Neath’s revival gathered even greater momentum as they brushed aside Cross Keys to set-up a Principality Premiership Tier 2 final against Newport.
Gareth Llewellyn’s side, who ended up bottom of the table with only one win in 22 games last season, ran in five tries at The Gnoll to beat Keys 33-13. Newport held off Llanelli to reach the final with a last gasp, 22-17 win at Rodney Parade.
“We are the second youngest team in the league and we’ve done a lot of growing up this season. Reaching the final has given us something positive to aim at and scrap for, but we want to be battling at the top of the table next season,” said Llewellyn.
“If we can win some silverware it would mean we’ve reached the first rung on the ladder we need to step out of the deep pit we were in at the club. Last season we were trying to get players to stick with us, now we’ve got players asking to stay and others asking to join.
“We are trying to raise standards and while we wanted to be in the top eight, it might have played into our hands to be in Tier 2 this season because we’ve been able to pick up some wins, build some confidence and develop the squad.
“It is encouraging that we are that much better than we were last season and even at the beginning of this campaign. But there is still so much more to do and there are lots of things at which we can become better.
“We still miss too many opportunities and still make a few too many mistakes. Things are beginning to stir at the club and we want to give players from the town and the Neath locality a chance to prove themselves.
“Geraint Evans has provided a steadying influence, Ed Howley has been fantastic for us and we are now starting to look a little bit like a Neath pack should.”
The ultra-reliable Ed Howley chipped in with 13 points as he scored one of his side’s five tries and kicked four conversions. Aaron Grabham scored twice for Neath and Charlie Davies and Chris Morgans got the other tries.
Keys, who had already beaten Neath twice in three outings this season, took an early lead with a Josh Prosser penalty and ere only 5-3 adrift at the break after the first of Grabham’s scores. Just after halftime, Prosser then lifted his side back into the lead with a second penalty before the home side took firm control.
The Welsh All Blacks rattled up 28 points without reply to seal the final place for the home team and a last minute try from James McCarthy, converted by Prosser, was only enough to give the visitors something to smile about on their journey home.