NEATH 7 BRIDGEND 10
Bridgend opened the scoring after just five minutes when flanker Adam O’Driscoll went in for a try which winger Will Holley converted.
With their forwards scrummaging strongly, Neath had Bridgend back-pedalling and it came as no surprise when prop Ben Uphill touched down for a try which full back Ed Howley converted.
Neath dominated territorially for most of the half but were surprisingly penalised at a scrum where they were well on top and further indisciplines gave Holley the chance to nudge Bridgend in front at half-time 10-7.
And that was the end of the scoring. The best that can be said of the second-half is that the defences did well. No more points and Neath must step it up next week at Cross Keys.
Neath open The Gnoll Premiership rugby season against Bridgend on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
Rugby football is a squad game these days and the Welsh All Blacks make a number of changes from last week’s starting line-up. Behind the scrum, Ashley Evans and Gavin Evans come into the three-quarter line with former Ebbw Vale outside-half Callum Hall partnering Scott Gibson at half-back.
Up front, the strong scrummaging Ben Uphill and Sion Crocker start in the front row with the experienced Leon Ward and speedy open-side Lloyd Evans coming into the back-row.
A powerful-looking bench features a strong front row unit in Luke Garrett, Darren Hughes and Tyla Murvail with lively forwards Ryan Bean, Elis Hopkins and Aled Cockwell together with the ever-reliable Chris Morgans and Dan Guarneri.
A tremendous amount of work has gone on behind the scenes at The Gnoll over the summer and new captain Scott Andrews who joined from the Dragons says, “It will be great to run out at The Gnoll for our first home game. I couldn’t get over the atmosphere and post-match organisation when we beat Pontypool pre-season, – and that was a friendly.”
“The support we took to RGC was superb too. We know we must do our bit on the field and we are geared for a big effort on Saturday but acknowledge that we have formidable opponents in Bridgend who are always sharp in attack and well-organised defensively.”
Neath v Bridgend (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Ashley Evans, 13 Aaron Bramwell, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Callum Hall, 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Jon Barley, 5 Scott Andrews (captain); 6 Leon Ward, 7 Lloyd Evans, 8 Ieuan Jones
Replacements – 16 Luke Garrett, 17 Darren Hughes, 18 Tyla Murvai, 19 Ryan Bean, 20 Elis Hopkins, 21 Aled Cockwell, 22 Chris Morgans, 23 Dan Guarneri
Referee – Mr. Ian Davies (Porthcawl)
PLEASE NOTE – Admission £10 all parts, Under-16’s FREE
RGC 37 points NEATH 19 points
Neath’s Premiership season got off to a losing start when they went down to a 5 tries to 3 defeat at Ruthin against RGC. It was the first game nobody else wanted; a long journey to meet the high-riding region and it was the home side who had the better of things either side of Neath starting and finishing strongly.
Neath exploded into the new season scoring the first try after just five minutes when centre Aaron Bramwell touched down and Ed Howley converted. Almost immediately, the Blacks nearly extended their lead but were denied a score by the touch-judge; instead RGC grew into the game and were rewarded with a penalty by outside-half Billy McBryde who has been a thorn in Neath’s side with Llanelli over the years.
Neath lost centre Mike Evans with a facial injury before RGC went in front on the half hour when prop Sam Wainwright barrelled over. His fellow prop Joe Simpson and Neath’s fine hooker recruit Darren Hughes were then yellow-carded and another McBryde penalty made it 11-7 and, upping the tempo, the home side went further ahead when flanker Mei Parry scored their second try after a quick line-out, McBryde converting.
But before the interval, Neath hit back with their own second try when wing Alec Jenkins marked his 150th appearance for the Club by crossing in the corner, making it 18-12 at the end of an intriguing first half.
The Gogs drew first blood after the interval when scrum-half Efan Jones got their third try and, with the home back row looking ever more influential, wing Iolo Evans got their fourth, McBryde converting both, to put the North Walians firmly in command. As the replacements flowed forth, Billy Rae claimed a fifth try for the home side.
But Neath, not lacking effort or fitness and scrummaging strongly to the end, had the last word with a penalty try which was a real feather in the cap of the pack and, in particular, of the replacement front row which shows that the Blacks have two highly-accomplished front rank units.
The result was disappointing for the Blacks but they won’t be the only team to come a cropper at RGC this season. It was much improved upon last season but the coaching team will be keen to stress that more is expected of this Neath team and will be seeking a far livelier effort – and wins !
Still, it was a tough one to start and the Blacks can start afresh against Bridgend at home in front of their own supporters next Saturday.
Neath open the new Premiership rugby season with a visit to Ruthin RFC to play RGC on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
The Welsh All Blacks have strengthened their hand this season with Ian Ellis, a try-scoring hero last week, and Aaron Bramwell returning while winger Alec Jenkins makes his 150th appearance for Neath. Luke Garrett, Darren Hughes and Liam Tobias form a new front row. Scott Andrews, one of four recruits to a reinforced pack, will lead the team from the second row alongside Jon Barley with Ieuan Jones flanked in the back row by Elis Hopkins and Jordan Collier.
