LLANELLI 15 points NEATH 37 points
Neath zoomed to the top of the Premiership 2 table with a rare but very well deserved win against Llanelli at Parc-y-Scarlets on Thursday evening.
The Welsh All Blacks were keen to continue the good form they showed in beating Cardiff for the fourth time this season while Llanelli were hoping to build on their own gallant effort at Cross Keys where they lost 6-9 to the odd penalty in five in the opening round.
Both sides opened brightly but Llanelli were attacking when sharp visiting wing Aaron Grabham nipped in on an interception, kicked ahead twice and outstripped the home defence over fully 75 metres for the first score.
Llanelli countered with a try by flanker Tristan Lloyd from a line-out surge and Billy McBryde’s conversion gave them the lead before Neath, showing great ambition in running from deep, saw Grabham interlink with fit again winger Alec Jenkins and the latter scored on his comeback appearance to make it 10-7.
Both teams were striving to get on top and it was proving to be an evenly contested affair and on 32 minutes McBryde levelled the scores with a penalty before full back Ed Howley boomed one over from 40 metres to give Neath a slender 13-10 half-time advantage.
Neath started the second-half with huge purpose and Grabham nearly got in for his second try at the corner. The resultant scrum saw Llanelli hold firm but a loose defensive kick found Neath right wing Grabham who linked inside with Ed Howley and the elusive full back bamboozled the home defence for Neath’s third try which he converted himself to make it 20-10. Llanelli were not yet done though and five minutes later they cut the arrears with their second try scored by full back Dion Jones.
The Neath forwards were getting on top and No.8 Scott Hicks was regularly hitting holes in the defence. With both teams utilising their replacements, the stronger All Black scrum applied an increasing stranglehold and Neath more or less sealed the game when the forwards again rolled back the Llanelli pack and back-rower Leon Ward controlled the ball for a pushover try which replacement outside-half Dan Guarneri converted.
Llanelli’s forwards were now firmly under the cosh and the All Blacks, again finishing strongly, made victory certain when another scrum penalty gifted Guarneri the opportunity for three more points which made it 30-15.
To set the seal on another encouraging Neath performance, skipper Jordan Collier charged away on a run up the left touch-line, his co-forwards arrived in numbers to set up quick ball, with numerical advantage Guarneri seemed to have over-cooked his cross-kick but the ball held up capriciously in the in-goal area and an eager Neath chase resulted in a try awarded to Ed Howley (but claimed by Aaron Grabham).
Guarneri’s conversion completed the scoring and victory was just reward for Neath’s solid set piece and hard-tackling defence and the Welsh All Blacks can take great spirit from only their second ever win at Parc-y-Scarlets where some good Neath sides of the semi-pro era met with failure. Wins at Cardiff and now Llanelli should give the side confidence as they prepare for the Cup challenge at Cross Keys.
After beating Cardiff at the Arms Park by 20-9 in their opening fixture in Phase Two of the Premiership, Neath head to Parc-y-Scarlets to play Llanelli on Thursday (kick off 7.15pm) seeking to overturn an earlier 22-31 loss at The Gnoll.
The Welsh All Blacks make few changes from the side which beat the Blue and Blacks for the fourth time this season. Kristian Corbisiero and Calum Davies were injured in the win but fit-again Alec Jenkins, Dan Guarneri, Ryan Thomas and Jonny Griffiths re-join the match day squad.
Neath v Llanelli (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Gavin Evans, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Rory Morgan-Williams, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Leon Ward, 8 Scott Hicks, 7 Jordan Collier (captain)
Replacements – 16 Aled Morris, 17 Callum Jones, 18 Ryan Thomas, 19 Jonny Griffiths, 20 Tom Hayward, 21 Josh Guy 22 Geraint Llewellyn, 23 Dan Guarneri
Referee – Mr. Ben Breakspear (Abercynon)