Category: Match Reports

MATCH REPORT: NEATH 9 NEWPORT 25 – (18-03-2017)

NEATH 9 points NEWPORT 25 points

What a difference a week makes !

After scaling the heights in the second-half against Aberavon in a cry-less try-fest, Neath plumbed the depths against Newport in a try-less cry-fest.

Maybe the unusual midday kick-off was to blame but Meath gave an unusually subdued performance and there was little of the attacking verve and the thrill-a-minute of the previous week – and, remember, the kick-off time was the same for both sides.

After starting brightly, Neath were soon 6-nil up before their behind-the scrum intentions were dented by a series of unfortunate injuries which ultimately saw four men replaced and hooker Aled Morris pressed into action as a makeshift wing.

Two of those injuries came in the first 25 minutes and they took the edge off Neath and deprived them of on-song wing Alec Jenkins and experienced centre Gavin Evans. Neath lost some of their early thrust and moving their best attacker Ed Howley to the wing did not help – although this was later rectified.

Apart from gaining the scrummage edge from an early stage, the Neath forwards were strangely muted in other phases. Prop Ben Uphill and lock Rhys Jones made early charges but all too rarely did Neath take the game to Newport, hard as scrum-half Chris Morgans tried to prompt some positive action – and half-time was reached with Neath trailing 9-13.

Ed Howley was responsible for all Neath’s points as he landed three well-struck penalties. But crucially Newport got the only try of the half when Wales Sevens star Elliot Frewen went in under the posts for outside-half Geraint O’Driscoll to convert and he kicked two penalties to nudge the visitors ahead.

Newport continued to get the better of things in the second-half and it was only stout defence over long periods that kept them out with home back-rowers Charlie Davies, Leon Ward and Jordan Collier working overtime.

The home side lacked nothing when it came to defensive will but the visitors added two second-half tries.

The first came when full back Llywarch ap Myrddin was allowed to run too far before wrong-footing Dan Guarneri. O’Driscoll converted and, try as they might, Neath simply could not get going and their scrum advantage whittled – or was whistled ? – away.

When Newport added a third try by flanker Rhodri Jones, it was all over for Neath whose low-key performance is a concern ahead of remaining League games against Cross Keys, Bargoed and Bridgend at home and the away game at Swansea.

Still, on a day of scrummaging controversy and mayhem in Paris, at least spectators were not subjected to 20 minutes of extra time at The Gnoll !


MATCH PREVIEW
It is high noon at The Gnoll on Saturday when Neath host Newport in a key Premiership T2 fixture with the kick off timed for midday.

Last week Neath enjoyed a superbly entertaining 41-36 victory over Aberavon and the whole XV put themselves firmly in the selection frame but the Welsh All Blacks’ side shows five changes with several key men returning including top points scorer Ed Howley who has amassed 217 points already this season.
Also back are ex-Wales centre Gavin Evans, hooker Sion Crocker, lock Jonny Griffiths and back-rower Leon Ward whose arrival as a replacement sparked last week’s revival.
On top of a hefty injury-list, the home side will again be without centre Keiran Williams, the new Wales Under-20’s captain, and scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams who are on international duty against France.
“Newport are always a formidable side and a win will put the winners firmly in the frame for a play-off place,” says skipper Jordan Collier, “and we want to give our loyal supporters that reward. Our squad is stretched with just the 23 available but, as we showed against Aberavon last week, we’ve got some good players to come off the bench when necessary and, if we all play well enough, we can do it.”

Neath v Newport (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Max Llewellyn, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Dan Guarneri, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Jonny Griffiths; 6 Charlie Davies, 8 Leon Ward, 7 Jordan Collier (captain)
Replacements – 16 Ifan Phillips, 17 Neil White, 18 Callum Jones, 19 Lyndon Bateman, 20 Aled Morris, 21 Josh Guy, 22 Iwan Evans, 23 Rory Morgan-Williams

Referee – Mr. Mike English (Caldicot)

MATCH REPORT: NEATH 41 ABERAVON 36 – (11-03-2017)

NEATH 41 points ABERAVON 36 points

Fast, fluent, flowing, furious, fisticuffs, fantastic tries – forgive the “f”-words but what a game !

In picture-perfect conditions at The Gnoll, Neath and Aberavon served up a wonderful exhibition of exciting, spectator-grabbing rugby in this non-league fixture – don’t call it a friendly because that is one “f”-word not to be used and on times it was not !

Neither side was at full strength but the two teams displayed outstanding attacking intent and the game was played at 100 miles per hour over the full 80 minutes, the ball in play time hitting staggering proportions and it ended with a win for Neath in a dramatic finish on an amazing try-count of 7 to 6.

Neath opened the scoring with a try after two minutes by hard-running winger Alec Jenkins which Dan Guarneri converted from wide out. Aberavon levelled through a splendid try by the in-form Matthew Jenkins which Steff Williams converted before Neath forced two line-outs five metres from the Aberavon line which came to nothing.