Neath coach Simon King said, “We’ve had two good, tough warm-ups and we have another test at RGC who have some new players and a new venue in Ruthin. Everyone is raring to go and, despite missing a couple of players through work commitments, we travel in good heart after beating Pontypool last week.”
Neath v RGC (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Ian Ellis, 13 Mike Evans, 12 Aaron Bramwell, 11 Alec Jenkins;
10 Iwan Evans, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Luke Garrett, 2 Darren Hughes, 3 Liam Tobias;
4 Jon Barley, 5 Scott Andrews (captain); 6 Elis Hopkins, 7 Jordan Collier, 8 Ieuan Jones
Replacements – 16 Ben Uphill, 17 Sion Crocker, 18 Tyla Murvai, 19 Ryan Bean, 20 Aled Cockwell, 21 Scott Gibson, 22 Dan Guarneri, 23 Gavin Evans
Referee – Mr. Dewi Phillips (Aberystwyth)
PLEASE NOTE – Admission £5 all parts, Under-16’s FREE
NEATH 31 PONTYPOOL 29
A last gasp try by replacement wing Ian Ellis saw Neath retrieve a lead they had held for most of the game and just take the spoils of victory.
If this is a portent of Neath’s season to come, Blacks supporters are in for a thrilling ride as these two famous old clubs produced 10 tries in all in an excellent advert for “old fashioned” Welsh club rugby : plenty of modern champagne rugby – mixed in with a bit of traditional best bitter too.
The Gnoll was in fine fettle and the healthy crowd enjoyed both the conditions and the free-flowing rugby on offer in a match that was not a typical friendly as it was mightily competitive and compelling.
Pontypool kept their powder dry for the second-half, making wholesale changes from the side which battled so hard before losing narrowly at Aberavon the previous week and Neath had much the better of the first period.
Ten minutes in, after a succession of forward drives had softened up the visitors’ defence, Neath moved the ball right and centre Mike Evans went behind the posts for the opening try, full back Ed Howley converting.
Five minutes later, Neath scored a second when lock Jon Barley galloped fully 30 metres down the cricket field flank to score in the corner and he was followed across the line by Howley who scored an absolutely magnificent try on the end of a strong run by centre Aaron Bramwell after Neath opened up upon winning turnover ball in their own 22.
Howley’s conversion made it 19-nil but Pooler deserved something for their efforts in the half and they got it when a Neath defensive kick was charged down and full back Ceri Morris just managed to dab down for an unconverted try.
Although leading 19-5 Neath knew they had it all to do as on the resumption Pontypool introduced a host of names familiar to the Premiership as the likes of Geraint Walsh, Matthew Jones, Martin Luckwell, Aaron Coundley, Danny Hodge and Scott Matthews joined the fray.
Their entry soon paid dividends as Pooler’s hooker Lewis Ball crossed and ex-Neath outside half Matthew Jones converted but Neath’s response was immediate as a trademark side-stepping break by scrum-half Scott Gibson led to flanker Jordan Collier going over for their fourth try and Howley added his third conversion.
But Pontypool were far from done and they enjoyed a good spell of possession and came right back into the game with two tries by centre Clayton Gullis, Matthew Jones converting the second to bring the visitors to within two points at 26-24.
By now Neath had introduced a bevy of replacements too and their patterns suffered and finally imploded when they lost a line-out near their own line and No. 8 Brendan Lampitt (another who has figured in the Black shirt) gratefully pounced on a wayward tap.
Pontypool were ahead for the first time in the game but to their credit Neath re-gathered themselves and threw everything at the visitors. In what would once have been called a “grandstand finish” – in the days when BBC had a Grandstand that is – things over-heated a little once or twice before Pooler wing Lewis Prothero was yellow-carded for deliberate off-side play; he may have paid the penalty for others’ earlier indiscretions.
Pooler tried to run down the clock with “keep ball” rugby but Neath seized possession and, in the final play, winger Ellis, back in the Neath shirt, became the hero of the day when he crossed in the corner. In a truly dramatic finish, excellent referee Craig Evans (Glynneath) consulted with his touch-judge to ascertain the legality of the score and, with the difficult conversion missed, it ended 31-29 to the Blacks.
Ultimately, one conversion was the difference as the teams scored five tries each. Both teams still have a lot of work to do but, as a taster for the season, it promised much.
Neath, not as used to winning recently as often as Pontypool who cantered to the championship title last year, were happy to get the victory and some of the new boys are settling in nicely.
But Pooler looked what they are – champions and champions-in-waiting, a good strong, all-round side and their coaches will have been pleased with sharing the try-count and with their improved discipline after incurring six yellow-cards at Aberavon.
Neath will stage their final outing before the new Premiership rugby season when Championship champions Pontypool pay a rare visit to The Gnoll on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
The Welsh All Blacks welcome back several players with Mike Evans, Gavin Evans, Aaron Bramwell and Scott Gibson joining the full of running Ed Howley, Ashley Evans and Dan Guarneri in the starting line up behind.
Luke Garrett, Darren Hughes and Tyla Murvai form a strong front row and they will be backed by new captain Scott Andrews and while . Leon Ward and the speedy Lloyd Evans comprise the back-row.
