BRIDGEND 28 NEATH 20
The alarm bells are ringing at The Gnoll after this miserable defeat by misfiring Neath who were unable to overcome 14-man Bridgend in the second-half at the Brewery Field.
On the back of a poor display against Llanell, the huge worry for Neath is that there was no improvement this time out. The Blacks lacked drive and urgency against a hungrier-looking home side who were allowed to make light of their numerical deficiency after prop Rhodri Apsee was sent off for punching.
Both teams were greatly disappointed by the opening scores. Neath’s second-minute try by centre Keiran Williams, one of few to enhance his reputation, came as a result of a wayward Bridgend pass and full back Ed Howley’s conversion, followed by his splendidly-struck 45 metre penalty, saw the Blacks into a 10-nil lead. But fortune then favoured the home side as lock Keiran Martin went over for a try courtesy of a forward pass and Cai Evans’ conversion brought Bridgend back to 10-7.
Somehow, all three officials missed the errant pass and referee Robert Price soon left the field with a leg injury to be replaced by assistant Chris Oliver (Haverfordwest) by which time the home side had taken advantage of more abject Neath tackling which paved the way for a second try by wing Aaron Grabham and Evans’ second conversion put Bridgend 14-10 up.
NEATH BACK IN FRONT
Neath went ahead again when full back Howley and right winger Richard Smith combined to take play to the brink of the try-line and left winger Mike Evans was on hand to score from the resulting ruck.
Having already lost captain Zak O’Driscoll to a yellow-card, Bridgend were further depleted when Apsee was red carded but Neath failed to profit from an attacking line-out and they went in with a slender one-point advantage.
In the second-half, Neath spurned a penalty opportunity directly in front of the posts only to then attempt another immediately from wider out. That mysterious moment of grievous indecision brought its inevitable punishment when Bridgend moved upfield and Evans slotted a goal.
He soon added another and then a third within the space of 12 minutes to make it 23-15 and Neath were looking a ragged outfit indeed. Their line-out never functioned and the scrum was not as dominant as it should have been. Forwards Sion Crocker and Geraint James did most to take on their opponents and, while there was some pretty back-play, it all came to nothing against an admirably determined Bridgend defence.
Bridgend’s joy was complete when Evans – who formed a highly promising pairing with fellow 18 year old Harri Morgan – directed a cross-kick into the welcoming arms of unmarked former Neath wing Grabham who dabbed down for his second try. The Blacks, enlivened by a couple of replacements, did manage a late rally and, after Alec Jenkins was denied in the left corner, replacement scrum-half Scott Gibson’s energy brought Neath a third try but the conversion attempt – which would have earned an ill-merited bonus point – never threatened the posts.
Neath’s fall from grace in the last two games is a great vexation to supporters and the Blacks must quickly shake themselves out of this trough – maybe the visit to Aberavon next Saturday will be just the stage to provide the motivation.
NEATH – E.Howley (A.Jenkins); R.Smith, K.Williams, G.Evans (capt) (M.Pearce), M.Evans; I.Evans, C.Morgans (S.Gibson); B.Uphill (N.White), S.Crocker (I.Phillips), G.James (L.Tobias) R.Jones, M.Davies (C.White); E.Hopkins (D.Griggs), S.Hicks, R.Bean
BRIDGEND – T.Williams; A.Grabham, J.Gatt, O.Watkin, D.Moss; C.Evans, H.Morgan (W.Baird); R.Apsee (O.Evans), I.Merriman (O.Thomas), (G.Daniel); J.Pope, K.Martin; O.Lloyd, A.Evans (A.O’Driscoll), Z. O’Driscoll (capt) (C.John)
Referee – Mr. R.Price (Andover)/ Mr. C.Oliver (Haverfordwest)
Neath’s popular lock Rhys Jones makes his 100th appearance against Bridgend in the Premiership West on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
Rhys has been a mainstay of the Neath pack over the last four seasons and he keeps his place in a side showing several changes after last week’s defeat by Llanelli.
Acting captain Gavin Evans moves to centre with Iwan Evans coming in at outside-half partnered by Chris Morgans. Ben Uphill and Sion Crocker are restored to the front row and Elis Hopkins, a try-scoring replacement against Llanelli, steps into the back row.
Neath coach Gareth Llewellyn said, “There is no hiding the fact we were well below par last week and we are looking for an altogether more purposeful effort at Bridgend. We showed a bit of what we can do in the second-half but it was far too late and we need to fire from the start at Bridgend.”
Neath v Bridgend
15 Ed Howley; 14 Richard Smith, 13 Keiran Williams, 12 Gavin Evans (captain), 11 Mike Evans; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Matthew Davies; 6 Elis Hopkins , 8 Scott Hicks, 7 Ryan Bean
Replacements :- 16 Neil White, 17 Ifan Phillips, 18 Liam Tobias, 19 David Griggs, 20 Ceri White, 21 Scott Gibson, 22 Matthew Pearce, 23 Alec Jenkins