NEATH 10 RGC 24
Neath and RGC overcame wet and windy conditions to serve up an entertaining eve-of-Grand Slam appetizer at The Gnoll on Friday evening.
Playing with first use of the elements, RGC were out of the blocks as Neath, attempting to over-play in the conditions, made too many errors and the visitors were 12 points up in the first quarter after tries by both wings Aron Evans and Sam Jones, the latter converted by outside-half Billy McBryde.
Neath, again permitting heavily with 14 loanees in the 23-man squad, did not show too much cohesion although yet again nobody could be faulted for lack of effort. Jonny Thomas re-appeared alongside Garin Lloyd and Tyla Murvai in a hard-working front row who carried strongly as did No.8 Guido Volpi while flankers Jacob Blackmore and Ben Davies also made an impact. Reuben Morgan-Williams showed a few flashes of his best at scrum-half but RGC were in firm control and made full use of the wind.
Yet RGC’s third try would not have been out of place in a West End farce. It was credited to centre Delwyn Jones but really the score belonged to inconsistent referee Mr. Stephen Allsop who performed a totally effective piece of blocking by obstructing two Neath defenders and then compounded his error by awarding the try. Bizarre ! But Neath have been hammered by the whistlers this season and McBryde’s easy conversion more or less settle the game at 19-nil. It led one observer to comment wryly “Maybe they’ll give us better referees in the Championship” but the damage was done and Neath went in to the interval 19 points adrift instead of a manageable 12.
Now playing with the wind, Neath re-started strongly and outside-half Callum Hall, fine kicker as he is, landed a long-range penalty but the kick off was not dealt with and RGC claimed the bonus point when centre Iolo Evans touched down wide out.
To their credit, Neath kept coming and fresh legs from the bench saw the replacement front row of Ifan James, Sion Crocker and Gareth Hall provide industry while Leon Ward and Ioan Jones started winning more line-out possession despite the worsening rain.
Neath began to look increasingly dangerous and a series of forward drives had RGC defending, the referee played advantage and a speculative Hall chip bounced back favourably for Neath and young centre Tom Evans was on hand to gather and touch down for a rapid debut try which Hall converted.
Momentum was now with the Blacks, replacement scrum-half Macauley Griffiths was able to speed his backs away and winger James Roberts was denied a certain try. The Blacks pressed strongly to the end and only some rugged RGC defence kept them out.
RGC were worthy winners but Neath won the second-half : not by enough to win the game and not exactly hands down but, in this most miserable of seasons, it was a small consolation for the Blacks who next Saturday host Carmarthen Quins (kick off 2.30pm).
NEATH – Aaron Bramwell (captain); James Roberts (Gareth Hopkins), Jarrad Rees, Lesley Klim (Tom Evans), Alec Jenkins; Callum Hall, Reuben Morgan-Williams (Macauley Griffiths); Jonny Thomas (Ifan James), Garin Lloyd (Sion Crocker), Tyla Murvai (Gareth Hall); Ioan Jones, Rhys Morgan (Leon Ward); Jake Blackmore, Guido Volpi, Ben Davies (Ceri White)
In Friday’s only Premiership action, Neath host RGC at The Gnoll (kick off 7.30pm) and the Blacks again make changes as they seek to provide long-suffering supporters with something to cheer.
Ospreys’ Namibian international Lesley Klim makes his second appearance at centre while wing Alec Jenkins and scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams return.
Up front prop Jonny Thomas re-appears after spells with Bridgend, Aberavon and latterly Baglan while lock Rhys Morgan and No.8 Guido Volpi return and Dunvant flanker Ben Davies gets a first start.
On the bench, two young players in Newcastle-Emlyn prop Ifan James and Pontarddualis centre Tomas Evans are lined up for debuts while prop Gareth Hall (Glynneath), scrum-half Macauley Griffiths (Rhydyfelin) and winger Gareth Hopkins (Beddau) could make Gnoll debuts after assisting in recent away games.
Neath v RGC (Home)
15 Aaron Bramwell (captain); 14 James Roberts, 13 Jarrad Rees, 12 Lesley Klim, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Callum Hall, 9 Reuben Morgan-Williams; 1 Jonny Thomas, 2 Garin Lloyd, 3 Tyla Murvai; 4 Ioan Jones, 5 Rhys Morgan; 6 Jake Blackmore, 8 Guido Volpi, 7 Ben Davies
Replacements – 16 Sion Crocker, 17 Ifan James, 18 Gareth Hall, 19 Leon Ward, 20 Ceri White, 21 Macauley Griffiths, 22 Tomas Evans, 23 Gareth Hopkins