Thereafter, the first-half belonged firmly to Aberavon whose alertness, confidence and cleverly-coached angles of running showed just why they topped the Premiership at the “split”. Dogged Neath defence kept them at bay before a loose kick offered possession to the visitors who counter-attacked from deep and Lee Purnell, supporting like the good flanker he is, got their second try after a slick movement.

Steff Williams converted and then the outside-half whose forte is unlocking defences added the extras to a virtuoso try of his own. As half-time approached, Neath’s Guarneri was on his way to a try under the posts only to be recalled for an off-side offence; Aberavon took the penalty quickly, the Neath defence did not marshal itself and flying wing Matthew Jenkins went over at the other end for his second try which made it 26-7 at half-time.

Neath had to get the first post-interval score and they opened the second-half every bit as brightly as they had the first. Five minutes in, outside-half Guarneri cross-kicked accurately into the waiting arms of winger Aaron Grabham who outstripped the Avon defence on a 50-metre run for his 20th try of the season.

As if in brief tribute to the history of this fixture, this signalled a flurry of fisticuffs and soon afterwards the lively Steff Williams sped away for his second try so, with half an hour remaining, there was still no sign of anything but a comfortable Aberavon win.

But two minutes later, Leon Ward – who had just arrived as a replacement for lock Lyndon Bateman – took a hand and he pulled back a try which Guarneri converted. Neath were now playing with a hint of fury and, when Ward cast off Joe Tomalin-Reeves with a monster hand-off, the ball was transferred to skipper Jordan Collier who shrugged off defenders on a 50-metre dash to the line for the next try.

The Neath forwards were on top in the final quarter, stealing line-outs to complement a strong scrummage which once had Avon reversing rapidly over 15 metres. Midway through the half, Ward was again involved when Neath ran the ball from their 22, Guarneri freeing centre Rory Morgan-Williams whose run took play up-field where possession was recycled and Guarneri’s well-judged cross-kick was capitalised upon by Alec Jenkins for his second try as referee Gareth Newman, quite correctly, and not for the last time over-ruled an optimistic Aberavon touch-judge. The conversion was missed but suddenly Neath were back in it at 29-31.

Amidst a flurry of replacements, Aberavon introduced wing Kain Teear-Bourge who nipped in for the visitors’ sixth try and that seemed to be curtains for Neath. But Aberavon promptly dropped the kick-off and Neath, moving the ball through hands with aplomb, created the overlap for teenager Tom Sadler and the Dulais Valley Youth player squeezed in at the corner for Neath’s sixth try – his first in the All Black shirt.

With Guarneri off the field, Alec Jenkins took the conversion and, although he struck it well, his attempt faded away and Neath trailed 34-36. In a grandstand finish, the Neath youngsters attacked again and replacement scrum-half Josh Guy went over for what was the 13th and winning try of a truly remarkable game.

Jenkins’ superb conversion capped an incredible comeback and there was barely time for the re-start before the final whistle was sounded by referee Gareth Newman who deserves a lot of praise for his sensible handling of a captivating game.

In a game like this with the emphasis on attacking running, it is easy to overlook the contribution of the forwards. Both eights worked hard and Aberavon’s Ben Davies, Purnell and Tomalin-Reeves regularly caught the eye. Equally as prominent for Neath were Geraint James, Charlie Davies and Aled Morris.

Unlikely as Neath’s win seemed for much of the game, victory was ultimately achieved and their enterprising handling should give the All Blacks huge encouragement as they head into next Saturday’s “High Noon” encounter with Newport at The Gnoll.

Error reduction is still a must but, after that dreadful defeat at Bridgend a week earlier, the second-half in particular was a transformation and Neath’s never-say-die attitude was as refreshing as it was necessary in a game which will live long in the memory.

Had this game been played under the guise of Southern Hemisphere “super” rugby, the critics would have been purring – for those who were not there, these teams are worth watching !


MATCH PREVIEW
Neath host near-neighbours Aberavon at The Gnoll on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).

The Welsh All Blacks’ side is almost completely different from that which lost at Bridgend last week and Neath have injury concerns ahead of next week’s key match with Newport.

The home side are also without centre Keiran Williams and scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams who are on Wales Under-20’s duty against Ireland on Saturday evening.

Hooker Ifan Phillips returns after a spell with the Ospreys so Aled Morris reverts once again to the back row.

