mate Chris Dicomidis gave Neath a glimmer of hope.
The door was slightly ajar and was pushed wide open when replacement Paul Jones was driven over for a try from the close-range line-out that followed.
And then Hook, Wales outside-half in waiting to many, picked off a speculative, long pass from opposite number Flanagan and cantered to the try-line.
His conversion gave Neath a 25-23 lead - it was the sixth time it had changed hands - and all the momentum seemed to be with them.
But spirited Pontypridd refused to buckle and managed to raise themselves for a final effort.
Leighton Davies, who had replaced lively hooker Ben Phillips - the son of Wales team manager Alan Phillips and a poacher in the mould of his father - put in a delicate chip for Clayton to change.
He collared Neil Clapham, who had taken over from the out-of-sorts Gareth Morris at full-back, and, with help from Davies, bundled him into touch.
Pontypridd won the line-out and the scrum that followed was in prime attacking territory. The clock showed nearly 85 minutes had gone.
A drop-goal attempt had to be on the cards and Flanagan, who missed a difficult, long-range penalty that would have given Ponty victory in last year's final, was ready and willing to make amends for that and Hook's interception try.
"I really went from zero to hero in the space of a few minutes," said the 20-year-old, who might look like he's just entered comprehensive school but who is cool and calculating.
"It was just a case of catch and kick. Thankfully I didn't have time to think of anything else.
"You can't fault the whole team's efforts as it was they who got us from our own line to Neath's territory right at the end to get me within sight.
"You go through different stages throughout a game, especially after last year's final.
"But we dug deep and recomposed ourselves after their third try and said to each other, 'We are not losing this one.'
"We knew what we had to do and we did it for the Chief. It's a shame he wasn't out there."
The Chief, Ponty living legend Dale McIntosh, was a spectator after failing to recover from damaged ribs sustained in the semi-final victory over Cardiff, but joined in as Pontypridd's jubilant and noisy fans in a crowd of 9,525 celebrated a famous victory.
Although there weren't that many spectators at the ground they generated a rip-roaring atmosphere. The rugby helped because it was a highly-skilled and fast affair. Those who didn't see it missed a real treat.