Category: Match Reports

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)


MATCH REPORT: SWANSEA 32 NEATH 32 – (29-04-2017)

SWANSEA 32 points NEATH 32 points
A last-gasp penalty by full back Ed Howley earned Neath a draw at St. Helen’s after the Blacks had once again squandered a winning position, having earlier led 29-17 with ten minutes remaining.

Dry-weather rugby was the order of the day as these two old rivals shared eight tries – and bagged three points apiece – from an entertaining affair which ended all square on a rock hard, abrasive surface.

After an opening “sounding out” period, Neath took the lead through a second try in three games by razor-sharp scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams which Howley converted but Swansea levelled through an Emyr Williams try converted by Phil Jones and the Whites went in front when ageless scrum-half Rhodri Wells crossed and outside-half Jones converted.

But Neath wasted little time in drawing level as flanker Charlie Davies, part of an impressive back-row alongside skipper Jordan Collier and Leon Ward, bagged his fourth try of the campaign and Howley converted.

Howley nudged Neath ahead with a penalty only for Jones to equalise but Neath went in front before half-time when lock Rhys Jones rolled over for his first try of the season and Howley’s conversion made it 24-17 to Neath at half-time.

When Aaron Grabham crossed for his 22nd try of the season 15 minutes into the second-half, all seemed fine for Neath but with ten minutes remaining Swansea countered with a try by replacement hooker Ricky Guest and they levelled when wing Joe Jenkins crossed for Jones to convert.

As the game drew towards its conclusion, Swansea’s joy was evident when Jones nudged them ahead with a penalty but Howley kept his composure to land a by no mean straightforward 40-metre goal to ensure Neath a share of the spoils.

As the results came in from the other games, the significance of Howley’s kick became apparent.

The Blacks still harbour realistic chance of a home play-off if they can beat Bridgend at The Gnoll on Friday but any combination is possible as Newport (22), Llanelli (21) who have completed their fixtures, Bridgend (20), Neath (19) and Cross Keys (17) battle it out.

Cardiff and Bargoed contest sixth spot but, despite this draw, Swansea are consigned to the foot of the table.

So, all roads lead to The Gnoll on Friday (kick off 7.30pm) for the last of the games on this year’s highly irregular “regular” list.

Neath play their penultimate game in Tier 2 of the Premiership targeting a win over Swansea at St. Helen’s to take them towards the play-offs.

Neath changes see Alec Jenkins back on the wing, Matthew Pearce returning at centre and Gavin Evans moving to outside-half with hooker Sion Crocker and prop Neil White returning in the front row. Lyndon Bateman figures on a strong-looking bench alongside Wales Under-20’s back rower Aled Ward.

Neath v Swansea (away).
15 Ed Howley; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Max Llewellyn, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Gavin Evans, 9 Reuben Morgan-Williams; 1 Neil White, 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 Ben Uphill, 18 Geraint James, 19 Lyndon Bateman, 20 Aled Ward, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Iwan Evans, 23 Kristian Corbisiero

Referee – Mr. Simon Mills (Llanelli)

MATCH REPORT: NEATH 29 BARGOED 36 – (15-04-2017)

NEATH 29 points BARGOED 36 points
Neath’s Jekyll and Hyde progress continued when they missed out on the opportunity to go top of Tier 2 in contriving to throw away a 19-point lead against Bargoed.

For much of the season, Neath’s form has fluctuated from game to game; this time it fluctuated within a game – and coaches Gareth Llewellyn and Paul Williams were distraught figures at the end of this alarming second-half fade-out.

It had all started so well for Neath who looked ready to carry on their fine form from the 59-14 win over Cross Keys the previous week. A skilful take off a Reuben Morgan-Williams break by hooker Ifan Phillips saw him cross for Neath’s opening try within two minutes.

Full of running, the Blacks added another by centre Gavin Evans who was soon followed to the try-line by Phillips for his second. Ed Howley converted both and Neath were 19-nil to the good before Bargoed hit back with a try by winger David Evans which outside-half Calum Jones converted.