Neath v Aberavon (Home)
15 Gareth Morris; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Rory Morgan-Williams, 12 Iwan Evans, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Dan Guarneri, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Ifan Phillips, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Lyndon Bateman; 6 Aled Morris, 8 Charlie Davies, 7 Jordan Collier (captain)

Replacements – 16 Sion Crocker, 17 Callum Jones, 18 Leon Ward, 19 Joe Williams, 20 Tom Sadler, 21 Josh Guy, 22 Max Llewellyn, 23 A.N. Other

Referee – Mr. Gareth Newman (Cardiff)

MATCH REPORT: BRIDGEND 40 NEATH 21 – (04-03-2017)

BRIDGEND 40 NEATH 21

After this inexcusably sub-standard display, Neath’s team management know just where Liverpool AFC manager Jurgen Klopp was coming from when he observed after his side had taken a hiding at Leicester that “inconsistency is a sign of development.”

Now the hero of the Kop is a wise old bird and, although he did not say so, Klopp no doubt realises that inconsistency can be the sign of other shortfalls too – and Neath have plenty to digest from this game.

The methods which brought Neath recent League successes went out of the window – 11 changes from the last game did not assist but neither should they excuse such a dramatic fluctuation and a series of really shocking errors handed Bridgend some simple scores.

The deficiencies were there from early in the game. At the end of a first-half in which nearly all the play took place between the half-way line and the Bridgend 22, Neath led 14-12 through tries by hooker Aled Morris and Ed Howley, playing on the wing.

Howley converted both superbly from wide out but the Neath scores were more or less wiped out by two absolute gift tries for home wing Mike Powell, outside-half Jacob Lloyd converting the first.

Far from remedying their slackness after the interval, Neath continued on their merry way, showing alarming generosity in virtually all they did.

A certain try for Aaron Grabham was wasted on one of several forward passes, No.8 Leon Ward was halted short of the line and when play switched to the Neath 22, the lead was promptly handed to Bridgend as scrum-half Conor Tantum scampered through a negligent Neath defence to score at the posts for Lloyd to convert.

The trend of individual errors continued as Neath conceded two further soft tries – a touchline-glancing effort by replacement scrum-half Geraint Watkins and an out-of-hand present to centre Garan Loughor, Lloyd converting both.

Neath did hit back with a third try by 19 year old flanker Charlie Davies who, like his captain Jordan Collier alongside him, carried strongly and tirelessly all day.

Again, Howley converted but, with Neath replacement Tom Hayward consigned to the sin-bin, Bridgend had the final word when Ospreys’ Exeter-bound wing Tom O’Flaherty eluded the defence for the home team’s sixth try which Lloyd converted.

Among few crumbs of comfort for Neath was the debut of teenage centre Max Llewellyn who made a sound enough debut and, it must be said, displayed more poise than one or two around him.

One thing is certain, it will have to be a very different Neath which takes the field against Aberavon next week – Klopp’s charges bounced back immediately by beating mighty Arsenal … and Neath need to do the same !


MATCH PREVIEW
Neath head to the Brewery Field to play Bridgend on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).

The Welsh All Blacks’ side is much-changed from that which lost last time out to Cross Keys in the Cup. Dan Guarneri returns at full back, outside-half Iwan Evans resumes after suffering an injury against Carmarthen Quins in December and he is partnered by Josh Guy, while centre Max Llewellyn, son of coach Gareth, makes his debut after completing his stint with the Blues Under-18’s.
Up front, Neil White, Aled Morris and Geraint James take over in the front row with Jonny Griffiths and Charlie Davies also returning.

Neath v Bridgend (Away)
15 Dan Guarneri; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Max Llewellyn, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Ed Howley; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Josh Guy; 1 Neil White, 2 Aled Morris, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Jonny Griffiths; 6 Charlie Davies, 8 Leon Ward, 7 Jordan Collier (captain)

Replacements -16 Sion Crocker, 17 Callum Jones, 18 Ryan Thomas, 19 Tom Hayward, 20 A.N. Other, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Rory Morgan-Williams, 23 Gavin Evans

Referee – Mr. Stephen Allsop (Caldicot)

MATCH REPORT: CROSS KEYS 29 NEATH 10 – (18-02-2017)

CROSS KEYS 29 points NEATH 10 points
Battling Neath were booted out of the Cup by Cross Keys whose outside-half Josh Prosser kicked 19 points to dismiss any hopes the Blacks had of progress in this year’s tourney.

Ultimately, it was Neath’s lack of street-smartness which cost them as Prosser’s bag included five penalties. Three came around the keenly-contested tackle area, two were for offences at the scrum where nowadays penalties are awarded all too liberally with effects which are often beyond proportion. But, awarded they were – and Neath paid the price. Neath also opted to take three quick penalties : two at vital junctures in the first-half when cool heads and a kicking option might have brought better rewards.

Of course, a little luck goes a long way in the Cup and it must be said that Neath did not get much of it for they had cause to rue two crucial first-half decisions which went against them and which, on another day, may have made for a different outcome.

