Category: Match Reports


Neath signed off their miserable campaign with another valiant defeat at Carmarthen Quins where the Blacks competed well and, as so often the case this season, might have come away with the spoils.

The contrast between the two sides’ fortunes this season could not have been more stark. Last September Neath edged an 18-16 success over the Quins when the game was switched to The Gnoll at short notice. Since then of course Neath suffered their catastrophic injury blight which de-railed their campaign as injury after injury and defeat after defeat followed. Quins, on the other hand, have been able to field a largely settled side rarely stepping outside their established squad.

And a jolly good squad it is too – good enough, in fact, to comprehensively topple champions Merthyr on their own patch a couple of weeks ago and good enough too to be in with a chance of the title until last midweek. Again, Neath had cause to rue some refereeing decisions which went against them – but as Ron Waldron used to say, “We need to be 10 points better than teams to take referees out of it.”

Quins started strongly and bossed the early exchanges as Aled Thomas banged over a penalty and then former Neath wing Dale Ford dashed over for a try. But the Blacks gradually got their game going and hit back before half-time with a neat try by full back Ed Howley who converted it himself to make it just 8-7 at half-time.

As Quins struggled, Neath knew they were in with a chance; Howley has been in top form over the past two months and it was he who saw Neath take the lead in the second-half when he capitalised on a quickly-taken penalty to cross for a second try which he goaled.

Quins responded with a try by winger Dylan Morgans which Thomas converted to restore their one-point lead and the home side pressed strongly but Neath defended stoutly with the hard-working back-row of Jordan Collier, replacement Ceri White and Elis Hopkins and centres Dan Guarneri and Keiran Williams performing heroics.

Howley narrowly a 40-metre goal attempt before a penalty by Thomas gave Quins a bit of breathing space but they could never shake off a resolute Neath side whose enterprising and pacy back division always had a try in them and were a constant threat. Quins’ set-piece was the key to their victory but the result was always in the balance.

With Lyn Jones back in Namibia ahead of pre-season, Paul Williams has kept this side playing and battling to the end. Now the season is done and 2018/19 cannot come soon enough. A lot more youngsters have been blooded and picked up more experience than expected this year, new signings have been announced with more on the horizon – and worse luck on the injury-front is surely an impossibility !

CARM. QUINS – A.Thomas; D.Morgans, N.Reynolds, J.Batcup, D.Ford (M.Griffiths); J.Wilson (S.Marshall), I.B.Thomas (A.Hemmings); N.Williams (S.Phillips), R.Clancy, J.Sabastian (S.L.Thomas); J.Helps. H.Pugh (capt); S.Jones, L.Taylor (R.Bloomfield), G.S.Davies (E.Lloyd)

NEATH – E.Howley; J.Roberts, D.Guarneri, K.Williams, S.Gibson (R.Pugh); L.Price (L.Scully), C.Morgans (R.Morgan-Williams); L.Tobias (B.Uphill, N.White), A.Morris (S.Crocker), G.James; R.Jones, J.Barley; J.Collier (capt), L.Ward (C.White, G.Lloyd), E.Hopkins

Referee – Mr. A.Parry (Pontypool)

Neath wind up their Premiership season at Carmarthen Park against Carmarthen Quins on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).

The Blacks’ campaign which started promisingly enough faltered on the back of a succession of serious injuries but performances have improved of late although luck has continued to elude them.

Last Friday’s game against Aberavon was another case in point when Neath were edged out 17-18 and lost winger Mike Evans, centre Matthew Pearce and prop Ryan Thomas in the process.

Still, captain Jordan Collier will have his team charged for a final flourish at the Quins. Scott Gibson helps out on the wing, Keiran Williams comes in at centre alongside Dan Guarneri with Luke Price and Chris Morgans pairing up at half-back. Forwards Aled Morris, Geraint James and Rhys Jones all make the starting line-up too.

Neath v Carmarthen Quins (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 James Roberts, 13 Dan Guarneri, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Scott Gibson; 10 Luke Price, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Liam Tobias, 2 Aled Morris, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Leon Ward, 7 Elis Hopkins

Replacements – 16 Neil White, 17 Sion Crocker, 18 Ben Uphill, 19 Garin Lloyd, 20 Ceri White, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Luke Scully, 23 Ryan Pugh


Two missed penalties in the dying minutes cost Neath what would have been a remarkable victory over Aberavon at The Gnoll on Friday evening.