Howley then turned on the burners to scorch away for Neath’s bonus point fourth try and he converted himself but on the stroke of half-time Bargoed bagged a crucial score through lock Joshua Jacas which Jones converted to make it 26-14 at the end of a breath-taking half of running rugby.

Bargoed came out firing in the second-half as they effectively wiped out Neath’s off-loading game. Tries by Jones and centre Ashley Norton, the second converted by Jones brought the scores level. Neath rallied mid-half and Howley was denied a certain second score by the referee calling a forward pass.

Howley edged Neath in front with a penalty only for Jones to cancel it out almost immediately and Bargoed, with the wind in their sails, clinched it when Jones went over under the posts, full back Matthew Lewis adding the straightforward conversion.

It was disappointing for Neath but another object lesson for their young side – no game is over until it is over. But full marks to Bargoed whose comeback was most admirable and they deserved their success in a 9-try spectacular which again provided many thrills for long-suffering Gnoll supporters.

The vagaries of form of Neath’s young side makes watching them a compelling, if frustrating, experience. The style is exciting if not yet efficient and Neath need to knuckle down to nail down results.

Only two wins in their remaining games at Swansea and at home to Bridgend will be enough to get Neath a home play-off while Bargoed, on this form and with three home games to come against Newport, Bridgend and Cardiff, can still qualify.

After their thumping 59-14 win over previously unbeaten leaders Cross Keys, Neath know that a win over Bargoed at The Gnoll on Easter Saturday (kick off 2.30pm) will take them top of the table.

In one of only two Premiership games being played on Saturday and the only one in Tier 2, the Welsh All Blacks are aiming to maximise their game in hand and unsurprisingly have named a very similar line-up to last week.

Neath make just three changes with Gavin Evans replacing Keiran Williams (shoulder) and Dan Guarneri resuming for Luke Price who has been called up by the Ospreys. Hooker Ifan Phillips and prop Ryan Thomas return up front while Glynneath wing James Roberts is on the bench alongside a new face in Wales Under-20’s back rower Aled Ward.

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

Referee – Mr. Dewi Phillips (Aberystwyth)

MATCH REPORT: NEATH 59 CROSS KEYS 14 – (08-04-2017)

NEATH 59 points CROSS KEYS 14 points

Neath produced a performance of pure pace and precision to overwhelm previously unbeaten Cross Keys at the top of the table in the sunshine at The Gnoll.

After an immaculately observed silent tribute to former secretary Allan Benjamin and ex-player Bill Brennan, the Welsh All Blacks turned in their most compelling all-round display for some time and their speedy backline – average age just 20 – ran in 8 converted tries as they capitalised on all the great work put in by the forwards.

Keys were missing a couple of key men on wedding duties but Neath too had their absentees – including a full three-quarter line – but on the day the Blacks had the edge and the attitude required.

Neath, attacking and counter-attacking with a relish, were full of running from the start and outside-half Luke Price varied tactics nicely, applying a couple of killer kicks into the corner.

Keys back-rowers Ieuan Jones and skipper Scott Matthews were soon in the thick of things and the scoreboard remained blank for a quarter of an hour before Neath took the lead which they would never relinquish .

After prop Geraint James went desperately close to touching down for a try on his 50th appearance – a milestone achievement shared by hooker Aled Morris – Neath went in front when outstanding centre Keiran Williams worked his way over from close-range, full back Ed Howley converting.

Neath doubled their lead when dummying lock Rhys Jones – enjoying one of his most effective games – and scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams made most of the running for a first try for Neath by 17 year old centre Max Llewellyn.

Howley converted but Keys hit back with an unpalatable try by replacement wing Lloyd Lewis who comprehensively evaded opposite number Aaron Grabham and outside-half Joshua Prosser converted.

In a highly-competitive first-half, Neath pulled out the defensive stops with some offensive tackling needed to deter further Keys inroads and the back-row of skipper Jordan Collier, young Charlie Davies and the rampaging, side-stepping No.8 Leon Ward set a tremendous lead.

