NEATH 17 pts LLANELLI 40 pts
In their most disappointing showing of the season, Neath were well-beaten by a far livelier Llanelli side who ran out well deserved winners, outscoring the home side by 5 tries to 3.
In the first-half especially, Neath were a shadow of themselves and by the end of it Llanelli were more or less out of sight. A missed tackle and an interception try spelled gift scores for the visitors and provided simple conversions for visiting centre Billy McBryde who also kicked three penalties as the visitors sped into a 23-7 half-time lead.
Outside-half Ioan Hughes eased through for the first try and winger Ioan Nicholas enjoyed a merry 70 metre stroll for the second. The alarming nature of Neath’s first-half lack of inspiration after their promising start to the season prompted one supporter to suggest that, had this been an IPL cricket fixture, there would have been calls for an investigation into match-fixing !
At nil-13 down, Neath offered briefly when the ever-dangerous Richard Smith broke through but could not find his support. They continued to press only to give away that penalty try before the strong-running Smith provided a ray of hope when he finished off a sweeping move for his fifth try of the season which Ed Howley converted.
OVER AS A CONTEST
The game was over as a contest almost as soon as the second-half started as Llanelli reclaimed tapped Neath line-out ball to set up a third score for left wing Ryan Conbeer and the fourth was not long in coming as centre Oli Reyland exploited some poor tackling to levy the bonus-point try, McBryde converting.
To their credit, Neath then staged a mini-revival as they at last began to take the game to the opposition with some determined carrying. Sustained attacking brought its reward when centre Keiran Williams was worked over for his fourth League try this term and Llanelli were lucky to escape a yellow card as they tried to prevent it.
Neath were beginning to play like they can – and like they need to ! Most of the replacements made their mark with a couple of neat touches from Iwan Evans and eventually Neath found a hole in the Llanelli defence which replacement flanker Elis Hopkins was delighted to exploit for a third try – his first in the Premiership after scoring at Narberth.
A bonus point try was a possibility but there was an air of inevitability about it when Neath failed to find touch from a penalty and a speculative kick downfield by Llanelli was not dealt with and Nicholas went in for his second try, Llanelli’s fifth.
Really, the Blacks could have few complaints as they paid the penalty for that lack-lustre first-half. Scott Gibson and later Chris Morgans tried hard to create behind a beaten pack in which Ifan Phillips, Ryan Bean and Leon Ward were most prominent while Rhys Jones, as ever, kept going until the end and flankers Hopkins and David Griggs injected some life from the bench.
Llanelli were much the better side though, their set-piece strong and their defence solid with Tom Phillips, Jack Condy and Dan Davis a very impressive, balanced back-row in their team’s best display of the season. It contrasted with Neath’s poorest so the Blacks must now lick their wounds and re-discover their fire before Saturday’s visit to Bridgend.
NEATH – E.Howley (G.Llewellyn); R.Smith, K.Williams, M.Pearce, M.Evans; G.Evans (capt) (I.Evans), S.Gibson (C.Morgans); N.White (B.Uphill), I.Phillips (E.Hopkins), G.James (L.Tobias); R.Jones, M.Davies (S.Crocker); L.Ward, S.Hicks (D.Griggs), R.Bean
LLANELLI – A.Evans; I.Nicholas (J.Newman), O.Reyland (M.Jenkins), W.McBryde, R.Conbeer; I.Hughes, D.Smith (G.George); T.Kaijaks (R.Thomas), T.Davies (C.Thomas), S.Gardiner (B.Leung); C.Long (R.Bullough), T.Price; T.Phillips (capt), J.Condy, D.Davis (L.Pike)
Referee – Mr. A.Evans (Cardiff)
Neath play old rivals Llanelli in the Premiership West at The Gnoll on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
After winning their first two games against Swansea and Carmarthen Quins, the Welsh All Blacks have lost their last two to RGC and unbeaten Llandovery and, with skipper Jordan Collier a long-term casualty due to a broken leg, Gavin Evans continues to lead the side.
Neath make two changes with Mike Evans and Matthew Pearce returning to the three-quarter line. Back row forward Leon Ward will make his 150th appearance while prop Ben Uphill is poised for his 50th off the bench which also features former Narberth prop Liam Tobias and Tata flanker David Griggs.
Neath coach Gareth Llewellyn said, “Although playing well for the most part, we have not done quite enough to win the last two games and we will need to do that little bit extra and take our chances against Llanelli who are bringing a strong team.”
Neath v Llanelli
15 Ed Howley; 14 Richard Smith, 13 Keiran Williams, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Mike Evans; 10 Gavin Evans (captain), 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Neil White, 2 Ifan Phillips, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Matthew Davies; 6 Leon Ward, 8 Scott Hicks, 7 Ryan Bean
Replacements :- 16 Ben Uphill, 17 Sion Crocker, 18 Liam Tobias, 19 Elis Hopkins, 20 David Griggs, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Iwan Evans, 23 Geraint Llewellyn