CROSS KEYS 29 points NEATH 10 points
Battling Neath were booted out of the Cup by Cross Keys whose outside-half Josh Prosser kicked 19 points to dismiss any hopes the Blacks had of progress in this year’s tourney.
Ultimately, it was Neath’s lack of street-smartness which cost them as Prosser’s bag included five penalties. Three came around the keenly-contested tackle area, two were for offences at the scrum where nowadays penalties are awarded all too liberally with effects which are often beyond proportion. But, awarded they were – and Neath paid the price. Neath also opted to take three quick penalties : two at vital junctures in the first-half when cool heads and a kicking option might have brought better rewards.
Of course, a little luck goes a long way in the Cup and it must be said that Neath did not get much of it for they had cause to rue two crucial first-half decisions which went against them and which, on another day, may have made for a different outcome.
The first led to Keys opening the scoring when many were not convinced that the ball had even been touched down. It all bamboozled the poor announcer but the benefit of the doubt and five points were given, Prosser merrily adding two more to send Keys on their way. Conversely, Neath were later denied a try when full back Ed Howley was tackled without the ball in pursuit of his own chip; again, the home side got the benefit of the doubt when it should have been at least a penalty, possibly a penalty try, but instead the referee ruled a 22 drop-out. Still, what would the Cup be without a little controversy ?
In between, Neath had levelled with a splendidly worked try by winger Alec Jenkins – two efficient line-out drives and good direct charges by centre Matthew Pearce and No.8 Leon Ward set up the score and Ed Howley converted superbly from the touchline. But Keys enjoyed the better of the second quarter and Neath’s hopes gradually withered on the vine of Prosser’s penalty-kick perfection, his four goals saw the home side 19-7 to the good at half-time.
Both sets of forwards were still up for the battle and a Howley-Prosser penalty exchange soon made it 22-10. Well led by the lively Darren Hughes, Keys’ heavyweight pack is admirably suited to the Pandy Park swamplands and two of their larger species Richard Cornock (250) and Daniel Hodge (200) celebrated outstanding landmark appearances. The lighter Neath forwards responded to Jordan Collier’s example and stuck to their guns throughout and did not concede even when their leader was binned.
Down to 14 men, another Howley effort which would have brought Neath back into it thundered into an upright before play switched to the other end where Keys sustained possession and clinched the tie with a try by No.8 Ieuan Jones which was converted by Prosser who, one Keys supporter claimed, has hardly missed a kick since Christmas !
With a bevy of young replacements emerging from the bench including long-term absentee Reuben Morgan-Williams who thus joined big brother Rory in the Black shirt for the first time, Neath threw everything at Keys in the last 10 minutes and, although they came close on several occasions, Keys held firm and they could not quite cross the line to make the score more reflective of how the game had gone.
Keys deserved to win yet the 2-1 try-count suggests that Neath continue to improve but the team must learn a lesson and be more disciplined – when defending and attacking !
Successive away wins at Cardiff and Llanelli in Phase Two of the Premiership have done much to lift spirits at The Gnoll as Neath head to Pandy Park to play Cross Keys in the Cup on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
The Welsh All Blacks make only two changes from the side which started at Llanelli with Ryan Thomas coming in at prop and Aled Morris in the back row.
No.8 Scott Hicks was injured in that game but Gareth Morris, Reuben Morgan-Williams, Neil White and Charlie Davies are back on the bench while Ifan Phillips is on Ospreys’ duty for a sixth week.
Neath v Cross Keys (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 Ryan Thomas; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Aled Morris, 8 Leon Ward, 7 Jordan Collier (captain)
Replacements – 16 Neil White, 17 Callum Jones, 18 Jonny Griffiths, 19 Tom Hayward, 20 Charlie Davies, 21 Josh Guy, 22 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 23 Gareth Morris
Referee – Mr. Gareth John (Chepstow)