Just like the Boxing Day derby, it was a real “tale of two halves” as this time the Blacks battled back in an attempt to over-turn a 15-point deficit – and they nearly did it – but in the end they fell just short which somehow summed up their ill-luck this season.

For the first try though, Neath were architects of their own downfall as, in the opening exchanges, they gifted Aberavon possession with one of those high-risk dinks which rarely bring profit – if attempted, the ball must be regathered or the first tackle made; if not, calamity – and Aberavon fully capitalised upon it, a great run by Pearce ending with centre Joe Thomas rewarded for his splendid support work 70 metres up-field.

The opening try was not converted but Aberavon extended their lead as full back Chris Banfield landed two penalties – the second one puzzlingly reversed on a distant touch-judge’s advice and which would ultimately cost Neath dear. Winger Jay Baker and Thomas were impressive attackers for Aberavon and needed constant attention from the home tacklers led by flankers Jordan Collier and Elis Hopkins and the visitors were firmly in control against a Neath side which strangely failed to get out of first gear.

It was no surprise when Aberavon went further ahead as the veteran former Neath lock Ben Davies ploughed over for a second try. Banfield added the conversion to make it 18-0 and Neath, already with 10 of their 32 registered players out of action and no academy presence again, were really up against it as they lost Mike Evans, Ryan Thomas and Matthew Pearce to injury. But they flourished briefly and were rewarded for their efforts with a penalty by full back Ed Howley and they showed grim resolution to repel further Aberavon attacks before the interval which was reached at 3-18.

Whatever the two Pauls (coaches Williams and James) said at half-time had the desired effect because Neath came out looking a proper team in the second half. With Scott Gibson’s pace employed wide out as a replacement for Evans, Chris Morgans had taken over at scrum-half and he asserted himself with Neath’s first try five minutes into the second half. The impressive Howley’s conversion made it 10-18 and it was game on.

For, just as Aberavon dominated the first half, so Neath controlled the second as the home forwards really took the game to their opponents, pinching several line-outs against the throw and wearing down the visitors’ pack in the scrums. Play was almost entirely in the Aberavon half and, with five minutes remaining of normal time, Neath’s sustained pressure at last bore fruit when the Blacks were awarded a penalty try against a back-pedalling Aberavon scrum – 17-18 and the game was now in the balance.

Neath kept up the challenge to the end and desperate Aberavon conceded two penalties but both were just out of range on the night and Aberavon’s collective sigh of relief was palpable as they escaped with the win which owed itself to their first-half effectiveness.

NEATH – E.Howley; M.Evans (C.Morgans), I.Evans, M.Pearce (R.Pugh), J.Roberts; L.Scully, S.Gibson; L.Tobias (B.Uphill), S.Crocker (A.Morris), R.Thomas (G.James); M.Davies (S.Hicks), J.Barley; J.Collier (capt), L.Ward, E.Hopkins (C.White)

ABERAVON – C.Banfield; J.Baker, J.Thomas, W.Price, S.Pearce (F.Jones); L.Popham (J.Gage), D.Pritchard (I.Temblett); R.Jenkins, L.Davies (I.Davies), R.Forse; B.Thomas, B.Davies (B.Jones); L.Purnell (capt), J.Blackmore, R.Dudley-Jones (L.Joseph)

Referee – Mr. S.Mills (New Dock Stars)

Neath play near-neighbours Aberavon in their final home game of the Premiership season on Friday (kick off 7.30pm).

Having been edged out by Llandovery 32-40 last time out, the Blacks are looking to finish the season with a win and Sion Crocker, Matthew Davies and Elis Hopkins are all included in the starting line-up.

Neath v Aberavon (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Mike Evans, 13 Iwan Evans, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 James Roberts; 10 Luke Scully, 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Liam Tobias, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Matthew Davies, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Leon Ward, 7 Elis Hopkins
Replacements – 16 Ben Uphill, 17 Aled Morris, 18 Geraint James, 19 Scott Hicks, 20 Ceri White, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Dan Guarneri, 23 Ryan Pugh



For the second week running unlucky Neath were squeezed out late on in another high-scoring, fast-paced affair played in ideal conditions.

