NEATH 18 points RGC 31 points
A sickening injury midway through the first-half to Neath captain Jordan Collier who suffered a broken leg overshadowed this bristling affair as Neath slid to their first defeat of the season.
Neath were leading 13-7 when the young flanker leapt to catch a re-start but he landed awkwardly and the game was held up for 12 minutes before he was stretchered off the field.
Although Elis Hopkins deputised splendidly, Neath were not quite the same without Collier and RGC nicked the lead before half-time then, aided by a stream of penalties awarded their way and a spate of home injuries, steadily made the game safe in the second-half.
It had all started so well for Neath who went in front via an Ed Howley penalty after five minutes. RGC hit back with an excellent try by Tian Loots which Jacob Botica converted but Neath regained the lead when they blasted the visitors’ scrum and clever combined work saw big lock Matthew Davies cross for his first try for Neath.
And things got even better for the Blacks when they mauled their way towards the line and excellent preparatory work by scrum-half Chris Morgans and his back row saw centre Keiran Williams reach over the line for their second try.
But then disaster struck with the injury to Collier and RGC sneaked ahead just before half-time through a driving line-out try by hooker Geurge Roberts converted by Botica. Howley had a chance to re-establish Neath’s lead when the home team’s scrum again destroyed the visitors’ pack but his long-range shot did not threaten the posts.
Neath needed to get back on track but the referee perplexed the home crowd by awarding a penalty to the visitors whose tight-head clearly dropped a scrum in front of the stand.
BACKS TO THE WALL
That was something of a pivotal moment for Neath whose scrum was altogether too strong for the visitors. It allowed RGC to take the initiative and thereafter it was very much backs against the wall as further injuries forced Neath to use all their forward replacements at an early stage with prop Neil White an unlikely lock. But Neath showed tremendous spirit before finally cracking midway through the second-half and then only after back-rower Leon Ward had been yellow-carded.
The driving line-out is one of the least appealing aspects of the modern game and is difficult to stop – legally – and it proved a potent force for RGC as they went over for their second such score by Tim Gray, Botica converting and then adding a penalty to make the game virtually safe.
WOULD NOT LIE DOWN
It was certainly secured when they sustained possession well for Henri Williams to cross for their bonus-point try, Botica converting but brave Neath would not lie down and, as visiting lock Williams found his way to the bin, quick work by replacement hooker Ifan Phillips (shades of his father Kevin) took a short penalty and Neath worked the overlap for replacement wing James Roberts to touch down for Neath’s third try.
Dismayed at losing their skipper, Neath coach Gareth Llewellyn praised his team’s effort and endeavour. He also extolled the team’s scrum which functioned strongly despite all the disruptions but pinpointed too many penalties conceded as a concern.
NEATH – E.Howley; R.Smith, K.Williams (J.Roberts), M.Pearce (I.Evans), A.Jenkins; G.Evans, C.Morgans (S.Gibson); B.Uphill (, S.Crocker (I.Phillips), R.Thomas (G.James); R.Jones, M.Davies (N.White); L.Ward, S.Hicks, J.Collier (capt) (E.Hopkins)
RGC – D.Jones; I.Pari (I.Evans), T.Hughes, T.Loots, H.Evans; J.Botica, C.Davies (A.Schwarz); J.Simpson (J.Scott), G.Roberts R.Williams), S.Wainwright (C.Reynolds); M.Francis (capt) (R.Williams), H.Williams; A.Williams, T.Gray, W.Bryan (D.Owen)
Referee–Mr. S. Rees (Ebbw Vale)
Buoyed by winning their opening two Premiership games, Neath are aiming to make it a hat-trick when they take on Wales’ ‘fifth region’ RGC at The Gnoll (kick off 2.30pm).
Following three warm-up friendly wins and beating Swansea (39-16), Neath edged an exciting 18-15 victory over Carmarthen Quins last week and they make only three changes.
Into the starting line-up come wing Alec Jenkins with Chris Morgans taking over at scrum-half while Ryan Thomas comes in at prop.
Neath coach Gareth Llewellyn said, “Again, we have not made too many changes as we are building momentum and integrating team patterns. We look at it as a 23-man game anyway but all squad members know what is expected of them and will get their chances.
“RGC, with all the backing of the WRU, showed their capabilities last year. They lost at Llandovery on day one but beat Llanelli last week and, at this stage of our development, we are looking to add another scalp.
“We are setting higher standards, the supporters are enjoying the style of rugby and coming back but we know we need to keep playing and improving.”
Neath v RGC
15 Ed Howley; 14 Richard Smith, 13 Keiran Williams, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Gavin Evans, 9 Chris Morgans ; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Matthew Davies; 6 Leon Ward, 8 Scott Hicks, 7 Jordan Collier (captain),
Replacements :- 16 Neil White, 17 Ifan Phillips, 18 Geraint James, 19 Jon Barley, 20 Elis Hopkins, 21 Scott Gibson, 22 Iwan Evans, 23 James Roberts
** COMING UP NEXT AT THE GNOLL ! – September 23 fixture against Llanelli – Season Tickets are still available and cover all home Premiership matches – details on website.