Category: Match Reports

MATCH REPORT: NEATH 17 LLANELLI 40 – (23-09-2017)

NEATH 17 pts LLANELLI 40 pts

In their most disappointing showing of the season, Neath were well-beaten by a far livelier Llanelli side who ran out well deserved winners, outscoring the home side by 5 tries to 3.

In the first-half especially, Neath were a shadow of themselves and by the end of it Llanelli were more or less out of sight. A missed tackle and an interception try spelled gift scores for the visitors and provided simple conversions for visiting centre Billy McBryde who also kicked three penalties as the visitors sped into a 23-7 half-time lead.

Outside-half Ioan Hughes eased through for the first try and winger Ioan Nicholas enjoyed a merry 70 metre stroll for the second. The alarming nature of Neath’s first-half lack of inspiration after their promising start to the season prompted one supporter to suggest that, had this been an IPL cricket fixture, there would have been calls for an investigation into match-fixing !

At nil-13 down, Neath offered briefly when the ever-dangerous Richard Smith broke through but could not find his support. They continued to press only to give away that penalty try before the strong-running Smith provided a ray of hope when he finished off a sweeping move for his fifth try of the season which Ed Howley converted.

The game was over as a contest almost as soon as the second-half started as Llanelli reclaimed tapped Neath line-out ball to set up a third score for left wing Ryan Conbeer and the fourth was not long in coming as centre Oli Reyland exploited some poor tackling to levy the bonus-point try, McBryde converting.

To their credit, Neath then staged a mini-revival as they at last began to take the game to the opposition with some determined carrying. Sustained attacking brought its reward when centre Keiran Williams was worked over for his fourth League try this term and Llanelli were lucky to escape a yellow card as they tried to prevent it.

Neath were beginning to play like they can – and like they need to ! Most of the replacements made their mark with a couple of neat touches from Iwan Evans and eventually Neath found a hole in the Llanelli defence which replacement flanker Elis Hopkins was delighted to exploit for a third try – his first in the Premiership after scoring at Narberth.

A bonus point try was a possibility but there was an air of inevitability about it when Neath failed to find touch from a penalty and a speculative kick downfield by Llanelli was not dealt with and Nicholas went in for his second try, Llanelli’s fifth.

Really, the Blacks could have few complaints as they paid the penalty for that lack-lustre first-half. Scott Gibson and later Chris Morgans tried hard to create behind a beaten pack in which Ifan Phillips, Ryan Bean and Leon Ward were most prominent while Rhys Jones, as ever, kept going until the end and flankers Hopkins and David Griggs injected some life from the bench.

Llanelli were much the better side though, their set-piece strong and their defence solid with Tom Phillips, Jack Condy and Dan Davis a very impressive, balanced back-row in their team’s best display of the season. It contrasted with Neath’s poorest so the Blacks must now lick their wounds and re-discover their fire before Saturday’s visit to Bridgend.

NEATH – E.Howley (G.Llewellyn); R.Smith, K.Williams, M.Pearce, M.Evans; G.Evans (capt) (I.Evans), S.Gibson (C.Morgans); N.White (B.Uphill), I.Phillips (E.Hopkins), G.James (L.Tobias); R.Jones, M.Davies (S.Crocker); L.Ward, S.Hicks (D.Griggs), R.Bean
LLANELLI – A.Evans; I.Nicholas (J.Newman), O.Reyland (M.Jenkins), W.McBryde, R.Conbeer; I.Hughes, D.Smith (G.George); T.Kaijaks (R.Thomas), T.Davies (C.Thomas), S.Gardiner (B.Leung); C.Long (R.Bullough), T.Price; T.Phillips (capt), J.Condy, D.Davis (L.Pike)

Referee – Mr. A.Evans (Cardiff)

Neath play old rivals Llanelli in the Premiership West at The Gnoll on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).

After winning their first two games against Swansea and Carmarthen Quins, the Welsh All Blacks have lost their last two to RGC and unbeaten Llandovery and, with skipper Jordan Collier a long-term casualty due to a broken leg, Gavin Evans continues to lead the side.

Neath make two changes with Mike Evans and Matthew Pearce returning to the three-quarter line. Back row forward Leon Ward will make his 150th appearance while prop Ben Uphill is poised for his 50th off the bench which also features former Narberth prop Liam Tobias and Tata flanker David Griggs.

Neath coach Gareth Llewellyn said, “Although playing well for the most part, we have not done quite enough to win the last two games and we will need to do that little bit extra and take our chances against Llanelli who are bringing a strong team.”

Neath v Llanelli
15 Ed Howley; 14 Richard Smith, 13 Keiran Williams, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Mike Evans; 10 Gavin Evans (captain), 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Neil White, 2 Ifan Phillips, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Matthew Davies; 6 Leon Ward, 8 Scott Hicks, 7 Ryan Bean
Replacements :- 16 Ben Uphill, 17 Sion Crocker, 18 Liam Tobias, 19 Elis Hopkins, 20 David Griggs, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Iwan Evans, 23 Geraint Llewellyn

MATCH REPORT: NEATH 18 RGC 31 – (09-09-2017)

NEATH 18 points RGC 31 points

A sickening injury midway through the first-half to Neath captain Jordan Collier who suffered a broken leg overshadowed this bristling affair as Neath slid to their first defeat of the season.

Neath were leading 13-7 when the young flanker leapt to catch a re-start but he landed awkwardly and the game was held up for 12 minutes before he was stretchered off the field.

Although Elis Hopkins deputised splendidly, Neath were not quite the same without Collier and RGC nicked the lead before half-time then, aided by a stream of penalties awarded their way and a spate of home injuries, steadily made the game safe in the second-half.

It had all started so well for Neath who went in front via an Ed Howley penalty after five minutes. RGC hit back with an excellent try by Tian Loots which Jacob Botica converted but Neath regained the lead when they blasted the visitors’ scrum and clever combined work saw big lock Matthew Davies cross for his first try for Neath.

And things got even better for the Blacks when they mauled their way towards the line and excellent preparatory work by scrum-half Chris Morgans and his back row saw centre Keiran Williams reach over the line for their second try.

But then disaster struck with the injury to Collier and RGC sneaked ahead just before half-time through a driving line-out try by hooker Geurge Roberts converted by Botica. Howley had a chance to re-establish Neath’s lead when the home team’s scrum again destroyed the visitors’ pack but his long-range shot did not threaten the posts.

Neath needed to get back on track but the referee perplexed the home crowd by awarding a penalty to the visitors whose tight-head clearly dropped a scrum in front of the stand.

That was something of a pivotal moment for Neath whose scrum was altogether too strong for the visitors. It allowed RGC to take the initiative and thereafter it was very much backs against the wall as further injuries forced Neath to use all their forward replacements at an early stage with prop Neil White an unlikely lock. But Neath showed tremendous spirit before finally cracking midway through the second-half and then only after back-rower Leon Ward had been yellow-carded.