The Gnoll was a picture of perfection in the glorious sunshine and offered an idyllic stage for running rugby – and Llandovery were delighted to see it after losing out on a very heavy Pandy Park in midweek.

Image courtesy of Len Kowalski of  @neathtog

Ed Howley fired Neath ahead with an early penalty but Llandovery retaliated with a try by prop Jamie Hughes which centre Jack Maynard converted. But this was the signal for Neath to click smoothly into action with their young forwards Garin Lloyd, Liam Tobias and Ryan Bean carrying enthusiastically and it was Bean who profited from a line-out take by fellow lock Matthew Davies to register Neath’s first try which brought a smile from former Neath and Wales prop Paul James who has been helping with coaching the forwards recently.

Howley converted and added his second penalty before wing James Roberts finished off a fine movement featuring a diagonal run by Mike Evans off the opposite flank. Neath’s second score was well deserved for their enterprise and Howley converted. Although Llandovery always looked dangerous, Neath’s in-form full back added a third penalty just before half-time to give Neath a commanding 23-7 lead.

The second-half was equally as compelling as Llandovery fought back. Their off-loading tactics came into their own as they gradually over-hauled Neath. The Blacks stayed with them but whereas Neath’s visits to Llandovery territory yielded penalties – three of which Howley goaled, making six in all, to advance his match-tally to 22 points. However, Llandovery’s attacking forays produced tries by centre Rhodri Jones (2), hooker Darren Hughes, captain Richard Brooks and wing Lee Williams with Maynard converting all bar one.

Neath’s lead had been over-turned and with minutes remaining they trailed 32-40. Yet on an energy-sapping afternoon, they showed their spirit and threw everything at the visitors; one last rally saw replacement prop Stefan Bond denied a debut try at the posts but his touchdown was unseen by the referee who promptly blew his final blast just when it seemed that the Blacks might retrieve the bonus point they richly deserved.

Although the game ended in yet another defeat, Neath do not look like a bottom of the table side at the moment and, with several signings announced and still to come, things will surely improve next year after this year’s injury-wrecked campaign.

NEATH – E.Howley; M.Evans, I.Evans (G.Llewellyn), M.Pearce (D.Guarneri), J.Roberts; L.Scully, S.Gibson (C.Morgans); L.Tobias (S.Bond), G.Lloyd (S.Crocker), R.Thomas (G.James); M.Davies, R.Bean (J.Barley); J.Collier (capt), L.Ward, A.Cockwell (A.Morris)

LLANDOVERY – K.Jones; L.Williams, R.Jones, J.Maynard, A.Warren; J.Hammett, L.Rees (S.Maynard); J.Hughes (L.Green), D.Hughes (R.Guest), D.Thomas (B.Watkins); J.Jones (B.Griffiths), J.Powell (J.Baker), L.Ellis-Jones (D.Eager), R.Brooks (capt), S.Worrall

Referee – Mr. S.Allsop (Caldicot)

Neath play Llandovery in their penultimate home game of the Premiership season on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).

The Blacks were a little unlucky to lose out 36-41 in an 11-try spectacular at Llanelli on Saturday last and they make a number of changes to the starting line-up.

Winger James Roberts and centre Matthew Pearce return while Luke Scully and Scott Gibson team up at half-back. Up front, Liam Tobias, Garin Lloyd and Ryan Thomas form the front row with Ryan Bean and Jon Barley packing behind.

Jordan Collier leads the team from the back-row alongside Leon Ward and Aled Cockwell with Skewen’s Stefan Bond figuring on the replacements’ bench for the first time.

Neath v Llandovery (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Mike Evans, 13 Iwan Evans, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 James Roberts; 10 Luke Scully, 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Liam Tobias, 2 Garin Lloyd, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Ryan Bean, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Leon Ward, 7 Aled Cockwell
Replacements – 16 Stefan Bond, 17 Sion Crocker, 18 Geraint James, 19 Matthew Davies 20 Aled Morris, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Dan Guarneri, 23 Geraint Llewellyn


Neath left Parc-y-Scarlets a very disappointed team after they slipped to an injury-time defeat in an 11-try spectacular; and they left with only a two-point reward for their highly constructive play which was ultimately diminished by bad individual errors.

