BRIDGEND 21 NEATH 15
Another one that got away ! – Neath slipped to a narrow midweek defeat at Bridgend where, it must be said, they did not get much joy from the referee’s whistle.
Things went wrong almost from the start. Neath surged onto the attack, great handling by Iwan Evans and Tiaan Thomas-Williams sending Mike Evans careering towards the try-line. The ball was re-cycled only for a Bridgend hand to intervene and knock it down.
Penalty try ? Well, many a top referee would have considered it so – and so for that matter did the assistant referee who had a better view. But no, Neath were awarded a scrum and subsequently penalised. Such has been their ill-luck this season on all too many occasions !
Instead, Neath found themselves reduced to 14 men when debut-making winger Jordan Condon was binned for an over-enthusiastic aerial challenge which, unlike the opening salvo, did not affect the scoreboard and the Blacks took the lead when full back Ed Howley hammered over a penalty from 40 metres.
But, not for the first time this season, Neath handed back possession from the kick-off and Bridgend edged ahead when prop Cai Lewis crossed for his first try ever and outside-half James Murphy added the conversion points.
When Leon Ward was illegally neck-rolled out of a defensive ruck and subjected to a flurry of punches, he and his aggressor Adam O’Driscoll were shown red-cards after the intervention of a touch-judge.
With Neath’s defence unsettled, the initiative was firmly with Bridgend when centre Nathan Edwards went over for a second. It was 12-7 at half-time and the restart saw the meanest bit of play of the night – a nasty tackle on Iwan Evans – by Bridgend’s Zac O’Driscoll but he was luckier than his brother as he was shown only a yellow card.
Neath kept their discipline and made Bridgend pay with quick-fire tries by Ed Howley, which he converted himself, and a second by Scott Gibson on the wing following good work by Elis Hopkins and a deft chip by replacement Chris Morgans.
Having worked themselves into the lead at 15-12, that was it as far as Neath were concerned because, in a depressing finish which had Gibson binned for what was also deemed an unfair challenge, the home side were awarded penalty after penalty and James Murphy took full advantage to land three and overturn Neath’s lead.
Late on, Neath introduced their replacements with centre Matthew Pearce returning from injury to make his 50th appearance while outside-half Luke Scully became the first “new millenial” to appear for the Blacks – Neath did have a last-ditch attack in them but it ended, almost inevitably, in yet another penalty.
BRIDGEND – J.Phillips; A.Grabham (D.Moss), S.Ellis, N.Edwards, M.Powell; J.Murphy, C.Williams (C.Tantum); O.Jordan (O.Evans), G.Harvey (D.Lake), C.Lewis (R.Apsee); C.John, J.Pope (A.Evans); A.O’Driscoll, D.Davies, Z.O’Driscoll (capt)
NEATH – E.Howley (M.Pearce); J.Roberts (L.Scully), M,Evans, T.Thomas-Wheeler, J,Condon (C.Morgans); I.Evans, S.Gibson; B.Uphill (H.Wilkes), S.Crocker c (G.Lloyd), L.Tobias (G.James); M.Davies, J.Barley; E.Hopkins (S.Hicks), L.Ward, A.Cockwell (C.White) Referee – Mr. J.Bessant (Bridgend)
Neath visit Bridgend in the Premiership on Tuesday (kick off 7.30pm).
The starting line-up shows five changes from that which fought so valiantly against league leaders Merthyr on Good Friday.
Iwan Evans returns at outside-half after missing the Merthyr game due to work commitments while Aberavon Quins winger Jordan Condon makes his first start and Scott Gibson takes over at scrum-half. Neath also introduce two Neath College backs who have been capped by Wales Under-18’s this year – centre Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler comes in at centre and outside-half Luke Scully is on the replacements’ bench. The only change up front sees Sion Crocker resume at hooker in place of young Garin Lloyd who has impressed in the last four starts.
Neath v Bridgend (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 James Roberts, 13 Mike Evans, 12 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, 11 Jordan Condon; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Matthew Davies, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Elis Hopkins, 8 Leon Ward (captain), 7 Aled Cockwell
Replacements – 16 Huw Wilkes, 17 Garin Lloyd, 18 Geraint James, 19 Ryan Bean, 20 Ceri White, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Luke Scully, 23 Matthew Pearce