The driving line-out is one of the least appealing aspects of the modern game and is difficult to stop – legally – and it proved a potent force for RGC as they went over for their second such score by Tim Gray, Botica converting and then adding a penalty to make the game virtually safe.

It was certainly secured when they sustained possession well for Henri Williams to cross for their bonus-point try, Botica converting but brave Neath would not lie down and, as visiting lock Williams found his way to the bin, quick work by replacement hooker Ifan Phillips (shades of his father Kevin) took a short penalty and Neath worked the overlap for replacement wing James Roberts to touch down for Neath’s third try.

Dismayed at losing their skipper, Neath coach Gareth Llewellyn praised his team’s effort and endeavour. He also extolled the team’s scrum which functioned strongly despite all the disruptions but pinpointed too many penalties conceded as a concern.

NEATH – E.Howley; R.Smith, K.Williams (J.Roberts), M.Pearce (I.Evans), A.Jenkins; G.Evans, C.Morgans (S.Gibson); B.Uphill (, S.Crocker (I.Phillips), R.Thomas (G.James); R.Jones, M.Davies (N.White); L.Ward, S.Hicks, J.Collier (capt) (E.Hopkins)

RGC – D.Jones; I.Pari (I.Evans), T.Hughes, T.Loots, H.Evans; J.Botica, C.Davies (A.Schwarz); J.Simpson (J.Scott), G.Roberts R.Williams), S.Wainwright (C.Reynolds); M.Francis (capt) (R.Williams), H.Williams; A.Williams, T.Gray, W.Bryan (D.Owen)

Referee–Mr. S. Rees (Ebbw Vale)

Buoyed by winning their opening two Premiership games, Neath are aiming to make it a hat-trick when they take on Wales’ ‘fifth region’ RGC at The Gnoll (kick off 2.30pm).

Following three warm-up friendly wins and beating Swansea (39-16), Neath edged an exciting 18-15 victory over Carmarthen Quins last week and they make only three changes.

Into the starting line-up come wing Alec Jenkins with Chris Morgans taking over at scrum-half while Ryan Thomas comes in at prop.

Neath coach Gareth Llewellyn said, “Again, we have not made too many changes as we are building momentum and integrating team patterns. We look at it as a 23-man game anyway but all squad members know what is expected of them and will get their chances.

“RGC, with all the backing of the WRU, showed their capabilities last year. They lost at Llandovery on day one but beat Llanelli last week and, at this stage of our development, we are looking to add another scalp.

“We are setting higher standards, the supporters are enjoying the style of rugby and coming back but we know we need to keep playing and improving.”

Neath v RGC
15 Ed Howley; 14 Richard Smith, 13 Keiran Williams, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Gavin Evans, 9 Chris Morgans ; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Matthew Davies; 6 Leon Ward, 8 Scott Hicks, 7 Jordan Collier (captain),
Replacements :- 16 Neil White, 17 Ifan Phillips, 18 Geraint James, 19 Jon Barley, 20 Elis Hopkins, 21 Scott Gibson, 22 Iwan Evans, 23 James Roberts

** COMING UP NEXT AT THE GNOLL ! – September 23 fixture against Llanelli – Season Tickets are still available and cover all home Premiership matches – details on website.


Things are stirring at The Gnoll where Quins’ near daylight robbery was averted via a late try by Neath full back Ed Howley who restored his team’s lead which had been momentarily lost two minutes before and gave the Welsh All Blacks their second League win.

This match was switched to the Neath citadel at short notice because Carmarthen Park is unfit and the visitors took the lead when Scarlets fly half Dan Jones landed a simple penalty.

The All Blacks were unlucky not to go ahead when quick-silver scrum-half Scott Gibson took a quick penalty, linked with hooker Sion Crocker who passed to Kieran Williams who ‘scored’ under the posts but was recalled. Neath, playing with great confidence, spurned kickable penalties and they took the lead when good work by centre Matthew Pearce and a series of close range surges by the forwards ended with a try by prop Geraint James.

Full back Ed Howley landed the conversion and Neath continued to dominate – Quins were penalised five times for offside in midfield and were fortunate to escape a yellow-card for repeat-offences before Neath went further ahead when Howley landed a goal. Mike Evans threatened but Neath were penalised on the Carmarthen line and, in a rare attack, Quins hit back with a neat try in the left corner by wing Morgan Griffiths.

Neath’s 10-8 interval lead did not reflect their dominance during the first moiety but good work by lock Rhys Jones to collect the kick-off and a dart up the blind-side by the smart Gavin Evans led to a penalty which Howley goaled. Quins tried hard to get back into it, skipper Haydn Pugh – an ex-Neath man – setting a super example at the lineouts but Neath’s defence held firm and they executed a breakout through Williams. When wing Geraint Llewellyn threatened on the left, Quins had scrum-half Beynon-Thomas yellow carded just when Neath looked set to score.

Replacement Chris Morgans spurred Neath on with his trademark runs – with Reuben Morgan-Williams yet to appear, Neath have a wealth of talent at scrum-half – but the All Blacks had another touchdown denied them, this time for blocking although Neath have had many such scores awarded against them ! Restored to 15 men, the Quins girded themselves for one last effort and the game opened out through some loose kicking. With two minutes remaining on the clock, high drama unfolded as, from one of altogether too penalties given the Quins, Beynon-Thomas took a quick tap and raced past a sleeping Neath defence to score under the posts.

Jones’ conversion looked to have stolen a win but this Neath team is made of stern stuff and, retaining the ball through several phases and many hands – backs and forwards included – the ball reached Ed Howley who nudged the ball past the two remaining Quins defenders and beat them to it for a splendid match-winning try.

Coach Gareth Llewellyn said, “We had the win in our grasp but I thought they had pinched it with their late try. It speaks volumes for our character really that we still had it in us to grab it back again. It was the kind of game that the crowds relish and this team deserves big support next week when RGC visit. Full marks to a very organised Quins team too.”

NEATH – E.Howley; M.Evans (I.Evans), K.Williams, M.Pearce (G.Llewellyn), R.Smith; G.Evans, S.Gibson (C.Morgans); B.Uphill (N.White), S.Crocker (J.Davies), G.James (R.Thomas); R.Jones, M.Davies; L.Ward (E.Hopkins), S.Hicks, J.Collier (capt)

CARM.QUINS – A.Thomas; D.Morgans, N.Reynolds, J.Batcup, M.Griffiths; D.Jones, I.Beynon-Thomas (A.Hemmings); N.Williams (G.Robinson), T.Myhill, S.Thomas (J.Sebastian); S.Jones, H.Pugh (capt); R.Clancy, L.Taylor, L.Millin

Referee– Mr. J.Morris (Aberdare)


Neath entertain Carmarthen Quins at THE GNOLL
for their first Premiership tie of the season on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).

Following three warm-up wins, Neath made it four out of four when they eased past Swansea (39-16) in their first League outing last week and they make only three changes.

Keiran Williams returns at centre with Richard Smith switching to the wing while Matthew Davies and Leon Ward come in up front.