Image courtesy of Len Kowalski of  @neathtog

On a lovely Spring day, the rugby football matched the weather and tries flowed at both ends after home pivot Billy McBryde had nosed Llanelli ahead with a penalty. The Blacks soon hit their straps as they rocked Llanelli with a 3-try blast within eight minutes.

First scrum-half Chris Morgans took an inside pass off full back Ed Howley who had options outside too – Morgans scored at the posts for Howley to convert. Then, with Llanelli defending narrowly, great handling by the Neath midfield backs – Luke Price, Iwan Evans and Keiran Williams – saw Howley blaze away for two tries in three minutes.

The full back’s conversion of the first meant that the Blacks had rattled up an impressive 19-3 lead. But, if Neath’s salvo was Dr.Jekyll, Mr. Hyde then took a role as a loose pass led to home wing Matthew Jenkins nipping in for a try which McBryde converted and he did the same when another pass was picked off and hooker Craig Thomas pounced.

Matters worsened when the returning Jordan Collier (pictured above) was sent to the bin for an early tackle – Neath were not the only perpetrators on the day ! – and slack line-out organisation led to a try by prop Richard Bassett and McBryde’s conversion meant that Neath had squandered their early promise.

However, the Blacks regained their lead and notched the try bonus when from open play Morgans
nipped in for his second try which Howley converted and, at the end of a breathtaking half, it was 26-24 to Neath.

Neath opened the second-half positively and the probing Morgans nearly opened up the home defence twice but, with top referee Mr. Nigel Owens playing a lengthy advantage, their only reward was a dropped goal by outside-half Luke Price.

But Neath’s over-ambition caught them out and a charged down kick on the Llanelli 22 saw winger Ryan Davies speed away for the home team’s bonus, McBryde again converting and the winger then gathered a cross-field kick for his second try.

Neath never gave up the battle and, moving the ball wide via replacement Reuben Morgan-Williams and lock Ryan Bean after a surge by returning hooker Aled Morris, wing Alec Jenkins went over in the corner and Howley converted splendidly from the touchline to level it at five tries each and 36-36.

But, in a grandstand finish, Neath were denied at the death when full back Kallum Evans gleefully crossed for the final try and the Blacks were robbed of a share of the spoils which even many Llanelli supporters felt they deserved.

LLANELLI -K.Evans; R.Davies, B.Atkins (L.Randall), O.Reyland (A.Evans), M.Jenkins; W.McBryde, G.George (M.Flanagan); R.Thomas (R.Fawcett), C.Thomas (C.Jenkins), R.Bassett (B.Leung); E.Rees (J,Davies), B.Morgan; E.Thomas, N.Hart (capt), L.Pike
NEATH – E.Howley; M.Evans, I.Evans, K.Williams (T.Thomas-Wheeler), A.Jenkins; L.Price (L.Scully), C.Morgans (R.Morgan-Williams); N.White (J.Bamsey), S.Crocker (capt) (A.Morris), L.Tobias (G.James); M.Davies, R.Bean; J.Collier (S.Hicks), E.Hopkins, A.Cockwell (C.White) Referee -Mr. N.Owens (Pontyberem)


Neath visit Llanelli in the Premiership on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).

After winning 17-7 at Swansea on Saturday last, the Blacks have skipper Jordan Collier back for the first time since he broke his ankle against RGC last September and he will be making his long-awaited 100th appearance.

Among six changes to the starting line-up, centre Keiran Williams and scrum-half Chris Morgans return behind with Neil White, Matthew Davies and Aled Cockwell looking to make a big impression up front.

Another returnee Aled Morris is on the replacements’ bench which also features Tata Steel’s Jon Bamsey and Wales Under-18’s backs Luke Scully and Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler.

Neath v Llanelli (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Mike Evans, 13 Iwan Evans, 12 Keiran Williams,11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Luke Price, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Neil White, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Matthew Davies, 5 Ryan Bean; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Elis Hopkins, 7 Aled Cockwell
Replacements – 16 Jon Bamsey, 17 Aled Morris, 18 Geraint James, 19 Scott Hicks, 20 Ceri White, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, 23 Luke Scully


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


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



Neath’s improvement continued in another valiant effort against Premiership leaders Merthyr who turned on the pressure in the second-half to clinch a well-deserved win at The Gnoll.

Attacking the Town end, the Blacks’ steady progress of late was borne out within three minutes when, following a quick tap penalty by scrum-half Chris Morgans, good combined play advanced Neath from the half-way line and full back Ed Howley skipped over for a try which he converted.

Scrummaging solidly, Neath continued to bubble and a defence-splitting break by Luke Price had supporting centre Keiran Williams tackled off the ball but the offence went unseen and another Neath attack saw them lose the ball on the line in the left corner.

But after 20 minutes play switched to the Union end for the first time and Merthyr’s first bit of sustained play brought them a try through former Neath captain Lee Evans to make it 7-5.

The Blacks responded with some strong play by their centres, backed up by a lively forward effort and, approaching half-time, Howley fired over a penalty from close on 40 metres.

Neath’s 10-5 lead lasted barely a minute though as they failed to secure the re-start and Merthyr, showing the confidence that comes with their lofty position, went ahead through a try by full back Josh Martin who collected an inside pass and outside-half Richard Powell’s conversion made it 12-10 to the visitors.

Most onlookers in a good Bank Holiday crowd would have agreed that Neath were a little unlucky to be behind at the interval after having the edge in the first-half. But similarly few would contend that Merthyr were much the better side after the break.

The Blacks had an early chance to go back in front but replacement scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams was thwarted. And gradually Merthyr turned the screw as Neath’s tenacious effort tired. With 10 minutes remaining, Neath were penalised at a scrum on half-way, Merthyr opted to kick for a line-out and, controlling possession, skipper Nick White eventually powered over for a try which Powell easily goaled.

Merthyr were well on top now and only stout Neath defence kept them at bay but, with five minutes of normal time remaining, Merthyr’s bulkier forward power settled it when lock Craig Locke, summoned from the bench for the second-half, was driven over and Martin’s conversion made it 26-10. Brave as Neath were to the end, the better side won.

NEATH – E.Howley; J.Roberts, K.Williams, M.Evans, A.Jenkins (S.Gibson); L.Price (D.Guarneri), C.Morgans (R.Morgan-Williams); B.Uphill (H.Wilkes), G.Lloyd (S.Crocker), L.Tobias (G.James); M.Davies, J.Barley; E.Hopkins (D.McLachlan), L.Ward (capt), A.Cockwell (C.White)

MERTHYR – J.Martin; R.Carter, T.Riley, G.Dacey, A.Howman; R.Powell (G.Davies), A.Hoskins; R.James (L.Jones), M.Dwyer (R.Wilkes), S.Pocskai (B.Warren); B.Sier (C.Locke), B.Murphy; L.Evans, N.White (capt), E.Siggery

Referee – Mr. R.Jones (Pencoed)

Neath break with tradition and host an important Premiership game on Good Friday against league leaders Merthyr at The Gnoll (kick off 2.30pm).

The Blacks need to be geared up for a big effort against the reigning champions and the starting line-up shows three changes from the that which scored 6 tries in losing 36-48 at Newport last week.

Behind the scrum, James Roberts and Chris Morgans return while Elis Hopkins comes into the back row alongside Leon Ward who continues as captain.

Neath v Merthyr (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 James Roberts, 11 Alec Jenkins, 13 Keiran Williams, 12 Mike Evans; 10 Luke Price, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Ben Uphill/Huw Wilkes, 2 Garin Lloyd, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Matthew Davies, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Elis Hopkins, 8 Leon Ward (captain), 7 Aled Cockwell
Replacements – 16 Huw Wilkes/Dan Morgan, 17 Sion Crocker, 18 Geraint James, 19 Ryan Bean, 20 Ceri White, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Dan Guarneri, 23 Scott Gibson


In days of old this 13-try spectacular would have been dubbed an “end of season romp” – but there were league points at stake and Newport deservedly took them if only because their defence was marginally more lock-sure than Neath’s.

On a warm first day of summertime, both sides were guilty of a lack of fortitude in the tackle with too many holes appearing for either coaching team to be satisfied. Mistakes abounded but, with referee Gwyn Morris (Cardiff) at his best, there was plenty of running and handling and what the game lacked in grim resolution was more than made up for by the entertainment it provided.

The pace was set from the opening minute when Newport centre Alex Sabri was properly sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on and Neath scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams, making his belated first appearance of the season, spotted a gap in the Newport ranks and crossed for the game’s first try and Ed Howley converted.

Newport soon levelled with a try by flanker Morgan Burgess which Matt O’Brien converted before Neath bombed two chances as wing Geraint Llewellyn and centre Keiran Williams went close. Instead, it was Newport who went in front when wing Elliot Frewen expertly stood up full back Howley to score and O’Brien converted.

Neath’s response was immediate as good handling by Howley, Aled Cockwell and Llewellyn sent Morgan-Williams over for his second but Newport pulled further ahead with tries by centre Alex Sabri and wing Johnny Morris, O’Brien converting the former. Neath countered briefly with a try by flanker Ryan Bean but Newport ended a breath-taking first-half with their fifth try when scrum-half Owen Davies exploited weak tackling to score and O’Brien’s conversion made it a remarkable 33-17.

Neath started the second-half on the attack and Bean nearly got his second try before Howley crossed for their bonus-point try and converted himself. From the re-start, O’Brien banged over a penalty and Newport pulled clear again when prop Garin Harris crossed and it seemed curtains for Neath when Williams was yellow-carded and home No.8 Alex Everett scored Newport’s seventh try which O’Brien goaled.

But somehow Neath galvanised themselves for an extra effort and dominated the last quarter. The summoning of replacements from the fully-employed bench brought a couple of positional switches which saw Neath finish strongly with much better shape.

Newport lost another man to the bin as they defended desperately and Mike Evans snatched back a try which Howley converted but Evans then threw a scoring pass into the stand. Undaunted, Neath kept up the tempo : Keiran Williams was held up on the line, Iwan Evans and Morgans went close too in opposite corners and Neath signed off with their sixth try when replacement wing Scott Gibson squeezed in at the corner.

That brought to an end what was in many ways a crazy, hazy game of summer and Neath’s last stand saw them take the second-half 19-15. But the damage had been done in a soft first-half when far too many tackles were missed and, it must be said, team-mates were let down.

Neath’s next engagement is against Premiership leaders Merthyr at The Gnoll on Good Friday (kick off 2.30pm) and the Blacks will need to marry up their newly-restored scoring form with greater defensive discipline.

NEWPORT – H.Simons; J.Morris, A.Sabri, C.Smith, E.Frewen (H.Lang); M.O’Brien (capt) (G.O’Driscoll), O.Davies (R.Bates); N.Boyce (J.Lavender), H.Palmer (W.Evans), T.Piper (G.Harris); A.Mann (J.Little), J.Bartlett; M.Burgess, A.Everett, J.Reid

NEATH – E.Howley; A.Jenkins (S.Gibson), M.Evans, K.Williams, G.Llewellyn (I.Evans); L.Price, R.Morgan-Williams (C.Morgans); B.Uphill (N.White, H.Wilkes), G.Lloyd (S.Crocker), L.Tobias; M.Davies (C.White), J.Barley; R.Bean, L.Ward (capt) (J.Parry), A.Cockwell

Referee – Mr. G.Morris (Cardiff)

Neath visit high-riding Newport at Rodney Parade in the Welsh Premiership on Sunday (kick off 2.30pm).

The starting line-up shows only four changes from the that which did so well before going down a little unluckily 30-34 to Pontypridd last week.

Winger Geraint Llewellyn returns while half-backs Luke Price and Reuben Morgan-Williams come in for their first appearances of the season. Up front, the only change sees Matthew Davies return at lock with Ryan Bean taking over from the injured Elis Hopkins in the back row alongside Leon Ward who continues as captain.

Neath v Newport (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Alec Jenkins, 13 Mike Evans, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Geraint Llewellyn; 10 Luke Price, 9 Reuben Morgan-Williams; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Garin Lloyd, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Matthew Davies, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Ryan Bean, 8 Leon Ward (captain), 7 Aled Cockwell
Replacements – 16 Huw Wilkes, 17 Sion Crocker, 18 Neil White, 19 James Parry, 20 Ceri White, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Iwan Evans, 23 Scott Gibson


Although these two teams are at opposite ends of the table, they served up a classic 8-try thriller which was a credit to the Welsh Premiership and which was settled in favour of the visitors with but five minutes remaining.

The Gnoll was in perfect condition for this eve-of-international tie and the heightened atmosphere created by a good crowd was enhanced by biennial visitors from Clermont-Ferrand (France) and St. James Bay (Canada).

Pontypridd finished stronger to earn their success and they scored 5 tries to 3 but Neath’s inexperienced, still injury-hit, side emerged with huge honour from a rip-roaring affair as for a long time they proved themselves the match of the visitors.

Indeed, in a first-half of almost perpetual motion, Neath were the masters. Playing with rhythm and continuity, the Blacks worked to win plenty of possession and, although the first scrum was not set until the 21st minute, the Blacks stole a head and managed to pinch a couple of opposition line-outs too and it was particularly encouraging to see the younger forwards – Garin Lloyd, Liam Tobias, Ryan Bean, Elis Hopkins and Aled Cockwell – earning their spurs against top opposition in a side well led by Leon Ward.

Neath’s reward came with three tries scored by lock Jon Barley under the posts after great work by a fired-up pack, dazzling centre Keiran Williams and the hard-working flanker Aled Cockwell. With Ed Howley converting and landing two first-half penalties for Ponty ball-killing in the red zone, the visitors were visibly panicked.

Ponty scored a fine try of their own by winger Lewis Williams which was converted by Diggy Bird who also kicked a penalty when Neath lost scrum-half Scott Gibson to a yellow card before the break – the offence merited it but the award was harsh considering Ponty’s defensive indiscretions had seen them penalised but with no cards.

Neath looked to add to their 27-10 lead early in the second-half but the first of two Iwan Evans dropped goal attempts just went wide and, before Gibson returned, Ponty hit back with a try by Huw Dowden, converted by Bird. Ponty’s Daf Lockyer was binned as full back Ed Howley kicked a penalty for Neath to hit the 30-mark but the Blacks lost impressive teenage hooker Lloyd and visiting flanker Morgan Sienawski pounced for a try. Then, as the benches emptied, Ponty pulled back to within three points – uncontested scrums did Neath no favours and scrum-half Joel Raikes strolled over unimpeded.

A visibly tiring Neath side, reduced to 14 men following another card, battled hard to stay in front and did so until but five minutes of normal time remained when centre Lloyd Rowlands went over and Bird converted. Try as they might, Neath could not force a response and the spoils went to Ponty at the end of a game played in the best tradition of the two clubs who have been playing each other for 130 years. Another loss was a disappointment for Neath but there is evidently improvement for all to see – next, it’s on to Rodney Parade for a Sunday engagement (kick off 2.30 pm).

NEATH – E.Howley; J.Roberts (D.Guarneri), M.Evans, K.Williams (R.Pugh), A.Jenkins (C.Morgans); I.Evans, S.Gibson; B.Uphill (H.Wilkes), G.Lloyd (E.Whitson), L.Tobias (C.Jones); R.Bean (M.Davies), J.Barley; E.Hopkins (C.White), L.Ward (capt), A.Cockwell
PONTYPRIDD – D.Stuckey; L.Williams (A.Knott), L.Rowlands, D.Lockyer (capt), A.Webber; D.Bird, J.Raikes (J.Hill); H.Owen (I.George), H.Dowden (J.Page), K.Assirati (W.Davies-King); J.Hawkins (H.Barnes), C.Dicomidis; S.Moore (R.Barnes) J.Thomas, M.Sienawski Referee Mr. I.Davies(P’cawl)

Neath host Pontypridd at The Gnoll in the Welsh Premiership on Friday (kick off 7.30pm).

The starting line-up shows several changes from that which lost 6-22 at Ebbw Vale last week. An already speedy back division is boosted by the return of Keiran Williams and Scott Gibson. Up front, Ben Uphill, Garin Lloyd and Liam Tobias form a fresh front row while Ryan Bean and Aled Cockwell are back in action and Leon Ward continues as captain.

Neath v Pontypridd (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 James Roberts, 13 Mike Evans, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Garin Lloyd, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Ryan Bean, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Elis Hopkins, 8 Leon Ward (captain), 7 Aled Cockwell
Replacements – 16 Huw Wilkes, 17 Evan Whitson, 18 Callum Jones, 19 Matthew Davies, 20 Ceri White, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Dan Guarneri, 23 Ryan Pugh



Neath’s long wait for victory continued as Ebbw Vale made the most of their first half opportunities and, rather cruelly, added a last-minute try to take the honours at Eugene Cross Park.

The Ebbw Vale ground-staff had made a splendid effort to get the pitch playable and they were rewarded by a strong start from the home team but Neath showed great resilience and, although they were nil-14 down at half-time, the Blacks were still in it with slope advantage to come.

Vale’s settled unit were quicker into their stride and deservedly led but Neath could point to a couple of crucial decisions which went against them in the lead up to each of the home team’s tries.

For the first Neath were recalled for a forward pass when “advantage over” had not been called following a Vale spillage and Vale pounced for a score by scrum-half Dai Jones; and the second came after Vale could easily have been penalised for obstruction yet Jon Barley was sin-binned and this time skipper Ronnie Kynes was credited with the score after more good combined work by the home forwards.

Former Neath outside-half David Langdon converted both but Neath had their moments and, were it not for the capricious bounce of the ball, Alec Jenkins’ charge-down of his erstwhile colleague’s relieving kick might have produced a Neath score.

If Neath needed reminding that Lady Luck was not with them, a superb long kick to the Vale 22 by full back Ed Howley skidded over the dead-ball line – which it had no right to do on a glue-pot surface.

Still, Neath rolled up their sleeves for the second-half and for a long time achieved set-piece parity as lively hooker Evan Whitson on debut struck up a fine understanding at the line-outs with young lock Matthew Davies and the scrum improved too.

Two penalties by Howley brought Neath right back into contention as Vale struggled to hold some strong-running by the Neath midfield where Iwan Evans, youth player Sion O’Brien and Mike Evans operated well.

But Vale were not done and Langdon nudged over a penalty of his own and they seemed set to score again when the referee awarded Neath a scrum penalty.

With tyro flanker Elis Hopkins again prominent, Neath kept battling away but their fate was sealed when Uphill was carded for allegedly collapsing a scrum – common-sense would suggest that when a scrum goes down as sharply as that one did it would not have been pulled down deliberately !

Neath were therefore reduced to 14 men again and in the last play Vale’s numerical advantage counted as wing Toby Fricker squeezed in on the overlap.

The Blacks therefore move on to Friday’s home game against Pontypridd (kick off 7.30pm) and will be cheered by the fact that they competed for long periods of this game. Moreover, the Blacks emerged relatively unscathed from this game with the physiotherapist having an easy shift – and that has not happened often this season !

EBBW VALE – D.Haymond; S.Thomas, J.Lewis (T.Hoppe), D.Franchi, T.Fricker; D.Langdon, D.Jones (S.Ireland); J.Harries (J.Rogers), R.Francis (J.Franchi), R.Sevenoaks; K.Parker, L.Randall (J.Jacas); R.Clarke (J.Davies), L.Young, R.Kynes (capt)

NEATH – E.Howley;J.Roberts (G.Llewellyn), M.Evans, S.O’Brien (D.Guarneri), A.Jenkins; I.Evans, C.Morgans (S.Gibson); N.White (B.Uphill, C.Jones), E.Whitson, G.James (L.Tobias); M.Davies, J.Barley; E.Hopkins, L.Ward (capt), C.White (J.Williams)
Referee- Mr. M.English (Caldicot)


Neath travel to Ebbw Vale in the Welsh Premiership on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).

The starting side shows four changes with Sion O’Brien coming in at centre, Matthew Davies at lock and Ceri White in the back-row with Evan Whitson, son of former Neath lock Mike, coming in at hooker on permit from Newport.

Neath v Ebbw Vale (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 James Roberts, 13 Mike Evans, 12 Sion O’Brien, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Neil White, 2 Evan Whitson, 3 Geraint James; 4 Matthew Davies, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Elis Hopkins, 8 Leon Ward, 7 Ceri White
Replacements – To Be Confirmed