NEATH 29 points BARGOED 36 points
Neath’s Jekyll and Hyde progress continued when they missed out on the opportunity to go top of Tier 2 in contriving to throw away a 19-point lead against Bargoed.
For much of the season, Neath’s form has fluctuated from game to game; this time it fluctuated within a game – and coaches Gareth Llewellyn and Paul Williams were distraught figures at the end of this alarming second-half fade-out.
It had all started so well for Neath who looked ready to carry on their fine form from the 59-14 win over Cross Keys the previous week. A skilful take off a Reuben Morgan-Williams break by hooker Ifan Phillips saw him cross for Neath’s opening try within two minutes.
Full of running, the Blacks added another by centre Gavin Evans who was soon followed to the try-line by Phillips for his second. Ed Howley converted both and Neath were 19-nil to the good before Bargoed hit back with a try by winger David Evans which outside-half Calum Jones converted.
Howley then turned on the burners to scorch away for Neath’s bonus point fourth try and he converted himself but on the stroke of half-time Bargoed bagged a crucial score through lock Joshua Jacas which Jones converted to make it 26-14 at the end of a breath-taking half of running rugby.
Bargoed came out firing in the second-half as they effectively wiped out Neath’s off-loading game. Tries by Jones and centre Ashley Norton, the second converted by Jones brought the scores level. Neath rallied mid-half and Howley was denied a certain second score by the referee calling a forward pass.
Howley edged Neath in front with a penalty only for Jones to cancel it out almost immediately and Bargoed, with the wind in their sails, clinched it when Jones went over under the posts, full back Matthew Lewis adding the straightforward conversion.
It was disappointing for Neath but another object lesson for their young side – no game is over until it is over. But full marks to Bargoed whose comeback was most admirable and they deserved their success in a 9-try spectacular which again provided many thrills for long-suffering Gnoll supporters.
The vagaries of form of Neath’s young side makes watching them a compelling, if frustrating, experience. The style is exciting if not yet efficient and Neath need to knuckle down to nail down results.
Only two wins in their remaining games at Swansea and at home to Bridgend will be enough to get Neath a home play-off while Bargoed, on this form and with three home games to come against Newport, Bridgend and Cardiff, can still qualify.
After their thumping 59-14 win over previously unbeaten leaders Cross Keys, Neath know that a win over Bargoed at The Gnoll on Easter Saturday (kick off 2.30pm) will take them top of the table.
In one of only two Premiership games being played on Saturday and the only one in Tier 2, the Welsh All Blacks are aiming to maximise their game in hand and unsurprisingly have named a very similar line-up to last week.
Neath make just three changes with Gavin Evans replacing Keiran Williams (shoulder) and Dan Guarneri resuming for Luke Price who has been called up by the Ospreys. Hooker Ifan Phillips and prop Ryan Thomas return up front while Glynneath wing James Roberts is on the bench alongside a new face in Wales Under-20’s back rower Aled Ward.
Neath v Bargoed (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Max Llewellyn, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Geraint Llewellyn; 10 Dan Guarneri, 9 Reuben Morgan-Williams; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Ifan Phillips, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Leon Ward, 7 Charlie Davies
Replacements – 16 Sion Crocker, 17 Neil White, 18 Geraint James, 19 Jonny Griffiths, 20 Aled Ward, 21 Chris Morgans/Josh Guy, 22 Rory Morgan-Williams, 23 James Roberts
Referee – Mr. Dewi Phillips (Aberystwyth)