Neath coach Gareth Llewellyn said, “We have not made too many changes as we want to build momentum and give team patterns a chance to settle. But the other squad members know what is expected of them and will get their chances.

“Carmarthen Quins are always a hard nut to crack and they will have been disappointed to lose their opening game at Llanelli last week especially as their forwards went so well.

“We were pleased to get off to a winning start against Swansea but it is early days yet and Quins will be a different proposition.

“We expect Quins to have a few Scarlets behind the scrum and we know what they are capable of up front. We set a standard last week and we need to up our game from that.”

Neath v Carmarthen Quins
15 Ed Howley; 14 Richard Smith, 13 Keiran Williams, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Mike Evans; 10 Gavin Evans, 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Matthew Davies; 6 Leon Ward, 8 Scott Hicks, 7 Jordan Collier (captain),
Replacements :- 16 Neil White, 17 Ifan Phillips, 18 Ryan Thomas, 19 Jon Barley, 20 Elis Hopkins, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Iwan Evans, 23 Geraint Llewellyn

** COMING UP NEXT AT THE GNOLL ! – September fixtures against RGC (9th) and Llanelli (23rd) – Season Tickets are still available and cover all home Premiership matches – details on website.

MATCH REPORT: NEATH 39 SWANSEA 16 – (26-08-2017)

NEATH 39 pts SWANSEA 16 pts

Slick Neath got the new Premiership season off to a promising high-speed, all-action start with a 5-try victory over Swansea, sewing up a bonus point in the process.

Neath had won all three warm-up games and a four-figure crowd greeted the teams in perfect conditions. Neath started brightly but Swansea took an early lead when centre Owen Howe placed a penalty. Neath were looking dangerous every time they had the ball and it was no surprise when centre Richard Smith put them in front with a try which full back Ed Howley converted.

Swansea struck back from the restart when Neath spilled then played the ball from an off-side position giving Howe the chance to land his second kick but this was soon wiped out by a Howley penalty.

Inventive Neath continued to re-cycle possession at pace and a Howley break led to the second try, winger Mike Evans powering over on the right to make it 15-6. But Neath’s kick-off receipt again got them into trouble when they conceded another penalty, Swansea kicked to the corner and a line-out drive ended in hooker Paul John crossing for a try which Howe converted.

That made it an unlikely 15-13 with Neath playing much the brighter rugby. The Blacks lost lock Ryan Bean who had made an impressive start but, with scrum-half Scott Gibson eagerly bringing his back-line into play, they looked much the better side and before the interval the forwards took over with a series of strong drives to the posts which saw skipper Jordan Collier go close before co-flanker Aled Morris drove across for the third try which Howley converted to make it 22-13 at half-time.

Howe got Swansea’s second-half off to a good start with his third penalty as the match entered an even phase but Neath’s impressive free-flowing style was always evident. An energetic forward effort paved the way, the front-row solid and locks Rhys Jones, Matthew Davies and No.8 Scott Hicks repeatedly making inroads into the Swansea ranks.

Wales Under-20’s captain Keiran Williams emerged from a strong bench for his first action since damaging his shoulder at the end of last season. He made an almost immediate impact as he struck for Neath’s fourth try, stepping in from the right and arrowing in to score at the posts at the Union end. Neath’s bonus point was safe and Howley converted before landing a penalty to make it a comfortable 32-13.

Swansea tested the Neath defence and nearly squeezed in at the left corner and Neath might have scored when Mike Evans blazed away at the other end but could not find his support. It mattered not as Swansea messed up a scrum on their own try-line and Neath struck when Hicks fed replacement back-rower Leon Ward who scored the fifth try, Howley converting.

Coach Gareth Llewellyn was quietly satisfied with the first outing saying, “We played a lot of good stuff out there and should have added to the score. We still have a lot of work to do but it was vital to get that first win and now we can prepare for tougher tasks that lie ahead starting at Carmarthen on Saturday. I was pleased with our fitness and energy-levels which gave us an edge in a convincing win which is what we set ourselves to do.”

NEATH – E.Howley; M.Evans, R.Smith, M.Pearce, G.Llewellyn (K.Williams); G.Evans (I.Evans), S.Gibson (C.Morgans); B.Uphill (D.Edwards), S.Crocker (J.Davies), G.James (R.Thomas); R.Jones, R.Bean (M.Davies); J.Collier (capt), S.Hicks, A.Morris (L.Ward)
SWANSEA – R.Williams (P.Jones); A.Claypole, O.Howe, J.Evans, J.Randall (D.Callaghan); J.G.Davies, R.Wells; T.Sloane (J.Powell), P.John (T.Ball), R.Murphy (C.Thomas); J.Williams (A.Thresher), T.Hughes; R.Gallagher (E.Williams), J.Fox (capt), B.Davies
Referee – Mr. W. Davies (Llanon)

Neath open their Premiership season against Swansea slightly later than most on Saturday with an evening kick off (7.30pm) due to cricket on the adjacent field.

Three wins out of three against Ystalyfera (38-17), Moseley (14-12) and Narberth (38-7) spelled a decent warm-up programme for the Welsh All Blacks as they look to improve again on last season’s showing when they fought through to the Tier 2 play-offs.

There is a familiar look about the Neath starting side which features four newcomers in winger Mike Evans, centre Richard Smith, scrum-half Scott Gibson and lock Ryan Bean.

Two players will be marking significant milestones with hooker Sion Crocker making his 100th appearance and outside-half Iwan Evans his 50th while Wales Under-20’s star Keiran Williams will begin his comeback from the replacements’ bench.

Neath coach Gareth Llewellyn said, “Swansea at home is a big start because it is always a keen encounter. We are looking forward to it, as are the supporters, and there is always a special atmosphere about these warm Saturday evening games at The Gnoll with a good crowd expected.

“Swansea have a few newcomers too so our preparations have focussed on getting our own game right. Swansea will have been saddened to lose to Redruth but they held Irish champions Lansdowne to 10-19 last Friday and are always a challenge.

“We were pleased with our three warm-up wins but the really serious stuff starts now. We are just looking to continue driving up our standards and performing consistently.”

Neath v Swansea
15 Ed Howley; 14 Mike Evans, 13 Richard Smith, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Geraint Llewellyn; 10 Gavin Evans, 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Ryan Bean; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Scott Hicks, 7 Aled Morris
Replacements :- 16 David Edwards, 17 Joe Davies, 18 Ryan Thomas, 19 Matthew Davies, 20 Leon Ward, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Iwan Evans, 23 Keiran Williams

** COMING UP NEXT ! – September fixtures against RGC (9th) and Llanelli (23rd) – Season Tickets are still available and cover all home Premiership matches

MATCH REPORT: NARBERTH 7 NEATH 38 – (19-08-2017)

NARBERTH 7 pts NEATH 38 pts

Neath continued their steady progress and made it a hat-trick of warm-up victories with this 6-try success at Narberth.