The first led to Keys opening the scoring when many were not convinced that the ball had even been touched down. It all bamboozled the poor announcer but the benefit of the doubt and five points were given, Prosser merrily adding two more to send Keys on their way. Conversely, Neath were later denied a try when full back Ed Howley was tackled without the ball in pursuit of his own chip; again, the home side got the benefit of the doubt when it should have been at least a penalty, possibly a penalty try, but instead the referee ruled a 22 drop-out. Still, what would the Cup be without a little controversy ?

In between, Neath had levelled with a splendidly worked try by winger Alec Jenkins – two efficient line-out drives and good direct charges by centre Matthew Pearce and No.8 Leon Ward set up the score and Ed Howley converted superbly from the touchline. But Keys enjoyed the better of the second quarter and Neath’s hopes gradually withered on the vine of Prosser’s penalty-kick perfection, his four goals saw the home side 19-7 to the good at half-time.

Both sets of forwards were still up for the battle and a Howley-Prosser penalty exchange soon made it 22-10. Well led by the lively Darren Hughes, Keys’ heavyweight pack is admirably suited to the Pandy Park swamplands and two of their larger species Richard Cornock (250) and Daniel Hodge (200) celebrated outstanding landmark appearances. The lighter Neath forwards responded to Jordan Collier’s example and stuck to their guns throughout and did not concede even when their leader was binned.

Down to 14 men, another Howley effort which would have brought Neath back into it thundered into an upright before play switched to the other end where Keys sustained possession and clinched the tie with a try by No.8 Ieuan Jones which was converted by Prosser who, one Keys supporter claimed, has hardly missed a kick since Christmas !

With a bevy of young replacements emerging from the bench including long-term absentee Reuben Morgan-Williams who thus joined big brother Rory in the Black shirt for the first time, Neath threw everything at Keys in the last 10 minutes and, although they came close on several occasions, Keys held firm and they could not quite cross the line to make the score more reflective of how the game had gone.

Keys deserved to win yet the 2-1 try-count suggests that Neath continue to improve but the team must learn a lesson and be more disciplined – when defending and attacking !


MATCH PREVIEW
Successive away wins at Cardiff and Llanelli in Phase Two of the Premiership have done much to lift spirits at The Gnoll as Neath head to Pandy Park to play Cross Keys in the Cup on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).

The Welsh All Blacks make only two changes from the side which started at Llanelli with Ryan Thomas coming in at prop and Aled Morris in the back row.
No.8 Scott Hicks was injured in that game but Gareth Morris, Reuben Morgan-Williams, Neil White and Charlie Davies are back on the bench while Ifan Phillips is on Ospreys’ duty for a sixth week.

Neath v Cross Keys (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Gavin Evans, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Rory Morgan-Williams, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Aled Morris, 8 Leon Ward, 7 Jordan Collier (captain)
Replacements – 16 Neil White, 17 Callum Jones, 18 Jonny Griffiths, 19 Tom Hayward, 20 Charlie Davies, 21 Josh Guy, 22 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 23 Gareth Morris

Referee – Mr. Gareth John (Chepstow)

MATCH REPORT: LLANELLI 15 NEATH 37 – (09-02-2017)

LLANELLI 15 points NEATH 37 points

Neath zoomed to the top of the Premiership 2 table with a rare but very well deserved win against Llanelli at Parc-y-Scarlets on Thursday evening.

The Welsh All Blacks were keen to continue the good form they showed in beating Cardiff for the fourth time this season while Llanelli were hoping to build on their own gallant effort at Cross Keys where they lost 6-9 to the odd penalty in five in the opening round.

Both sides opened brightly but Llanelli were attacking when sharp visiting wing Aaron Grabham nipped in on an interception, kicked ahead twice and outstripped the home defence over fully 75 metres for the first score.

Llanelli countered with a try by flanker Tristan Lloyd from a line-out surge and Billy McBryde’s conversion gave them the lead before Neath, showing great ambition in running from deep, saw Grabham interlink with fit again winger Alec Jenkins and the latter scored on his comeback appearance to make it 10-7.

Both teams were striving to get on top and it was proving to be an evenly contested affair and on 32 minutes McBryde levelled the scores with a penalty before full back Ed Howley boomed one over from 40 metres to give Neath a slender 13-10 half-time advantage.

Neath started the second-half with huge purpose and Grabham nearly got in for his second try at the corner. The resultant scrum saw Llanelli hold firm but a loose defensive kick found Neath right wing Grabham who linked inside with Ed Howley and the elusive full back bamboozled the home defence for Neath’s third try which he converted himself to make it 20-10. Llanelli were not yet done though and five minutes later they cut the arrears with their second try scored by full back Dion Jones.

The Neath forwards were getting on top and No.8 Scott Hicks was regularly hitting holes in the defence. With both teams utilising their replacements, the stronger All Black scrum applied an increasing stranglehold and Neath more or less sealed the game when the forwards again rolled back the Llanelli pack and back-rower Leon Ward controlled the ball for a pushover try which replacement outside-half Dan Guarneri converted.

