SWANSEA 7 NEATH 17
A virtuoso try by full back Ed Howley who also kicked two conversions and a penalty to go with an early try by scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams spelled victory at last for the Blacks.
St.Helen’s was not looking its best but, after early-morning scares, it was eminently playable and Neath got off to the best of starts when their scrum put Swansea under severe pressure and the resultant penalty was goaled by Ed Howley. Keeping up the pace, the Blacks went further ahead when good work involving centres Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler and Iwan Evans created the opening for scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams to steal through for the game’s opening try.
Howley’s conversion made it 10-nil to Neath who were keen to open up despite the heavy pitch. But when Alec Jenkins attempted to keep a cross-field kick live, the ball fell into the hands of home outside-half Rhys Williams who set off for the corner only to be thwarted by a fine cover tackle by outside-half Luke Price.
Swansea cut the arrears when they were awarded a penalty try after a succession of scrums on the Neath five metre line. Neath supporters were unconvinced as to the precise offence but 7 points it was – such is their luck with officialdom this year !
Neath continued to put together some good rugby and, with penalties missed at either end, there was no further score before half-time which was reached with Neath still leading 10-7.
The Blacks, scenting victory, came out strongly after half-time and threatened the Swansea line with forwards Liam Tobias, Ryan Bean and Jon Barley rising to the challenge in a pack which was well led by hooker Sion Crocker.
Behind them Howley, Mike Evans and Thomas-Wheeler were full of running and the Blacks looked more likely to carve out a score but Swansea were not out of it and tried to mount a rally through their forwards whose efforts foundered on the defensive resolution of the Neath back row Elis Hopkins, Leon Ward and Ceri White who had his best game yet.
Midway through the half, Evans blasted through the middle scattering defenders like nine-pins, a neat grubber kick by Price nearly brought a score and a Bean charge had the Whites scrambling. Victory was all but assured when Swansea attempted to clear their hard-pressed lines but the kick landed in the hands of Howley who breezed past six defenders to score wide out and convert.
Victory on the road was overdue reward for Neath and the supporters who have stayed true. It was not the mightiest of victories and Neath’s reputation has not been anything like reprieved yet – a few more victories are required for that !
But, at the end of a week when the Club announced new recruits for next season, there is at last an air of optimism beginning to sweep through the old club again.
SWANSEA – O.Howe (L.Griffiths); A.Claypole, B.Cambriani, J.Randall (D.Manley), D.Howells; J.Rhys Williams, J.Guy (R.Wells); T.Sloane capt (J.Powell), P.John (S.Jones), R.Murphy (T.Harper); S.Kiley, M.Dodd; J.Clark (E.Williams), S.Jones, B.Davies
NEATH –E.Howley; M.Evans, I.Evans, T.Thomas-Wheeler (M.Pearce), A.Jenkins (S.Gibson); L.Price, R.Morgan-Williams; L.Tobias, S.Crocker (capt) (G.Lloyd), G.James (N.White); R.Bean (M.Davies), J.Barley; E.Hopkins, L.Ward, C.White Referee – Mr. S.Mills (Llanelli)
Neath visit Swansea in the Premiership on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
Hooker Sion Crocker leads the Blacks who freshen up their side after losing narrowly 15-21 at Bridgend on Tuesday evening.
Luke Price and Reuben Morgan-Williams team up for the second time at half back with Iwan Evans moving to centre and Mike Evans to wing, Alec Jenkins also returning. Up front, prop Geraint James and Ryan Bean reinforce the front five.
Neath v Swansea (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Mike Evans, 13 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, 12 Iwan Evans, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Luke Price, 9 Reuben Morgan-Williams; 1 Liam Tobias, 2 Sion Crocker (captain), 3 Geraint James; 4 Ryan Bean, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Elis Hopkins, 8 Leon Ward, 7 Aled Cockwell
Replacements – 16 Neil White, 17 Garin Lloyd, 18 Huw Wilkes, 19 Matthew Davies, 20 Scott Hicks, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Matthew Pearce, 23 Scott Gibson