But the Blacks were made to work hard for the spoils before finally overcoming a determined home side who never gave up the chase.

Narberth have been the king-pins of Pembrokeshire rugby for many years. They finished runners-up to Pontypool in the Championship last year and should challenge again this year.

An appreciative crowd with a healthy All Black contingent greeted the teams on a windy afternoon and both sides enjoyed spells of early possession with the home back-row of Richie Rees, Sean Jenkins and Steff Phillips already tackling hard.

Neath opened the scoring by expertly using turnover ball for a fine try by centre Richard Smith carved out by full back Ed Howley who converted.
Neath’s scrum, although not as dominant as it was against Moseley, yielded the next try by No.8 Scott Hicks but Howley’s well struck kick was caught by the wind.

The All Blacks went further ahead when Smith took advantage of a huge hole in the home side’s defence to score at the posts and Howley converted for a 19-nil half-time lead.
Neath continued their merry advance in the second-half when they doubled their tally and the fourth try came after the ball was passed through several hands for scrum-half Scott Gibson to cross, Howley converting.

Both sides used their replacements and Narberth hit back with a deserved try by lock Jake Simm which Ianto Griffiths converted to bring it back to 26-7 and they might have scored again were it not for an unfortunate habit of passing into touch instead of to the wing.
But Neath soon re-established command – captain Jordan Collier was held up over the line, Smith was denied the hat-trick he deserved for a foot in touch-in-goal before Elis Hopkins smashed over, the assertive Iwan Evans adding the goal-points with a well-judged kick.

To cap things off Ystalyfera winger Luc Caines bagged the sixth ensuring that Neath can be satisfied with another sound team display although with more control the side can still improve.

The speedy back-line handled well and often with centre Matthew Pearce again putting in a full shift.
The forwards were eager and industrious and Neath seem to have unearthed two second rows of potential – Ryan Bean was everywhere and Matthew Davies produced another solid performance while young flankers Ceri White and Elis Hopkins showed to advantage.

Head Coach Gareth Llewellyn pronounced himself reasonably happy with the way things have gone so far for the Welsh All Blacks.
“We are re-establishing a hard, winning mentality and winning all three prep games was very gratifying in that regard.” he said, “But the serious stuff starts now. New recruits have come in and settled well and we need to be firing next week.”
Now Neath have a week of intensive preparation before next Saturday’s big Premier kick off against Swansea at The Gnoll (7.30pm).

NEATH – E.Howley; L.Caines, R.Smith, M.Pearce, G.Llewellyn (B.Atkins); G.Evans (I.Evans), C.Morgans (S.Gibson); N.White (B.Uphill), A.Morris (J.Davies), R.Thomas (G.James); R.Jones, R.Bean (M.Davies); J.Collier (capt), S.Hicks, C.White (E.Hopkins)
NARBERTH – J.Stephenson (J.Jenkins); L.Hutchings, K.Griffiths, D.Beech, G.Gibby; I.Griffiths, J.Rogers; B.Davies (L.Davies), D.Smith, D.Hobbs (Ryan Rees); J.Simm, R.Banner; Richie Rees, S.Jenkins, S.Phillips (D.Williams)
Referee – Mr. D. Phillips (Aberystwyth)

Neath visit Narberth on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm) for their third and final warm-up fixture.

Neath welcome back “late starters” full back Ed Howley, scrum half Chris Morgans, props Neil White and Ryan Thomas and No.8 Scott Hicks.

Also included is Ystalyfera wing Luc Caines who impressed against Neath a fortnight ago and who has made one Foster’s Cup appearance for the Club before.

Neath coach Gareth Llewellyn said, “Narberth will be another good tester for us – possibly the toughest – and another important step in our preparations before the Premiership kicks off.

“We were pleased with most areas of our win against Moseley last week and it is good to see the new players settling in. But we need to continue driving up our standards and perform consistently.”

Neath v Narberth
15 Ed Howley; 14 Luc Caines, 13 Richard Smith, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Geraint Llewellyn; 10 Gavin Evans, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Neil White, 2 Aled Morris, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Ryan Bean; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Scott Hicks, 7 Ceri White
Replacements From :- Ben Uphill, Joe Davies, Geraint James, Matthew Davies, Elis Hopkins, Scott Gibson, Iwan Evans, Ben Atkins, Dan Guarneri

** NEATH’s PREMIERSHIP season kicks off on Saturday August 26th at 7:30pm at The Gnoll vs Swansea RFC with further home games scheduled for September against RGC (9th) and Llanelli (23rd). Season tickets are still available and cover all home Premiership matches

MATCH REPORT: NEATH 14 MOSELEY 12 – (11-08-2017)

NEATH 14 pts MOSELEY 12 pts

Two fine tries by livewire scrum-half Scott Gibson helped Neath continue their pre-season preparations with a hard-fought win over a good Moseley side at The Gnoll on Friday evening.

Despite the day’s rains, The Gnoll was in prime condition and looked a picture as an appreciative crowd welcomed Moseley to Neath for the first time since 1991.

Moseley, paying their first visit to The Gnoll since 1991, have brought in a lot of players over the summer and are expected to be among the front-runners in National League 1 again this year.

From the outset an evenly-fought encounter looked to be on the cards as the two sides grappled to gain the edge.

Neath, showing 8 changes from the side which started the previous week’s 38-17 win at Ystalyfera, enjoyed a distinct scrum superiority which was matched by Mosley’s heavy driving maul.

It was this tactic which gave the Birmingham-based side the lead on 15 minutes when lock Lewis Bean was boomed over the line for a try converted by former Bedwas outside-half James Dixon.

Neath wasted no time in drawing level as, opting for an attacking scrum from a penalty in the shadow of the Moseley posts, Leon Ward cleverly fed Scott Gibson who stepped past three defenders to score at the posts in a style reminiscent of Martyn Davies or Carl Gnojek in the past.

Outside-half Iwan Evans who played an intelligent game throughout converted and it was all-square.

Neath were beginning to play with authority with centre Richard Smith taking some holding in midfield and Neath’s scrum, based on the solid front-row of Ben Uphill, Aled Morris and Geraint James, was a potent force.

When Neath forced a line-out near the Moseley line, new lock Ryan Bean, an impressive home debutant, won the contest and the alert Gibson scampered up the narrow side for his second try.

Iwan Evans goaled superbly from the touchline to put Neath 14-7 up but Moseley’s juggernaut pack cut the arrears with another driving maul try by former Cardiff Met hooker Ryan Roach.

It was 14-12 at half-time and that was how it stayed throughout a compelling second-half when Neath’s gritty defence held firm and every man put in a shift with Rhys Jones and captain Jordan Collier always in the thick of it.

Matthew Pearce was a tower of strength while Iwan Evans and his young partner Dalton Brown played with a maturity that belies their tender years.

Moseley held the territorial advantage but Neath tackled like demons and in attack created the better scoring chances of the half.

The Blacks nearly squeezed in at the left corner and, just before the end, nearly capped a fine display but replacement full back Ed Howley’s pass failed to find the unmarked James Roberts outside him.

The really inspiring aspect for the Blacks was that the team – established men and young newcomers alike – showed all the skills and determination which is the Neath heritage.

All told, a battling win – very encouraging for The Gnoll faithful – but Neath must keep their feet firmly on the floor : there is still much to improve upon before their final warm-up game at Narberth next Saturday and Pembrokeshire’s finest always enjoy an upset.

NEATH – D.Guarneri (E.Howley); J.Roberts, R.Smith (B.Atkins), G.Evans (M.Pearce), G.Llewellyn; I.Evans, S.Gibson (C.Morgans, D.Brown); B.Uphill, A.Morris (J.Davies), G.James; R.Jones, R.Bean (M.Davies); J.Collier (capt), L.Ward, E.Hopkins (C.White)

MOSELEY – S.Hollingsworth; R.Beddows, T.Molenaar, O.Allsopp, M.Harrison; J.Dixon, S.Brown; J.Boyce, R.Roach, J.Tideswell; A.Croft, L.Bean; J.Le Roux, C.Moore, L.Cowen

Referee– Mr.W. Davies (Llannon)


Neath host Moseley (kick off 7.45pm) at The Gnoll on Friday as Jordan Collier’s team step up their preparations after last week’s 38-17 win at Ystalyfera.

Back on duty are full back Dan Guarneri, wing Geraint Llewellyn and centre Gavin Evans while scrum-half Scott Gibson makes his bow. Up front, prop Ben Uphill and new lock Ryan Bean start along with Aled Morris who comes in at flanker.

Neath coach Gareth Llewellyn said, “Friday’s game with Moseley will be a real challenge as they are a very big, powerful outfit. It is a rare chance for the supporters to see an English side at The Gnoll and we’ll need to pull out all the stops.”

Neath v Moseley
15 Dan Guarneri; 14 James Roberts, 13 Richard Smith, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Geraint Llewellyn; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Ryan Bean; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Leon Ward, 7 Aled Morris Replacements From :- Callum Jones, A.N. Other, Matthew Davies, Elis Hopkins, A,N. Other, Dalton Brown, Ben Atkins, Matthew Pearce, Ed Howley

Referee – Mr. Wayne Davies (Llanon)

** NEATH’s PREMIERSHIP season kicks off on Saturday August 26th at 7:30pm at The Gnoll vs Swansea RFC with further home games scheduled for September against RGC (9th) and Llanelli (23rd). Season tickets are still available and cover all home Premiership matches




Neath launched their pre-season preparations with an encouraging 6 tries to 3 victory at Ystalyfera.

But full marks to Ystalyfera who did themselves proud and proved more than capable deputies for original opponents Skewen.

The thunder showers passed by the Swansea Valley and, in good conditions, it was soon evident that the young Neath side would be extended.

Ystalyfera, the National Plate finalists have a weighty scrum, smooth halves and a neat three-quarter line and, in a scoreless first quarter, honours were even as both sides went close.

Neath opened the scoring when centre Richard Smith celebrated his return to All Black colours by charging over at the posts for a try which Iwan Evans converted.

Ystalyfera struck back when speedy wing Luc Caines – one of five starters in the home line-up who has played for Neath – gathered his own chip ahead to touch down.

But Neath, well led by Jordan Collier, gradually developed their patterns and went 12-5 up at half-time when clever hands saw Tondu wing Aled Jones nip in at the left corner.

There was the anticipated flurry of interval changes and, on the resumption, Neath extended their lead when Mike Evans crossed after good work by centres Atkins and Smith.

Iwan Evans converted and Neath’s fourth try – a really splendid one featuring great linking work – was registered by full back Dan Guarneri.

But Ystalyfera were far from done and, sandwiching a second fine try for Neath by Mike Evans which Geraint Llewellyn converted, home props Jon Williams and Dan White dabbed down, Steffan Castle converting the first, missing the second.

But Neath had the last word when Smith sped away for their sixth try, Llewellyn adding his second conversion to bring to an end a keen opener which was well controlled by Mr. Craig Evans.

Much interest naturally focussed on the newcomers who all made an impression. Mike Evans and Richard Smith were powerful and a real handful throughout.

Colts scrum-half Dalton Brown impressed too as did his replacement Tom Sadler and Dulais Valley centre Ben Atkins.

All three teenagers went close to scoring and indeed would have done so were it not for the admirable never-say-die interventions of the Ystalyfera defenders.

Up front, Owain Morgan and Elis Hopkins did much useful work and new locks Matthew Davies and Ryan Bean showed promise too.

There was an understandable early term rustiness though. Neath created several other scoring chances but did not finish and the Blacks will need to step up several gears ahead of Moseley’s visit to The Gnoll on Friday (kick off 7.45pm).

Ystalyfera played to their strengths and were well served by their pack led by former Gnoll favourite Steffan Jones while halves Nathan Cornelius and Gareth James were composed operators and both sides will have taken much from this first pre-season outing.

NEATH – M.Evans; J.Roberts (D.Guarneri), R.Smith, M.Pearce (B.Atkins), A.Jones (G.Llewellyn); I.Evans, D.Brown (T.Sadler); C.Jones (B.Uphill), S.Crocker (A.Morris), G.James; R.Jones, M.Davies (R.Bean); J.Collier (capt), L.Ward, O.Morgan (E.Hopkins)
YSTALYFERA – S.Castle; L.Caines, J.Bayliss, Martyn Davies, D.Thomas; G.James, N.Cornelius; R.White, O.Phillips, J.Williams; S.Jones, C.Miguel; S.Jones (capt), A.Llewellyn, R.Evans Repl – G.Jones, M.Scott, Marcus Davies, D.White, P.Davies, T.Lewis, N.Astley
Referee : Mr. C. Evans (Glynneath)

Neath visit Ystalyfera (kick off 2.30pm) on Saturday and the starting line-up includes four players making their debuts.

Mike Evans makes his bow at full back while Tondu speedster Aled Jones appears on the wing with young Dalton Brown of Neath Athletic at scrum half and Owain Morgan at flanker. The team is :-

Neath v Ystalyfera
15 Mike Evans; 14 James Roberts, 13 Richard Smith, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Aled Jones; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Dalton Brown; 1 Callum Jones, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Matthew Davies; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Leon Ward, 7 Owain Morgan Replacements :- Ben Uphill, Aled Morris, Ryan Thomas, Ryan Bean, Elis Hopkins, Tom Sadler, Geraint Llewellyn, Ben Atkins, Dan Guarneri

Referee – Mr. Craig Evans (Glynneath)

MATCH REPORT: NEATH 14 NEWPORT 32 (20-05-2017)

NEATH 14 points NEWPORT 32 points
Newport took the honours at The Gnoll on Saturday night so here is the Match Report by kind permission of John Evans, Newport RFC:

Neath’s outside half, Gavin Evans, kicked off toward the covered terrace and Newport immediately knocked on. The scrum had barely settled when the referee, Mr Gareth Newman, who officiated at Rodney Parade last Saturday against Llanelli RFC, penalised Newport for turning in the scrum. Up stepped Neath’s deadly accurate full back, Ed Howley for a shot at goal and the opening score of the game. Neath took the lead against Newport 3-0 in the second minute.

Newport launched themselves at Neath in response. Hooker Henry Palmer ran at the defence before setting up the ruck, Ryan James passed the ball right to Adam Brown whose improvised ‘basketball-style’ pass was knocked on by Neath. Number eight Reuben Tucker gathered the ball playing with the advantage but the ball was lost in tackle. A scrum to Neath made it two weeks running where Mr Newman gave very little advantage after an infringement. Further, the Newport scrum was again penalised ensuring all the good approach work was undone.

Newport full back Llywarch ap Myrddin lofted a high ball forward in the 7thminute for Elliot Frewen to chase which, naturally, he did whole-heartedly. He reached the ball first and barged into Neath second row Rhys Jones while successfully wrestling himself and ball to the floor. Ryan James whipped the ball out to flanker Lennon Greggains who showed a tenacity, strength and focus beyond his experience to power over for the opening try of the evening. Geraint O’Driscoll was on hand to kick the conversion to make it Neath 3 Newport 7.

Neath replied by trying to move the ball and probe the Newport defence for gaps, only to find that there were none. Newport were defending on the half way line very well and, as usual, the opposition became frustrated and booted the ball to touch. It was an excellent defensive effort by the Black and Ambers. However, the usually dependable line out was misfiring slightly, an aspect that would need to be tightened up if Newport had aspirations to win the game.

Neath gained a little momentum in the 15th minute as the piled forward but they weren’t particularly doing so in numbers. The only way that ploy was going to work was if they could find a penalty in the tackle situation. It duly came when Mr Newman adjudged Jon Morris as not releasing a tackled player quickly enough. Neath kicked for the line, about fifteen metres out on the cricket club side.

Home scrum half Chris Morgans had a thrust at the line, as did second row Jon Barley but both were repelled. The Neath scrum came, a few metres from the Newport line, and the visitors were penalised yet again. Neath, tasting blood, opted for a reset scrum. This time the scrum wheeled but was judged legal and Geraint O’Driscoll hammered the ball into touch near the half way line.

Newport’s penalty count was creeping up as they were pinged again in the 24thminute for not releasing the tackled player. Neath’s Ed Howley slotted the thirty metre effort easily to make it Neath 6 Newport 7.
Neath were starting to look properly dangerous. Newport were conceding penalties for a pastime and the Blacks were managing to find gaps to run through. Scrum half Chris Morgans, a very direct player, broke to find number eight Leon Ward in support. Ward reached Newport’s 22 before Jon Morris hauled him down. As Newport re-grouped they were caught offside. Ed Howley again slotted the penalty to put Neath ahead again, 9-7 on 30 minutes.

Newport took the lead minutes later when the Neath captain, flanker Jordan Collier, was penalised for breaking from the scrum early. Geraint O’Driscoll kicked the penalty to make it Neath 9 Newport 10 on 33 minutes.
The penalty situation didn’t improve and the 35th minute saw Newport prop Nicky Boyce sent to the naughty step for ten minutes after Mr Newman decided that he’d seen hands in the ruck too many times. With the numerical advantage Neath tried to finish the half strongly.

A splendid kick through by Ed Howley for his winger Aaron Grabham to chase almost paid dividends only for the ball to agonisingly roll into touch just a few metres from the Newport line, a let off for the Black & Ambers. Henry Palmer threw a long ball into the line out to Reuben Tucker and Neath let Newport off the hook completely when a player was seen to not support his own weight at a ruck. Penalty to Newport, danger averted. O’Driscoll cleared the ball back to halfway to try and run down the clock to half time.

But Neath weren’t quite finished yet. Aaron Grabham demonstrated how dangerous he could be by powering through would-be tacklers while Neath open side Charlie Davies ran half the length of the field, ball in hand, before being halted by Llywarch ap Myrddin. Luckily for Newport, the pass away from contact to the supporting Chris Morgans was knocked on. From the scrum, Ryan James hoofed the ball into touch to bring the first half to a close.

Halftime – Neath RFC 9 Newport RFC 10
Geraint O’Driscoll kicked off the second half with Newport playing towards the covered terrace. A returning high ball was taken by second row Dan Partridge who passed to Garin Harris. Harris found O’Driscoll who made a break and passed to Chay Smith in support who, in turn, found Elliot Frewen. Frewen made a sprint for the line only to be bundled in to touch, just metres out, as he tried to turn himself away from the touch line and ground the ball. This was a real statement of attacking intent by Newport.

Nicky Boyce returned to the field only to be replaced on the naughty step by Garin Harris who Mr Newman had felt had conceded too many penalties for turning-in at the scrum. He was replaced by Tom Piper, making his fiftieth appearance in a Newport RFC shirt and, as it turned out, may have been a factor in Neath’s later performance. Harris’ opposite number, Ben Uphill, had appeared to be on a par with him and potentially causing Harris a few problems, However, Tom Piper with a slightly shorter stature seemed to excel at getting under Uphill and into his chest, which is, as any prop will tell you, exactly what you want. Uphill’s earlier apparent goading of Harris soon ebbed away and, before long, he limped off to play no further part in the game.

Still down to fourteen players, a Neath scrum on Newport’s 22-metre line yielded a try straight off the training pitch as the ball went through the hands for winger Geraint Llewellyn to find space on the outside where John Morris would have been had he not had to yield for Tom Piper. Ed Howley missed the conversion so the score no was Neath 14 Newport 10 on 47 minutes.

Newport were still down one player when they scored their next try. Elliot Frewen lead the charge into midfield before being tackled. Scrum half Owen Davies, on for Ryan James, had time to pick his runners before finding Tom Piper in yards of space. Piper ran from the Neath 22 metres line to a few metres out from the try line before being tackled. Davies passed the ball left quickly where Dan Partridge took possession and cantered across the line unopposed. The conversion was missed so the score stood at Neath 14 Newport 15 on 52 minutes.
The evidence of Neath beginning to unfurl was there to see when the restart went straight into touch and the Neath conceded a penalty at the resulting scrum on the centre spot.

Newport were beginning to dominate all facets of the game. The scrum niggles had worked themselves out, the lineout was more dependable and Neath were struggling to find answers. Henry Palmer was prominent as the close-quarter drives took Newport up field. Neath were being stretched but wouldn’t quite break until a mass punch-up took place on the hour mark. Once it subsided, Mr Newman took the advice of his assistant and it was felt that Newport’s Rhodri Jones and Neath’s Jon Barley could carry on their philosophical debate on the sidelines for ten minutes. However, the penalty for punching stood for Newport and Geraint O’Driscoll extended the Black and Ambers lead to 14-18.

Llywarch ap Myrddin chose a line that took him up to ten metres from the Neath line on 66 minutes. Once tackled, he set the ruck ball up for Owen Davies to find the sprinting Geraint O’Driscoll coming onto the ball at pace with enough room to evade the covering defence and dive across the line for Newport’s third try and effectively slam the door shut on any hopes Neath had of winning this game. O’Driscoll converted his own try to make the score Neath 14 Newport 25.

Neath had become ragged and inaccurate but still physical and determined but the game was up for them. Newport, however, were looking for more. Tom Pascoe was trying to put Chay Smith in position when Neath centre Max Llewellyn picked the pass off and looked to get wing Geraint Llewellyn away. The pass, however, bounced loose for a retreating Reuben Tucker to gather and remount the charge towards the Neath line. Geraint O’Driscoll put a grubber kick in to chase himself but was knocked-on under pressure just metres from the line.

As the game wore on, Newport were demonstrably superior across the park. A strong shove at a Neath scrum some 35 metres out resulted in a penalty to Newport which O’Driscoll kicked to the corner with laser-guided accuracy. Adam Brown jumped to take the throw and an effective maul formed around him. Neath did enough, however, to get bodies under the ball and prevent the try. The resulting scrum was a thing a beauty.

A Newport attacking scrum, five metres out, and Piper, Palmer and Boyce had their opposite numbers in all sorts of trouble. The pack slowly marched forward, ominously, as Neath boots, hands and kitchen sinks were thrown in to prevent the heave. Mr Newman, quite correctly, judged that the try was going to be scored and the entire Neath back row had broken away to try and prevent that. A penalty try was the decision and O’Driscoll had the simple task of converting that to make the score Neath 14 Newport 32 on 80 minutes.

Newport kept going into injury time with the constant singing of an exceptional level of travelling support ringing around the Gnoll, but no further scoring took place before the referee blew for full time and Newport RFC were crowned Principality Premiership Tier Two Champions.

Saturday evening (kick off 7.30pm) sees the curtain comes down on Neath’s 2016/17 campaign when they host Newport in the Premiership Tier 2 play-off final at The Gnoll.

Neath clinched their place in the final with a convincing 33-13 win over another redoubtable Gwent side Cross Keys last Sunday and team manager Martyn Morris said, “The team is playing good rugby and finishing strongly – we are looking for one big last effort from everyone and really the squad deserves some reward for the hard work put in this season.

”It is nice to be finishing the season at home and The Gnoll should have a special atmosphere on Saturday evening as our supporters have waited a long time for something to cheer. We hope as many as possible come to The Gnoll on Saturday evening and help us get over the line.”

Neath captain Jordan Collier said, “The boys put in a strong performance last week against a tough Cross Keys side and we know that Newport will be just as demanding. They have beaten us twice this season so we want to make sure this one is ours and put down a marker for next year.”

Neath have given a vote of confidence to the XV which started last week’s win over Cross Keys but Collier stresses there is no complacency in the camp, “We all know we must perform – team and bench,” he says.
Neath v Newport (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Max Llewellyn, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Geraint Llewellyn; 10 Gavin Evans, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Leon Ward, 7 Charlie Davies
Replacements – 16 Ifan Phillips, 17 Neil White, 18 Ryan Thomas, 19 Jonny Griffiths, 20 Aled Morris, 21 Dan Guarneri, 22 Iwan Evans, 23 Kristian Corbisiero

Referee – Mr. Gareth Newman (Cardiff)

MATCH REPORT: NEATH 33 CROSS KEYS 13 – (14-05-2017)

NEATH 33 points CROSS KEYS 13 points

Neath stormed into the play-off final with a convincing 5 tries to 1 win over Cross Keys in The Gnoll sunshine on Sunday.

Having lost 59-14 in the League on their last visit to The Gnoll in April, Cross Keys were obviously out to make amends this time as they restored the likes of Leon Andrews, Owain Leonard and Daniel Hodge to their line-up.

Presumably seeking to build a lead, they took first use of the stiff breeze but Neath soon hit their stride, scrummaging strongly and building impressive continuity into their game.

Keys went in front after nine minutes when outside-half Josh Prosser landed a straightforward penalty. A kick ahead by left winger Geraint Llewellyn nearly brought about the first try of the game which eventually came in the 13th minute – Neath’s right winger Aaron Grabham profiting from intricate work in midfield to speed over.

As might be expected with wind-advantage, Keys enjoyed plenty of territory but, try as they might, they were unable to break the Neath defence in which the back-row of captain Jordan Collier, Leon Ward and 18 year old Charlie Davies – many people’s man-of-the-match – excelled.

Half-backs Gavin Evans and Chris Morgans and teenage centres Max Llewellyn and Matt Pearce were equally as resolute as the Neath defence continually met – and repelled – strong-running Keys charges on the gain line.

With locks Rhys Jones and Jon Barley commanding figures at the lines-out, Neath were well in the game; it was compelling stuff and the interval was reached with Neath 5-3 to the good.

Neath conceded a soft penalty almost from the re-start and Prosser stepped up to make it 6-5 but the Blacks were soon on the offensive and scrum-half Morgans, enjoying another fine game, had a score disallowed when he lost the ball over the try-line.

Next the ever-dangerous Ed Howley broke the line but his delicate kick bounced capriciously just over the dead-ball line on the hard ground. On 53 minutes the full back was not to be denied though as he collected his next kick to dab down after great work by Pearce from a lineout.

Howley’s conversion made it 12-6 to Neath and Grabham nearly took a hand when his own kick ahead met with a similar fate but the try-happy winger soon bagged his second try of the afternoon, his 25th in all games this season, and Howley’s conversion lifted the score to 19-6.

Neath were now playing with real style and were well on top as the “Neath, Neath, Neath” chants took hold in the grandstand. From a scrum near the Keys line, Morgans fed Charlie Davies and the rapidly-maturing back-rower forced his way over for his second try in three games, Howley again converting.

Minutes later, the pair repeated the trick, this time Morgans getting a well-deserved touchdown – Neath’s fifth of the afternoon – for Howley to convert to reach the personal milestone of 300 points for the season and Neath were leading by a commanding 33-6.

Strangely, the score signalled Keys’ best attacking play of the game as they suddenly opened up with pace and incision which brought its reward in a well-taken try by young replacement James McCarthy, Prosser adding the conversion points.

But it had been Neath’s day and nothing could detract from a hard-fought and well-deserved victory over worthy foe-men in a game which was superbly controlled by the referee Ebbw Vale’s Mr. Simon Rees.

Afterwards, Neath captain Jordan Collier paid tribute to his team saying, “That was a performance I feel we can all be proud of. We know how good Cross Keys have been over the last few seasons and we knew they would be up for this one.

“But we stuck in there into the wind in the first half when our defence was strong and we cut loose in the second half when we won some really good quick ball. The supporters got behind us and the only way to attract more back is throughwins and displays like this.

“Ahead of what is now a final shoot out, it would be great if the Town would get behind us next week. We are fighting hard to get back on the map, apparently we are the second youngest team in the League and these are exciting times.”

Next up for Neath in what will definitely be the final game of this elongated season is Newport – the conquerors of Llanelli – and, given that the Black and Ambers have already beaten Neath twice this season, it will take another mammoth effort by this Neath team which is looking increasingly confident and, on this determined form, have nothing to fear.

The WRU have promised a trophy for the winners – so why not come along and be there to see if the Welsh All Blacks can end the season with some silverware ?

Neath’s Premiership Tier 2 play-off against Cross Keys at The Gnoll has been switched to Sunday (kick off 2.30pm) to avoid a clash with cricket on the adjacent ground.

Neath clinched qualification with a rousing 21-10 win over Bridgend last Friday and team manager Martyn Morris said, “Our forwards really rose to the challenge and we are looking for another big effort from the team as a whole so that there is some reward for all the efforts the squad have put in this season.

”It would be nice to give our supporters something to cheer too and we hope as many as possible come to The Gnoll on Sunday to lend a hand.”

Neath captain Jordan Collier said, “We have come a long way from where we were last season to effectively finish joint ninth this time around. But we want to keep improving and Cross Keys are a good yardstick as they have been one of the Premiership forces for a long time now.”

Neath make just one enforced change from the side which beat Bridgend with Geraint Llewellyn replacing winger Alec Jenkins whose run of ill-luck continued when he broke his leg in a freak accident at work on Monday.

Neath v Cross Keys (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Max Llewellyn, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Geraint Llewellyn; 10 Gavin Evans, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Leon Ward, 7 Charlie Davies
Replacements – 16 Ifan Phillips, 17 Neil White, 18 Geraint James, 19 Jonny Griffiths, 20 Aled Morris, 21 Josh Guy, 22 Iwan Evans, 23 Kristian Corbisiero

Referee – Mr. Simon Rees (Ebbw Vale)

MATCH REPORT: NEATH 21 BRIDGEND 10 – (05/05/2017)

NEATH 21 points BRIDGEND 10 points

Neath earned a home draw in the Tier 2 play-offs with a convincing victory over Bridgend in a strong performance which was marred only by an indisciplined second-half.

Despite having the advantage of a stiff breeze, Bridgend had to play second fiddle to Neath who made the running throughout. Exeter-bound Ospreys wing Tom O’Flaherty made an early run and was an obvious danger but the assertive Neath forwards soon took control to lay the platform for victory.

From an early line-out, they rolled Bridgend backwards fully 25 metres and the home scrum strength was immediately evident. After going close on several occasions, it was no surprise when Neath took the lead after 15 minutes when scrum-half Chris Morgans darted over for the first try.

He was followed to the line by winger Aaron Grabham who sliced through to outpace a well-organised and committed Bridgend defence on an inside pass from Ed Howley to touch down and the full back found the angle to his liking to convert into the wind for a 12-nil lead to Neath.

Within 28 minutes, both loose-heads were changed, Neath’s Ben Uphill through injury and Bridgend’s Eddie Drake through insult as the Blacks continued to make a horrible mess of the visitors’ scrum through good, strong, straight scrummaging.

Neath ought really to have added to their lead, winger Alec Jenkins being forced into touch only metres out and then a couple of wayward passes seeing clear overlaps wasted but the Blacks were in control. Bridgend’s replacement prop Cai Lewis was belatedly carded for persistently infringing in a vain attempt to thwart Neath’s scrum but against the run of play German international James Murphy landed a long-range penalty on the stroke of half-time; it was their only scoring opportunity and probably more than they deserved from a half in which Neath’s ascendancy was almost total.

The Blacks continued to dominate from the re-start but Bridgend were clearly under instructions to dent their style and indiscipline set in. Two penalty awards to Neath were reversed as players retaliated to after-the-whistle niggles and a steady procession of players from both sides found themselves carded – yellows for Neath’s Jon Barley and Ryan Thomas and Bridgend’s Matthew John and Iestyn Merriman and a red for Neath replacement Neil White.

Neath’s set-piece advantage was thus removed almost at a stroke, uncontested scrums were ordered and, as the Blacks sought to re-organise, Bridgend broke their shackles and wing Ryan Griffiths went over for a well-worked try which Murphy converted to make it 12-10.

Improbably, the game was back in the balance but the Blacks were not to be denied and, with home discipline restored, Bridgend’s continued infringements saw them forced to defend. The Neath forwards as an eight were lively and halves Morgans and Gavin Evans steered the ship with centre Matthew Pearce a tower of strength throughout.

Try as they might, Bridgend could not break the stranglehold and Neath made the game safe as Howley stepped up to land three successive, evenly-spaced penalties. His third goal was as a result of another offence by loquacious visiting skipper Murphy whose frustration saw him red-carded too.

Neath therefore finished joint-top of the group with Newport (behind only on wins). The Blacks also ended as “post-split” top points and try-scorers and they now move on to a home tie with Cross Keys next weekend.

Captain Jordan Collier said, “We were determined not to let this one go after blowing winning positions in our previous two games. To finish joint ninth – or in the top 10 – after coming from where we were last season is a significant leap and we are looking forward to the home play-off which we know will be tough.”

The final table therefore reads :-

P W D L FOR AGST Tries Points
Newport 7 5 0 2 141 107 18 23
Neath 7 4 1 2 207 141 25 23
Cross Keys 7 5 0 2 126 133 15 22
Llanelli 7 4 0 3 172 122 23 21
Bridgend 7 4 0 3 159 135 19 20
Cardiff 7 2 0 5 161 160 19 14
Bargoed 7 2 0 5 124 208 18 12
Swansea 7 1 1 5 104 188 13 9

There is everything to play for at The Gnoll on Friday evening (kick off 7.30pm) when Neath play Bridgend in their final scheduled Premiership match of the season.

Following Newport’s defeat by Cross Keys on Wednesday evening which meant that the Gwent pair have qualified for the play-offs, both Neath and Bridgend will be seeking the win which will give them vital home advantage in the play-offs which are scheduled for next weekend.

Neath captain Jordan Collier said, “We have let ourselves and everyone else down by throwing away winning positions in our last two outings so we want to finish strongly and have something to cheer about at the end of the season.”

Neath make a couple of changes from the side which drew 32-32 at St. Helen’s last week with scrum-half Chris Morgans returning for Reuben Morgan-Williams who is on Wales Under-20’s squad duty and Ben Uphill taking over from Neil White who reverts to the bench which also features Jonny Griffiths, Aled Morris and Josh Guy.

Neath v Bridgend (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Max Llewellyn, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Gavin Evans, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Leon Ward, 7 Charlie Davies
Replacements –16 Ifan Phillips, 17 Neil White, 18 Geraint James, 19 Jonny Griffiths, 20 Aled Morris, 21 Josh Guy, 22 Iwan Evans, 23 Kristian Corbisiero

Referee – Mr. Maik English (Caldicot)