Howley landed a penalty to give Neath a 17-7 advantage at half-time and the home side came out with all guns blazing from the restart as the ball was spun through several pairs of hands for Grabham to pull back a try, Howley converting.

A defence-splitting run by Keiran Williams set up the bonus point score as fellow Wales Under-20 cap Reuben Morgan-Williams got up in support to touch down for Howley to convert and, with 25 minutes remaining, Keys were staring down the barrel at 31-7.

The forwards’ work at a defensive line-out, driving Keys into touch, typified Neath’s determination and another Williams-Grabham intervention nearly produced yet another score. An off-the-ball check on Grabham chasing a Howley kick went unseen but Neath, using their full complement of replacements in the warm sun, were not to be denied.

The Magnificent Eight – whose work must never be under-estimated- stole a strike against the head at an attacking scrum and replacement Chris Morgans strolled over for their fifth try which Howley converted at 38-7.

Almost immediately, Neath added another when the influential Ward set up possession and from 40 yards, Keiran Williams “sliced and diced” the Keys defence and arrowed through to score his second try – Neath’s sixth – and Howley’s conversion made it 45-7.

Keys responded gamely with a try attributed to Dragons Academy flanker Joshua Skinner although most in the ground felt that he lost the ball – still, it satisfied emerging referee Elgan Williams who generally had a superb game allowing things to flow throughout – and Prosser’s conversion brought it back to 45-14.

Neath were far from done though. Replacement Rory Morgan-Williams seized the ball from the kick-off and on a slinky trail carried the ball into the shadow of the Keys’ posts.

Neath kept up the attack and Morgans fed Geraint Llewellyn and the footballing left-wing had a lot of work to do but showed tremendous purpose in fighting his way over for Neath’s seventh try, Howley’s conversion carrying Neath beyond the half-century.

And there was still time for an eighth when Morgans’ blind-side chip was gathered by Howley and the positively purring custodian added the points in an unerring display to take his day’s tally to another 24 points and Neath’s tally to 59-7.

It was a nigh-on complete performance by Neath – one which shows the potential in this young group of players. Only results like this will convince the doubters and bring back some of the supporters disillusioned by all the Premiership shenanigans but these youngsters deserve better backing from the Townsfolk.

Neath knew it would take their ‘A’ game to overcome Keys and this was pretty close to it and, in fairness, Keys were gracious in defeat. Neath have suffered a couple of real hammerings at their hands in recent years but one Keys official sagely observed that, ”Neath, on this form, would have demolished many a top tier side.”

He was absolutely right in his assessment – the challenge for Neath now is to do it again and the visit of Bargoed on Easter Saturday (2.30pm) will demand an equally as hardened edge and attitude.

Neath resume Premiership action after the latest fixture-break when they host high-riding Tier 2 leaders Cross Keys at The Gnoll on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).

The Welsh All Blacks welcome back scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams and centre Keiran Williams from Wales Under-20’s when the latter in particular enjoyed an outstanding campaign with a series of impressive performances.

Geraint Llewellyn comes in on the wing, Luke Price is at outside-half and lock Jon Barley also returns as Neath seek to improve on a decidedly lack-lustre showing against Newport last time out.

Front-row forwards Aled Morris and Geraint James will both be making their 50th appearances for Neath who know that nothing other than their A-game will be sufficient.

Neath v Cross Keys (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Max Llewellyn, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Geraint Llewellyn; 10 Luke Price, 9 Reuben Morgan-Williams; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Aled Morris, 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 Sion Crocker, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Dan Guarneri, 23 Rory Morgan-Williams

Referee – Mr. Elgan Williams (Cardiff)

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

NEATH 9 points NEWPORT 25 points

What a difference a week makes !

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Referee – Mr. Mike English (Caldicot)

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

NEATH 41 points ABERAVON 36 points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Referee – Mr. Gareth Newman (Cardiff)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Referee – Mr. Stephen Allsop (Caldicot)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Referee – Mr. Gareth John (Chepstow)