Neath coach Simon King said, “We are looking to test ourselves ahead of the League campaign and Pontypool will certainly do that. Like Neath, they’ve never believed in friendlies up there so we’ll be prepared for another physical challenge.”
Neath v Pontypool (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Ashley Evans, 13 Mike Evans, 12 Aaron Bramwell, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Dan Guarneri, 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Luke Garrett, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Scott Andrews (captain), 5 Jon Barley; 6 Jordan Collier, 8 Leon Ward, 7 Lloyd Evans
Replacements – 16 Ben Uphill/Keelan Marney, 17 Darren Hughes, 18 Tyla Murvai, 19 Ryan Bean, 20 Aled Cockwell/Ceri White, 21 A.N. Other, 22 Chris Morgans, 23 Ian Ellis
Referee – Mr. Craig Evans (Glynneath)
SEASON TICKET COLLECTION
Season Ticket collection inside the Ground (1.00pm to 2.00pm only).
Supporters are reminded that it is all pay (£5 all parts) with Under-16’s free.
£10 for hospitality option.
Further details on hospitality here:
BARGOED 40 NEATH 28
Bargoed and Neath served up an entertaining pre-season warm-up which will have done both teams a power of good.
Neath supporters need not be too despondent about the result because the All Blacks went into the game missing virtually an entire back division as well as a couple of key forwards due to holidays and injury-niggles.
For a pre-season affair, there was a lot of good rugby on offer. Neath edged the first half through tries by prop Ben Uphill, lock Ryan Bean and full back Ed Howley who converted all three. The Blacks’ powerful scrummage was the feature of the first period which the visitors ended 21-14 to the good.
The Blacks changed their entire pack at half-time and made changes behind and, despite a fourth Neath try by flanker Lloyd Evans which Howley again goaled, Bargoed had the better of the second period and deserved to take the spoils through the greater physicality of their backs against what was by then a makeshift Neath division although it took a suspiciously off-side-looking try to finally tilt it their way.
Several players impressed for Neath who will hope to welcome back Mike Evans, Richard Smith, Gavin Evans, Aaron Bramwell, Scott Gibson and Keelan Marney against Pontypool next week although Luke Garrett and Ieuan Jones will still be away.
MATCH PREVIEW / TEAMSHEET
Ed Howley, Ashley Evans, Mike Evans, James Roberts, Alec Jenkins, A.N.Other, A.N.Other, Iwan Evans, Dan Guarneri, Chris Morgans, Scott Gibson, Ben Uphill, Luke Garrett, Liam Tobias, Ryan Thomas, Tyla Murvai, Garin Lloyd, Sion Crocker, Darren Hughes, Rhys Jones, Ryan Bean, Scott Andrews (captain), Jon Barley, Elis Hopkins, Jordan Collier, Leon Ward, Aled Cockwell, Lloyd Evans, Ceri White, Scott Hicks
CARMARTHEN QUINS 18 NEATH 14
Neath signed off their miserable campaign with another valiant defeat at Carmarthen Quins where the Blacks competed well and, as so often the case this season, might have come away with the spoils.
The contrast between the two sides’ fortunes this season could not have been more stark. Last September Neath edged an 18-16 success over the Quins when the game was switched to The Gnoll at short notice. Since then of course Neath suffered their catastrophic injury blight which de-railed their campaign as injury after injury and defeat after defeat followed. Quins, on the other hand, have been able to field a largely settled side rarely stepping outside their established squad.
And a jolly good squad it is too – good enough, in fact, to comprehensively topple champions Merthyr on their own patch a couple of weeks ago and good enough too to be in with a chance of the title until last midweek. Again, Neath had cause to rue some refereeing decisions which went against them – but as Ron Waldron used to say, “We need to be 10 points better than teams to take referees out of it.”
Quins started strongly and bossed the early exchanges as Aled Thomas banged over a penalty and then former Neath wing Dale Ford dashed over for a try. But the Blacks gradually got their game going and hit back before half-time with a neat try by full back Ed Howley who converted it himself to make it just 8-7 at half-time.
As Quins struggled, Neath knew they were in with a chance; Howley has been in top form over the past two months and it was he who saw Neath take the lead in the second-half when he capitalised on a quickly-taken penalty to cross for a second try which he goaled.
Quins responded with a try by winger Dylan Morgans which Thomas converted to restore their one-point lead and the home side pressed strongly but Neath defended stoutly with the hard-working back-row of Jordan Collier, replacement Ceri White and Elis Hopkins and centres Dan Guarneri and Keiran Williams performing heroics.
Howley narrowly a 40-metre goal attempt before a penalty by Thomas gave Quins a bit of breathing space but they could never shake off a resolute Neath side whose enterprising and pacy back division always had a try in them and were a constant threat. Quins’ set-piece was the key to their victory but the result was always in the balance.
With Lyn Jones back in Namibia ahead of pre-season, Paul Williams has kept this side playing and battling to the end. Now the season is done and 2018/19 cannot come soon enough. A lot more youngsters have been blooded and picked up more experience than expected this year, new signings have been announced with more on the horizon – and worse luck on the injury-front is surely an impossibility !
CARM. QUINS – A.Thomas; D.Morgans, N.Reynolds, J.Batcup, D.Ford (M.Griffiths); J.Wilson (S.Marshall), I.B.Thomas (A.Hemmings); N.Williams (S.Phillips), R.Clancy, J.Sabastian (S.L.Thomas); J.Helps. H.Pugh (capt); S.Jones, L.Taylor (R.Bloomfield), G.S.Davies (E.Lloyd)
NEATH – E.Howley; J.Roberts, D.Guarneri, K.Williams, S.Gibson (R.Pugh); L.Price (L.Scully), C.Morgans (R.Morgan-Williams); L.Tobias (B.Uphill, N.White), A.Morris (S.Crocker), G.James; R.Jones, J.Barley; J.Collier (capt), L.Ward (C.White, G.Lloyd), E.Hopkins
Referee – Mr. A.Parry (Pontypool)
Neath wind up their Premiership season at Carmarthen Park against Carmarthen Quins on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
The Blacks’ campaign which started promisingly enough faltered on the back of a succession of serious injuries but performances have improved of late although luck has continued to elude them.
Last Friday’s game against Aberavon was another case in point when Neath were edged out 17-18 and lost winger Mike Evans, centre Matthew Pearce and prop Ryan Thomas in the process.
Still, captain Jordan Collier will have his team charged for a final flourish at the Quins. Scott Gibson helps out on the wing, Keiran Williams comes in at centre alongside Dan Guarneri with Luke Price and Chris Morgans pairing up at half-back. Forwards Aled Morris, Geraint James and Rhys Jones all make the starting line-up too.
Neath v Carmarthen Quins (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 James Roberts, 13 Dan Guarneri, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Scott Gibson; 10 Luke Price, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Liam Tobias, 2 Aled Morris, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Leon Ward, 7 Elis Hopkins
Replacements – 16 Neil White, 17 Sion Crocker, 18 Ben Uphill, 19 Garin Lloyd, 20 Ceri White, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Luke Scully, 23 Ryan Pugh
NEATH 17 ABERAVON 18
Two missed penalties in the dying minutes cost Neath what would have been a remarkable victory over Aberavon at The Gnoll on Friday evening.
Just like the Boxing Day derby, it was a real “tale of two halves” as this time the Blacks battled back in an attempt to over-turn a 15-point deficit – and they nearly did it – but in the end they fell just short which somehow summed up their ill-luck this season.
For the first try though, Neath were architects of their own downfall as, in the opening exchanges, they gifted Aberavon possession with one of those high-risk dinks which rarely bring profit – if attempted, the ball must be regathered or the first tackle made; if not, calamity – and Aberavon fully capitalised upon it, a great run by Pearce ending with centre Joe Thomas rewarded for his splendid support work 70 metres up-field.
The opening try was not converted but Aberavon extended their lead as full back Chris Banfield landed two penalties – the second one puzzlingly reversed on a distant touch-judge’s advice and which would ultimately cost Neath dear. Winger Jay Baker and Thomas were impressive attackers for Aberavon and needed constant attention from the home tacklers led by flankers Jordan Collier and Elis Hopkins and the visitors were firmly in control against a Neath side which strangely failed to get out of first gear.
It was no surprise when Aberavon went further ahead as the veteran former Neath lock Ben Davies ploughed over for a second try. Banfield added the conversion to make it 18-0 and Neath, already with 10 of their 32 registered players out of action and no academy presence again, were really up against it as they lost Mike Evans, Ryan Thomas and Matthew Pearce to injury. But they flourished briefly and were rewarded for their efforts with a penalty by full back Ed Howley and they showed grim resolution to repel further Aberavon attacks before the interval which was reached at 3-18.
Whatever the two Pauls (coaches Williams and James) said at half-time had the desired effect because Neath came out looking a proper team in the second half. With Scott Gibson’s pace employed wide out as a replacement for Evans, Chris Morgans had taken over at scrum-half and he asserted himself with Neath’s first try five minutes into the second half. The impressive Howley’s conversion made it 10-18 and it was game on.
For, just as Aberavon dominated the first half, so Neath controlled the second as the home forwards really took the game to their opponents, pinching several line-outs against the throw and wearing down the visitors’ pack in the scrums. Play was almost entirely in the Aberavon half and, with five minutes remaining of normal time, Neath’s sustained pressure at last bore fruit when the Blacks were awarded a penalty try against a back-pedalling Aberavon scrum – 17-18 and the game was now in the balance.
Neath kept up the challenge to the end and desperate Aberavon conceded two penalties but both were just out of range on the night and Aberavon’s collective sigh of relief was palpable as they escaped with the win which owed itself to their first-half effectiveness.
NEATH – E.Howley; M.Evans (C.Morgans), I.Evans, M.Pearce (R.Pugh), J.Roberts; L.Scully, S.Gibson; L.Tobias (B.Uphill), S.Crocker (A.Morris), R.Thomas (G.James); M.Davies (S.Hicks), J.Barley; J.Collier (capt), L.Ward, E.Hopkins (C.White)
ABERAVON – C.Banfield; J.Baker, J.Thomas, W.Price, S.Pearce (F.Jones); L.Popham (J.Gage), D.Pritchard (I.Temblett); R.Jenkins, L.Davies (I.Davies), R.Forse; B.Thomas, B.Davies (B.Jones); L.Purnell (capt), J.Blackmore, R.Dudley-Jones (L.Joseph)
Referee – Mr. S.Mills (New Dock Stars)
Neath play near-neighbours Aberavon in their final home game of the Premiership season on Friday (kick off 7.30pm).
Having been edged out by Llandovery 32-40 last time out, the Blacks are looking to finish the season with a win and Sion Crocker, Matthew Davies and Elis Hopkins are all included in the starting line-up.
Neath v Aberavon (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Mike Evans, 13 Iwan Evans, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 James Roberts; 10 Luke Scully, 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Liam Tobias, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Matthew Davies, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Leon Ward, 7 Elis Hopkins
Replacements – 16 Ben Uphill, 17 Aled Morris, 18 Geraint James, 19 Scott Hicks, 20 Ceri White, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Dan Guarneri, 23 Ryan Pugh
NEATH 32 LLANDOVERY 40
For the second week running unlucky Neath were squeezed out late on in another high-scoring, fast-paced affair played in ideal conditions.
The Gnoll was a picture of perfection in the glorious sunshine and offered an idyllic stage for running rugby – and Llandovery were delighted to see it after losing out on a very heavy Pandy Park in midweek.
Image courtesy of Len Kowalski of www.lensworkphotography.co.uk @neathtog
Ed Howley fired Neath ahead with an early penalty but Llandovery retaliated with a try by prop Jamie Hughes which centre Jack Maynard converted. But this was the signal for Neath to click smoothly into action with their young forwards Garin Lloyd, Liam Tobias and Ryan Bean carrying enthusiastically and it was Bean who profited from a line-out take by fellow lock Matthew Davies to register Neath’s first try which brought a smile from former Neath and Wales prop Paul James who has been helping with coaching the forwards recently.
Howley converted and added his second penalty before wing James Roberts finished off a fine movement featuring a diagonal run by Mike Evans off the opposite flank. Neath’s second score was well deserved for their enterprise and Howley converted. Although Llandovery always looked dangerous, Neath’s in-form full back added a third penalty just before half-time to give Neath a commanding 23-7 lead.
The second-half was equally as compelling as Llandovery fought back. Their off-loading tactics came into their own as they gradually over-hauled Neath. The Blacks stayed with them but whereas Neath’s visits to Llandovery territory yielded penalties – three of which Howley goaled, making six in all, to advance his match-tally to 22 points. However, Llandovery’s attacking forays produced tries by centre Rhodri Jones (2), hooker Darren Hughes, captain Richard Brooks and wing Lee Williams with Maynard converting all bar one.
Neath’s lead had been over-turned and with minutes remaining they trailed 32-40. Yet on an energy-sapping afternoon, they showed their spirit and threw everything at the visitors; one last rally saw replacement prop Stefan Bond denied a debut try at the posts but his touchdown was unseen by the referee who promptly blew his final blast just when it seemed that the Blacks might retrieve the bonus point they richly deserved.
Although the game ended in yet another defeat, Neath do not look like a bottom of the table side at the moment and, with several signings announced and still to come, things will surely improve next year after this year’s injury-wrecked campaign.
NEATH – E.Howley; M.Evans, I.Evans (G.Llewellyn), M.Pearce (D.Guarneri), J.Roberts; L.Scully, S.Gibson (C.Morgans); L.Tobias (S.Bond), G.Lloyd (S.Crocker), R.Thomas (G.James); M.Davies, R.Bean (J.Barley); J.Collier (capt), L.Ward, A.Cockwell (A.Morris)
LLANDOVERY – K.Jones; L.Williams, R.Jones, J.Maynard, A.Warren; J.Hammett, L.Rees (S.Maynard); J.Hughes (L.Green), D.Hughes (R.Guest), D.Thomas (B.Watkins); J.Jones (B.Griffiths), J.Powell (J.Baker), L.Ellis-Jones (D.Eager), R.Brooks (capt), S.Worrall
Referee – Mr. S.Allsop (Caldicot)
Neath play Llandovery in their penultimate home game of the Premiership season on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
The Blacks were a little unlucky to lose out 36-41 in an 11-try spectacular at Llanelli on Saturday last and they make a number of changes to the starting line-up.
Winger James Roberts and centre Matthew Pearce return while Luke Scully and Scott Gibson team up at half-back. Up front, Liam Tobias, Garin Lloyd and Ryan Thomas form the front row with Ryan Bean and Jon Barley packing behind.
Jordan Collier leads the team from the back-row alongside Leon Ward and Aled Cockwell with Skewen’s Stefan Bond figuring on the replacements’ bench for the first time.
Neath v Llandovery (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Mike Evans, 13 Iwan Evans, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 James Roberts; 10 Luke Scully, 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Liam Tobias, 2 Garin Lloyd, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Ryan Bean, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Leon Ward, 7 Aled Cockwell
Replacements – 16 Stefan Bond, 17 Sion Crocker, 18 Geraint James, 19 Matthew Davies 20 Aled Morris, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Dan Guarneri, 23 Geraint Llewellyn
LLANELLI 41 NEATH 36
Neath left Parc-y-Scarlets a very disappointed team after they slipped to an injury-time defeat in an 11-try spectacular; and they left with only a two-point reward for their highly constructive play which was ultimately diminished by bad individual errors.
Image courtesy of Len Kowalski of www.lensworkphotography.co.uk @neathtog
On a lovely Spring day, the rugby football matched the weather and tries flowed at both ends after home pivot Billy McBryde had nosed Llanelli ahead with a penalty. The Blacks soon hit their straps as they rocked Llanelli with a 3-try blast within eight minutes.
First scrum-half Chris Morgans took an inside pass off full back Ed Howley who had options outside too – Morgans scored at the posts for Howley to convert. Then, with Llanelli defending narrowly, great handling by the Neath midfield backs – Luke Price, Iwan Evans and Keiran Williams – saw Howley blaze away for two tries in three minutes.
The full back’s conversion of the first meant that the Blacks had rattled up an impressive 19-3 lead. But, if Neath’s salvo was Dr.Jekyll, Mr. Hyde then took a role as a loose pass led to home wing Matthew Jenkins nipping in for a try which McBryde converted and he did the same when another pass was picked off and hooker Craig Thomas pounced.
Matters worsened when the returning Jordan Collier (pictured above) was sent to the bin for an early tackle – Neath were not the only perpetrators on the day ! – and slack line-out organisation led to a try by prop Richard Bassett and McBryde’s conversion meant that Neath had squandered their early promise.
However, the Blacks regained their lead and notched the try bonus when from open play Morgans
nipped in for his second try which Howley converted and, at the end of a breathtaking half, it was 26-24 to Neath.
Neath opened the second-half positively and the probing Morgans nearly opened up the home defence twice but, with top referee Mr. Nigel Owens playing a lengthy advantage, their only reward was a dropped goal by outside-half Luke Price.
But Neath’s over-ambition caught them out and a charged down kick on the Llanelli 22 saw winger Ryan Davies speed away for the home team’s bonus, McBryde again converting and the winger then gathered a cross-field kick for his second try.
Neath never gave up the battle and, moving the ball wide via replacement Reuben Morgan-Williams and lock Ryan Bean after a surge by returning hooker Aled Morris, wing Alec Jenkins went over in the corner and Howley converted splendidly from the touchline to level it at five tries each and 36-36.
But, in a grandstand finish, Neath were denied at the death when full back Kallum Evans gleefully crossed for the final try and the Blacks were robbed of a share of the spoils which even many Llanelli supporters felt they deserved.
LLANELLI -K.Evans; R.Davies, B.Atkins (L.Randall), O.Reyland (A.Evans), M.Jenkins; W.McBryde, G.George (M.Flanagan); R.Thomas (R.Fawcett), C.Thomas (C.Jenkins), R.Bassett (B.Leung); E.Rees (J,Davies), B.Morgan; E.Thomas, N.Hart (capt), L.Pike
NEATH – E.Howley; M.Evans, I.Evans, K.Williams (T.Thomas-Wheeler), A.Jenkins; L.Price (L.Scully), C.Morgans (R.Morgan-Williams); N.White (J.Bamsey), S.Crocker (capt) (A.Morris), L.Tobias (G.James); M.Davies, R.Bean; J.Collier (S.Hicks), E.Hopkins, A.Cockwell (C.White) Referee -Mr. N.Owens (Pontyberem)
Neath visit Llanelli in the Premiership on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
After winning 17-7 at Swansea on Saturday last, the Blacks have skipper Jordan Collier back for the first time since he broke his ankle against RGC last September and he will be making his long-awaited 100th appearance.
Among six changes to the starting line-up, centre Keiran Williams and scrum-half Chris Morgans return behind with Neil White, Matthew Davies and Aled Cockwell looking to make a big impression up front.
Another returnee Aled Morris is on the replacements’ bench which also features Tata Steel’s Jon Bamsey and Wales Under-18’s backs Luke Scully and Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler.
Neath v Llanelli (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Mike Evans, 13 Iwan Evans, 12 Keiran Williams,11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Luke Price, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Neil White, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Matthew Davies, 5 Ryan Bean; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Elis Hopkins, 7 Aled Cockwell
Replacements – 16 Jon Bamsey, 17 Aled Morris, 18 Geraint James, 19 Scott Hicks, 20 Ceri White, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, 23 Luke Scully
SWANSEA 7 NEATH 17
A virtuoso try by full back Ed Howley who also kicked two conversions and a penalty to go with an early try by scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams spelled victory at last for the Blacks.
St.Helen’s was not looking its best but, after early-morning scares, it was eminently playable and Neath got off to the best of starts when their scrum put Swansea under severe pressure and the resultant penalty was goaled by Ed Howley. Keeping up the pace, the Blacks went further ahead when good work involving centres Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler and Iwan Evans created the opening for scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams to steal through for the game’s opening try.
Howley’s conversion made it 10-nil to Neath who were keen to open up despite the heavy pitch. But when Alec Jenkins attempted to keep a cross-field kick live, the ball fell into the hands of home outside-half Rhys Williams who set off for the corner only to be thwarted by a fine cover tackle by outside-half Luke Price.
Swansea cut the arrears when they were awarded a penalty try after a succession of scrums on the Neath five metre line. Neath supporters were unconvinced as to the precise offence but 7 points it was – such is their luck with officialdom this year !
Neath continued to put together some good rugby and, with penalties missed at either end, there was no further score before half-time which was reached with Neath still leading 10-7.
The Blacks, scenting victory, came out strongly after half-time and threatened the Swansea line with forwards Liam Tobias, Ryan Bean and Jon Barley rising to the challenge in a pack which was well led by hooker Sion Crocker.
Behind them Howley, Mike Evans and Thomas-Wheeler were full of running and the Blacks looked more likely to carve out a score but Swansea were not out of it and tried to mount a rally through their forwards whose efforts foundered on the defensive resolution of the Neath back row Elis Hopkins, Leon Ward and Ceri White who had his best game yet.
Midway through the half, Evans blasted through the middle scattering defenders like nine-pins, a neat grubber kick by Price nearly brought a score and a Bean charge had the Whites scrambling. Victory was all but assured when Swansea attempted to clear their hard-pressed lines but the kick landed in the hands of Howley who breezed past six defenders to score wide out and convert.
Victory on the road was overdue reward for Neath and the supporters who have stayed true. It was not the mightiest of victories and Neath’s reputation has not been anything like reprieved yet – a few more victories are required for that !
But, at the end of a week when the Club announced new recruits for next season, there is at last an air of optimism beginning to sweep through the old club again.
SWANSEA – O.Howe (L.Griffiths); A.Claypole, B.Cambriani, J.Randall (D.Manley), D.Howells; J.Rhys Williams, J.Guy (R.Wells); T.Sloane capt (J.Powell), P.John (S.Jones), R.Murphy (T.Harper); S.Kiley, M.Dodd; J.Clark (E.Williams), S.Jones, B.Davies
NEATH –E.Howley; M.Evans, I.Evans, T.Thomas-Wheeler (M.Pearce), A.Jenkins (S.Gibson); L.Price, R.Morgan-Williams; L.Tobias, S.Crocker (capt) (G.Lloyd), G.James (N.White); R.Bean (M.Davies), J.Barley; E.Hopkins, L.Ward, C.White Referee – Mr. S.Mills (Llanelli)
Neath visit Swansea in the Premiership on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
Hooker Sion Crocker leads the Blacks who freshen up their side after losing narrowly 15-21 at Bridgend on Tuesday evening.
Luke Price and Reuben Morgan-Williams team up for the second time at half back with Iwan Evans moving to centre and Mike Evans to wing, Alec Jenkins also returning. Up front, prop Geraint James and Ryan Bean reinforce the front five.
Neath v Swansea (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Mike Evans, 13 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, 12 Iwan Evans, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Luke Price, 9 Reuben Morgan-Williams; 1 Liam Tobias, 2 Sion Crocker (captain), 3 Geraint James; 4 Ryan Bean, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Elis Hopkins, 8 Leon Ward, 7 Aled Cockwell
Replacements – 16 Neil White, 17 Garin Lloyd, 18 Huw Wilkes, 19 Matthew Davies, 20 Scott Hicks, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Matthew Pearce, 23 Scott Gibson
BRIDGEND 21 NEATH 15
Another one that got away ! – Neath slipped to a narrow midweek defeat at Bridgend where, it must be said, they did not get much joy from the referee’s whistle.
Things went wrong almost from the start. Neath surged onto the attack, great handling by Iwan Evans and Tiaan Thomas-Williams sending Mike Evans careering towards the try-line. The ball was re-cycled only for a Bridgend hand to intervene and knock it down.
Penalty try ? Well, many a top referee would have considered it so – and so for that matter did the assistant referee who had a better view. But no, Neath were awarded a scrum and subsequently penalised. Such has been their ill-luck this season on all too many occasions !
Instead, Neath found themselves reduced to 14 men when debut-making winger Jordan Condon was binned for an over-enthusiastic aerial challenge which, unlike the opening salvo, did not affect the scoreboard and the Blacks took the lead when full back Ed Howley hammered over a penalty from 40 metres.
But, not for the first time this season, Neath handed back possession from the kick-off and Bridgend edged ahead when prop Cai Lewis crossed for his first try ever and outside-half James Murphy added the conversion points.
When Leon Ward was illegally neck-rolled out of a defensive ruck and subjected to a flurry of punches, he and his aggressor Adam O’Driscoll were shown red-cards after the intervention of a touch-judge.
With Neath’s defence unsettled, the initiative was firmly with Bridgend when centre Nathan Edwards went over for a second. It was 12-7 at half-time and the restart saw the meanest bit of play of the night – a nasty tackle on Iwan Evans – by Bridgend’s Zac O’Driscoll but he was luckier than his brother as he was shown only a yellow card.
Neath kept their discipline and made Bridgend pay with quick-fire tries by Ed Howley, which he converted himself, and a second by Scott Gibson on the wing following good work by Elis Hopkins and a deft chip by replacement Chris Morgans.
Having worked themselves into the lead at 15-12, that was it as far as Neath were concerned because, in a depressing finish which had Gibson binned for what was also deemed an unfair challenge, the home side were awarded penalty after penalty and James Murphy took full advantage to land three and overturn Neath’s lead.
Late on, Neath introduced their replacements with centre Matthew Pearce returning from injury to make his 50th appearance while outside-half Luke Scully became the first “new millenial” to appear for the Blacks – Neath did have a last-ditch attack in them but it ended, almost inevitably, in yet another penalty.
BRIDGEND – J.Phillips; A.Grabham (D.Moss), S.Ellis, N.Edwards, M.Powell; J.Murphy, C.Williams (C.Tantum); O.Jordan (O.Evans), G.Harvey (D.Lake), C.Lewis (R.Apsee); C.John, J.Pope (A.Evans); A.O’Driscoll, D.Davies, Z.O’Driscoll (capt)
NEATH – E.Howley (M.Pearce); J.Roberts (L.Scully), M,Evans, T.Thomas-Wheeler, J,Condon (C.Morgans); I.Evans, S.Gibson; B.Uphill (H.Wilkes), S.Crocker c (G.Lloyd), L.Tobias (G.James); M.Davies, J.Barley; E.Hopkins (S.Hicks), L.Ward, A.Cockwell (C.White) Referee – Mr. J.Bessant (Bridgend)
Neath visit Bridgend in the Premiership on Tuesday (kick off 7.30pm).
The starting line-up shows five changes from that which fought so valiantly against league leaders Merthyr on Good Friday.
Iwan Evans returns at outside-half after missing the Merthyr game due to work commitments while Aberavon Quins winger Jordan Condon makes his first start and Scott Gibson takes over at scrum-half. Neath also introduce two Neath College backs who have been capped by Wales Under-18’s this year – centre Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler comes in at centre and outside-half Luke Scully is on the replacements’ bench. The only change up front sees Sion Crocker resume at hooker in place of young Garin Lloyd who has impressed in the last four starts.
Neath v Bridgend (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 James Roberts, 13 Mike Evans, 12 Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, 11 Jordan Condon; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Matthew Davies, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Elis Hopkins, 8 Leon Ward (captain), 7 Aled Cockwell
Replacements – 16 Huw Wilkes, 17 Garin Lloyd, 18 Geraint James, 19 Ryan Bean, 20 Ceri White, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Luke Scully, 23 Matthew Pearce
NEATH 10 MERTHYR 26
Neath’s improvement continued in another valiant effort against Premiership leaders Merthyr who turned on the pressure in the second-half to clinch a well-deserved win at The Gnoll.
Attacking the Town end, the Blacks’ steady progress of late was borne out within three minutes when, following a quick tap penalty by scrum-half Chris Morgans, good combined play advanced Neath from the half-way line and full back Ed Howley skipped over for a try which he converted.
Scrummaging solidly, Neath continued to bubble and a defence-splitting break by Luke Price had supporting centre Keiran Williams tackled off the ball but the offence went unseen and another Neath attack saw them lose the ball on the line in the left corner.
But after 20 minutes play switched to the Union end for the first time and Merthyr’s first bit of sustained play brought them a try through former Neath captain Lee Evans to make it 7-5.
The Blacks responded with some strong play by their centres, backed up by a lively forward effort and, approaching half-time, Howley fired over a penalty from close on 40 metres.
Neath’s 10-5 lead lasted barely a minute though as they failed to secure the re-start and Merthyr, showing the confidence that comes with their lofty position, went ahead through a try by full back Josh Martin who collected an inside pass and outside-half Richard Powell’s conversion made it 12-10 to the visitors.
Most onlookers in a good Bank Holiday crowd would have agreed that Neath were a little unlucky to be behind at the interval after having the edge in the first-half. But similarly few would contend that Merthyr were much the better side after the break.
The Blacks had an early chance to go back in front but replacement scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams was thwarted. And gradually Merthyr turned the screw as Neath’s tenacious effort tired. With 10 minutes remaining, Neath were penalised at a scrum on half-way, Merthyr opted to kick for a line-out and, controlling possession, skipper Nick White eventually powered over for a try which Powell easily goaled.
Merthyr were well on top now and only stout Neath defence kept them at bay but, with five minutes of normal time remaining, Merthyr’s bulkier forward power settled it when lock Craig Locke, summoned from the bench for the second-half, was driven over and Martin’s conversion made it 26-10. Brave as Neath were to the end, the better side won.
NEATH – E.Howley; J.Roberts, K.Williams, M.Evans, A.Jenkins (S.Gibson); L.Price (D.Guarneri), C.Morgans (R.Morgan-Williams); B.Uphill (H.Wilkes), G.Lloyd (S.Crocker), L.Tobias (G.James); M.Davies, J.Barley; E.Hopkins (D.McLachlan), L.Ward (capt), A.Cockwell (C.White)
MERTHYR – J.Martin; R.Carter, T.Riley, G.Dacey, A.Howman; R.Powell (G.Davies), A.Hoskins; R.James (L.Jones), M.Dwyer (R.Wilkes), S.Pocskai (B.Warren); B.Sier (C.Locke), B.Murphy; L.Evans, N.White (capt), E.Siggery
Referee – