ABERAVON 41 NEATH 20
Elementary errors blighted Neath’s game again at windy Aberavon where the home side ran out deserved winners on a 6-3 try score-line.
More than most clubs, the All Blacks will appreciate the two-week BIC-imposed break in fixtures as their injury-ravaged squad is down to the bare bones with team manager Martyn Morris assessing the number of absentees next week at 20 from 33 possibles.
Neath do not highlight injury concerns ahead of games as it is self-defeating but there is no doubt that the extensive casualty list is taking its toll and afterwards Morris was quick to praise players like prop Ben Uphill and No.8 Scott Hicks who are carrying injuries but are still pulling on the jersey.
Neath had first use of the strong wind but Aberavon regained possession from the kick-off and retained it long enough for Joseph Tomalin-Reeves to get the opening try. The Blacks gradually got into the game and cut the arrears with an Ed Howley penalty before going in front when hooker Sion Crocker seized upon an Aberavon tap to touch down.
It was just 8-5 at the break and that was never going to be sufficient and sure enough Aberavon, with the wind in their favour, steamed away to lead 17-8 through tries by centre Will Price and lock Ben Jones, James Garland converting the first.
Then Neath’s rudimentary errors kicked in. Despite having scrum-half Scott Gibson sin-binned, they took play close to the Aberavon try-line, possession was secured but nobody stepped into the No.9 slot and the ball was picked up by Tomalin-Reeves. He fed full back Liam Popham who just evaded Howley’s back-tracking tackle and raced to the other end to touch down and convert what was in reality a 14-point score.
Garland then dropped a snap goal but Neath hit back and young flanker Charlie Davies, making his first showing of the season after an ankle injury, was up in support to score after wing James Roberts’ inside pass rebounded off an Aberavon man.
With ten minutes remaining, any hopes of a Neath revival were flattened when they gifted Aberavon another try. Again, Neath were on the attack but in a 4 to 1 situation, they somehow contrived to pass the ball to the one Avon defender ! Gambian winger Michael Wilson was the lucky recipient and he is nothing if not fast. Result another try at the other end and another simple conversion for Garland – another 14-pointer ?
Neath came again through a defence-splitting run by Howley which was splendidly finished by centre Richard Smith, the most incisive three-quarter on display, and Howley’s conversion made it 20-34 but Aberavon had the last word when David Pritchard touched down on the final whistle for Garland to convert.
It was another disjointed performance by Neath who must use the next fortnight to address their fitness concerns and see the treatment room queue shrink. It was good to see young flankers Charlie Davies and Josh Cole back in action at last and replacement prop Liam Tobias showed up well too but Aberavon were sharper and Neath cannot gloss over their deficiencies – it is not only re-starts that demand attention.
By the time hostilities re-commence on October 28, Neath should have several players back but basic errors must be eradicated because Neath cannot go on making mistakes and expect to win at this level.
NEATH – E.Howley; J.Roberts, R.Smith, M.Pearce, A.Jenkins (G.Llewellyn); G.Evans (capt) (I.Evans), S.Gibson (C.Morgans); B.Uphill (L.Tobias), S.Crocker (I.Phillips), G.James ; M.Davies, R.Bean (J.Cole); S.Hicks, L.Ward, C.Davies (C.White)
ABERAVON – L.Popham; M.Wilson, W.Price, R.James (S.Williams), S.Pearce; J.Garland (capt), J.Flynn (D.Pritchard); J.Walters (M.Burgess), L.Davies (I.Davies), J.Thomas (R.Forse); B.Jones, B.Davies (B.Thomas); R.Dudley-Jones, L.Joseph, J.Tomalin-Reeves (C.Price)
Referee – Mr. E.Morris-Roberts (Ystradgynlais)
After two wins and four defeats, Neath travel to Aberavon (kick off 2.30pm) still hurting from last week’s defeat at Bridgend.
Top try-scorer Keiran Williams (5 tries in 5 games) is not available so Richard Smith switches to centre alongside Matthew Pearce, acting captain Gavin Evans moves in one and Scott Gibson returns at scrum-half. James Roberts and Alec Jenkins are on the wings and up front Leon Ward returns from work-duties to play at No.8, Charlie Davies returns at flanker and Ryan Bean is restored to the second row.
Neath coach Gareth Llewellyn said, “The team knows we let ourselves and the supporters down last week and we are looking for a big and rapid improvement. Like The Gnoll, the Talbot Athletic Ground is as good an all-grass pitch as there is in the Premiership and will suit our fast game. We are looking forward to getting out on the park.”
Neath v Aberavon (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 James Roberts,13 Richard Smith, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Gavin Evans (captain), 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Matthew Davies, 5 Ryan Bean; 6 Scott Hicks, 8 Leon Ward, 7 Charlie Davies
Replacements :- 16 Neil White, 17 Ifan Phillips, 18 Liam Tobias, 19 Josh Cole, 20 Ceri White, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Iwan Evans, 23 Geraint Llewellyn