Llanelli’s forwards were now firmly under the cosh and the All Blacks, again finishing strongly, made victory certain when another scrum penalty gifted Guarneri the opportunity for three more points which made it 30-15.

To set the seal on another encouraging Neath performance, skipper Jordan Collier charged away on a run up the left touch-line, his co-forwards arrived in numbers to set up quick ball, with numerical advantage Guarneri seemed to have over-cooked his cross-kick but the ball held up capriciously in the in-goal area and an eager Neath chase resulted in a try awarded to Ed Howley (but claimed by Aaron Grabham).

Guarneri’s conversion completed the scoring and victory was just reward for Neath’s solid set piece and hard-tackling defence and the Welsh All Blacks can take great spirit from only their second ever win at Parc-y-Scarlets where some good Neath sides of the semi-pro era met with failure. Wins at Cardiff and now Llanelli should give the side confidence as they prepare for the Cup challenge at Cross Keys.


MATCH PREVIEW
After beating Cardiff at the Arms Park by 20-9 in their opening fixture in Phase Two of the Premiership, Neath head to Parc-y-Scarlets to play Llanelli on Thursday (kick off 7.15pm) seeking to overturn an earlier 22-31 loss at The Gnoll.

The Welsh All Blacks make few changes from the side which beat the Blue and Blacks for the fourth time this season. Kristian Corbisiero and Calum Davies were injured in the win but fit-again Alec Jenkins, Dan Guarneri, Ryan Thomas and Jonny Griffiths re-join the match day squad.

Neath v Llanelli (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Gavin Evans, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Rory Morgan-Williams, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Leon Ward, 8 Scott Hicks, 7 Jordan Collier (captain)
Replacements – 16 Aled Morris, 17 Callum Jones, 18 Ryan Thomas, 19 Jonny Griffiths, 20 Tom Hayward, 21 Josh Guy 22 Geraint Llewellyn, 23 Dan Guarneri

Referee – Mr. Ben Breakspear (Abercynon)

MATCH REPORT: CARDIFF 9 NEATH 20 – (03-02-2017)

CARDIFF 9 points NEATH 20 points
Hard-working Neath launched the second phase of the Principality Premiership campaign with a well-deserved second Arms Park victory of the season – and created a little piece of history in doing so.

Cardiff had first use of a strong wind and they soon launched their big forward runners. Neath lost flanker Calum Davies to a shoulder injury after seven minutes but two minutes later the Blacks took the lead with a penalty by Ed Howley into the wind. Cardiff levelled through outside-half Gareth Thompson and Neath lost winger Kristian Corbisiero with a knee injury but the Blacks were beginning to assert themselves with another strong scrum effort led by Ben Uphill, Sion Crocker back to his lively best and Geraint James who was conspicuous in all phases.

Former international Gavin Evans still has an incredible zest for the game and he led a strong Neath back-line and was always keen to counter-attack but there was no further score in the first-half although Howley was unlucky with two well-struck penalties which just faded left into the wind.

Cardiff came out strongly after the interval but the Neath defence handled all that they had to contend with. The excellent back-row of Leon Ward, Scott Hicks and Jordan Collier was well up to the task and were ever-eager to take the game to Cardiff too. A second Thompson penalty was immediately cancelled out by a Howley boomer from the halfway.

The game took an unusual turn on 58 minutes when the referee reversed a penalty decision to Neath and yellow-carded Neath lock Jon Barley for bit of gentle retribution. Thompson, Cardiff’s best attacker, kicked the resultant goal and numerically reduced Neath should have been up against it.

But Cardiff dropped the kick-off, 14-man Neath swooped on the ball and lock Rhys Jones (another beginning to produce the form of which he is capable) fed wing replacement Geraint Llewellyn, scrum-half Chris Morgans slipped the ball for skipper Collier to touch down for the game’s opening try. Howley converted and Neath’s instant riposte saw them lead 13-9.

Playing a man short seemed to have a galvanising effect on Neath and they struck again for a second try. Hicks and strong running centre Matthew Pearce (who had another fine game) made good ground, the lively Morgans made a telling impact and Geraint Llewellyn rounded it off with a try in the corner which Howley, almost nonchalantly, goaled from wide out to make it 20-9 to Neath.

Cardiff tried hard to rally but could not pierce the Neath ranks and the Blacks broke away through Morgans and Llewellyn sped away only to lose the ball. The game finished when a well-placed Pearce kick saw wing Aaron Grabham just beaten to the touchdown by the last Cardiff defender.

It was a strong performance by Jordan Collier and his men whose 10th win of the season cast them in the unlikely role of history-makers as this was the fourth time Neath have beaten Cardiff this season. Unprecedented certainly (the sides have never met 4 times in a season before) and, although life has changed for these two famous old clubs in the under-attack club game, it is a notable achievement indeed.


MATCH PREVIEW
Neath kick off Phase Two of the Premiership when they head to the Arms Park again to meet Cardiff on Friday (kick off 7.30pm) looking to repeat their earlier Foster’s Cup success on the ground.

Josh Guy comes in at scrum-half and the Welsh All Blacks overhaul their pack after last week’s 36-21 win over Narberth with Ben Uphill coming into the front row, Jon Barley returning to the second row and Scott Hicks, newly transferred from Maesteg, joining the back-row.
Former Welsh international Gavin Evans has committed to Neath for a further season and he continues in the outside-half role he reprised against Narberth. Iwan Evans and Dan Guarneri remain on the injured list but could come into contention for selection next week.

Neath v Cardiff (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Rory Morgan-Williams, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Kristian Corbisiero; 10 Gavin Evans, 9 Josh Guy; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Scott Hicks, 7 Calum Davies
Replacements –16 Aled Morris, 17 Neil White, 18 Callum Jones, 19 Jonny Griffiths, 20 Leon Ward, 21 Tom Sadler, 22 Chris Morgans, 23 Geraint Llewellyn

Referee – Mr. Mike English (Monmouth)

MATCH REPORT: NEATH 36 NARBERTH 21 – (28-01-2017)

NEATH 36 points NARBERTH 21 points

Neath’s rising full back star Ed Howley celebrated extending his contract with the club with a best-ever 26-point haul including a try hat-trick as the Welsh All Blacks eventually subdued the determined resistance provided by a game Narberth side.

In perfect conditions at The Gnoll, Neath started strongly with skipper Jordan Collier and lock Lyndon Bateman always to the fore and the home team dominated the first quarter but straightforward tries were missed when winger Aaron Grabham lost the ball at the corner flag and scrum-half Chris Morgans dropped a scoring pass from Gavin Evans.

Consequently, Neath had nothing to show for their efforts but Narberth were nothing like as wasteful and, when play switched to the other end, prop Liam Tobias crossed for the opening try which outside-half Jonathan Rogers converted.

Grabham then missed another golden opportunity when he lost the ball over the line but Neath got on level terms when Howley darted through a gap to score at the posts and convert. Two minutes later, Grabham made partial amends when he linked with Gavin Evans to set up a try at the posts for centre Rory Morgan-Williams, Howley adding the conversion points to make it 14-7 at the interval.

Just two minutes into the second-half, Narberth squared it when wing Gethin Gibby scored near the posts for replacement Ianto Griffiths to convert.Neath countered with some good driving play with prop Geraint James and hooker Sion Crocker frequently involved and a surging touchline run by lock Rhys Jones should have been the prelude to a third Neath try only for Grabham to blow a third touchdown chance.

In contrast, when it came to finishing, Narberth needed no encouragement and Tobias took advantage of a Neath line-out malfunction to dab down for his second try which Griffiths converted.

Suddenly finding themselves trailing, Neath were stung into action and after centre Matthew Pearce had slipped on his way to the line, another attack- this time with an effective intervention by Collier – led to a second try for Howley which the full back converted himself. Then, it was fourth time lucky for the villain of the peace Grabham as he at last held a scoring pass to dab down and give Neath the advantage.

As Narberth tired, Neath’s powerful scrummage began to take control and Calum Davies was an increasingly imposing figure at the base of it. It was a scrum penalty which gave Howley the chance to make it 29-21 and the full back sealed Neath’s victory when he initiated and finished a wonderful movement from 70 metres to complete his try hat-trick, his conversion raising his tally to 26 points for the day.

8 tries was reasonable entertainment for the sparse crowd and Neath probably deserved their wining margin – but it would have been a whole lot better had they taken those chances… one thing is certain, Neath must nail down their opportunities in the tougher tasks which lie ahead as sides like Cardiff and Llanelli will not be anything like as forgiving !


MATCH PREVIEW
Neath have a home friendly fixture against Narberth at The Gnoll on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm) as both sides have a bye in the WRU Cup.

Ed Howley, recently named the Principality Premiership Player of the Month for December, returns at full back after duty with the Ospreys Select XV. Former Wales centre Gavin Evans switches to outside-half while Calum Davies returns after concussion.

Neath v Narberth (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Rory Morgan-Williams, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Kristian Corbisiero; 10 Gavin Evans, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Neil White, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Lyndon Bateman; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Leon Ward, 7 Calum Davies
Replacements –16 Aled Morris, 17 Ben Uphill, 18 Callum Jones, 19 A. N. Other, 20 Elis Hopkins, 21 Josh Guy, 22 Tom Sadler, 23 Geraint Llewellyn

Referee – Mr. Simon Mills (Llanelli)

MATCH REPORT: BRIDGEND 24 NEATH 16 (18-01-2017)

BRIDGEND 24 NEATH 16
An aimless second-half performance from Neath saw them crash to a 24-16 defeat at the hands of Bridgend in their final Foster’s Challenge Cup Pool 4 clash at the Brewery Field.

The Welsh All Blacks had started well but blew a 13-0 lead and coach Paul Williams put it down to poor discipline.

The Welsh All Blacks really should have sealed the game before the break as they dominated possession and territory in the opening period. But, despite looking the stronger with ball in hand, they failed to convert their considerable advantage into a meaningful lead.

Two penalties by full-back Geraint Llewellyn was all Neath had to show for their early efforts and the young Cardiffian then scored the opening try and converted it on the half-hour to make it 13-nil.

All seemed well but Neath then pressed the self-destruct button as they let in Bridgend prop Garyn Daniel (a flanker for Neath in a previous existence) for a try which outside-half Joe Scrivens converted.

Bridgend struck again inside a minute when Neath presented Bridgend with loose ball when a kick to touch would have been the sensible option – full-back Dan Howells was the beneficiary of Neath’s naivety and the visitors’ lead was cut to a point.

With their eyes on the prize of semi-final qualification, Bridgend came out with greater purpose in the second-half than did Neath.

Daniel scored again shortly after the restart and Scrivens’ kick put Bridgend six points clear at 19-13. Despite three yellow cards for Bridgend (Tom Morgan, Gareth Beer and Connor Tantum being the recipients), Neath only registered three points in the second-half – and that a third penalty by Llewellyn.

Neath simply could not sustain pressure and it came as no surprise when Bridgend struck for a fourth try from a kick and chase which sent the homesters in the crowd of around 500 delirious. Matthew Edwards was the scorer and another Scrivens conversion confirmed Bridgend’s place in the semi-finals as pool winners.


MATCH PREVIEW
Neath are in Foster’s Cup action against Bridgend at The Brewery Field on Wednesday evening (kick off 7.15pm).

Despite missing a late conversion to lose 31-33 against Aberavon last week, Neath still have an outside chance of further progression in this year’s Foster’s Cup.

However, it requires Neath to get a bonus point win at the Brewery Field with Bridgend getting nothing and then relying upon bottom club Cardiff to upset the apple-cart by winning at Aberavon.

“It is a slim chance,” said assistant coach Paul Williams, “but while there is a chance we will keep competing – and we’ll need to be ready because Bridgend know a win will get them through and will be going all out for it.”

“Had that last kick against Aberavon gone over, it would have made it easier but we are fortunate to be still in with an outside chance – it’s no different really, we need to score tries and stop them scoring. Simple as that !”

Only 4 points cover the teams in the “central” Pool with Bridgend (18) leading Aberavon (17) and Neath (14) and only Cardiff (5) out of the running.

Again, Neath have a hefty contingent away on Ospreys BIC duty – centre Keiran Williams, outside-half Luke Price and flanker Charlie Davies as well as hooker Ifan Phillips and full back Ed Howley are all required for their finale at London Irish while scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams and flanker Josh Cole are not yet ready to resume.

Neath bring in Skewen winger Matthew Billett while former Cardiff goal-kicker Geraint Llewellyn has a chance at full back after scoring a try against Aberavon last week. A fresh front row returns, Maesteg No.8 Scott Hicks – scorer of two tries against Aberavon – is again included along with young forwards Tom Hayward and Elis Hopkins (Neath Athletic).

Neath v Bridgend (Away)
15 Geraint Llewellyn; 14 Matthew Billett, 13 Matthew Pearce, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Kristian Corbisiero; 10 Rory Morgan-Williams, 9 Josh Guy; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Aled Morris, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Tom Hayward; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Scott Hicks, 7 Elis Hopkins

Replacements – 16 Sion Crocker, 17 Callum Jones, 18 Geraint James, 19 Lyndon Bateman, 20 Leon Ward, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 James Williams, 23 Aaron Grabham

MATCH REPORT: NEATH 31 v ABERAVON 33 – (11-01-2017)

NEATH 31 points ABERAVON 33 points

Aberavon edged an entertaining Foster’s Cup match at The Gnoll, deserving the spoils on the back of a 5-4 try count.

Neither side was at full-strength but both will take some satisfaction from the displays of some of the irregulars on show and, for youthful promise, few did better than 19 year old referee Abercynon referee Ben Breakspear who contributed to an open game which gave the crowd plenty to enthuse over.

Neath took the lead after two minutes when outside-half Dan Guarneri kicked a penalty but they failed to collect the re-start and Aberavon went in front through a try by full back John Phillips which outside-half Steffan Williams converted. The visitors soon doubled their score, speedy wing Shaun Pearce touching down for Williams to convert.

This shook Neath into action; the home forwards had already established a strong scrum advantage with plenty of drive based on the front-row of Callum Jones, Sion Crocker and Geraint James and Neath rapidly got three tries, all of which emanated from scrums. A quickly-taken tap penalty by scrum-half Chris Morgans led to a try by No.8 Scott Hicks. A scrum penalty then gave Morgans the opportunity to send in Hicks for his second and further scrum pressure saw Morgans score himself after a break by centre Gavin Evans.

But, as half-time beckoned, Aberavon got back within a point as Pearce capitalised on a through kick when the Neath cover defence was conspicuous by its absence. That made it 3 tries apiece and 20-19 to Neath at halftime.

Aberavon struck first in the second-half. Neath were down to 14 men as the home team’s lively replacement lock Tom Hayward fell foul of the harsh new high tackle regime – the Blacks had a chance to clear their lines but a loose kick resulted in visiting flanker Rob Dudley-Jones crossing for Aberavon’s fourth try and Williams converted.

It was Aberavon’s turn to lose a player when prop Jonny Thomas was sin-binned after illegally trying to thwart Neath’s scrum dominance and Neath full back Rory Morgan-Williams (who had moved to outside-half when Guarneri left the field) pulled back three points when Aberavon gave away a professional foul penalty which had the crowd calling for a yellow-card.

Morgan-Williams levelled the scores at 26-26 when under-pressure Aberavon conceded another penalty. Neath threw everything at Aberavon but mangled two quick-penalty attempts and the visitors came again when replacement scrum-half Joe Williams crossed for their fifth try which was well converted again by Williams. The Blacks kept going and got their fourth try when wing Geraint Llewellyn squeezed in at “Edmunds’ Corner” but the conversion attempt was nowhere near and Aberavon ended winners by two points.

Plusses for Neath were the promising displays by young loose head prop Callum Jones in another strong scrummaging effort, lock Tom Hayward and No.8 Hicks while Colts back rower Elis Hopkins made an encouraging debut from the bench. Aberavon were slicker behind with hooker Gareth Harvey and lock Ben Davies their liveliest forwards. Neath’s only hope of progress now lies in a big, bonus-point win at Bridgend next Wednesday coupled with an unlikely Aberavon defeat by Cardiff.


MATCH PREVIEW
Having completed “Phase One” of their Principality Premiership campaign with an uninspiring win over Swansea, Neath turn their attention to the Foster’s Cup and Aberavon at The Gnoll on Wednesday evening (kick off 7.30pm).

The “central” Pool is by far the most interesting with just 3 points covering leaders Bridgend (14), Aberavon (12) and Neath (11) and only Cardiff (5) out of the running.
In the other pools, Carmarthen Quins have already won the “western” group, Merthyr have all but won the “valleys” group while Newport or Bedwas will take the Gwent honours.
Centre Keiran Williams, outside-half Luke Price, hooker Ifan Phillips and flanker Charlie Davies are all required for Ospreys BIC duty while scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams and flanker Josh Cole are not yet ready to resume. Ed Howley, in outstanding form recently, has also earned an Ospreys invitation.
Neath make several squad changes with former Cardiff player Geraint Llewellyn making his first start after a couple of fleeting appearances off the bench. Promising loose-head prop Callum Jones and Maesteg No.8 Scott Hicks start again with young forwards Tom Hayward and Elis Hopkins (Neath Athletic) and Skewen winger Matthew Billett on the bench.

Neath v Aberavon (Home)
15 Rory Morgan-Williams; 14 Geraint Llewellyn, 13 Matthew Pearce, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Kristian Corbisiero; 10 Dan Guarneri, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Callum Jones, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Leon Ward, 8 Scott Hicks, 7 Jordan Collier (captain)
Replacements – 16 Aled Morris, 17 Neil White, 18 Ryan Thomas, 19 Lyndon Bateman, 20 Tom Hayward, 21 Elis Hopkins, 22 Josh Guy, 23 Matthew Billett

Referee – Mr. Ben Breakspear (Aberdare)

REMINDER TO NEATH SUPPORTERS – SEASON-TICKETS ARE ELIGIBLE FOR THIS GAME

PREVIEW: NEATH v ABERAVON (HOME) – WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 11th, 2017 – 7.30pm

Having completed their Premiership “phase one” fixtures with a 17-13 win over Swansea, Neath turn their attentions to the visit of Aberavon in the Foster’s Cup at The Gnoll on Wednesday evening (kick off 7.30pm).

The “central” Pool is by far the most interesting with just 3 points covering leaders Bridgend (14), Aberavon (12) and Neath (11) with only Cardiff (5) out of the running.

In the other pools, Carmarthen Quins have already won the “western” group, Merthyr have all but won the “valleys” group while Newport or Bedwas will take the Gwent honours.

*** SEASON TICKETS REMINDER – season tickets ARE eligible for this match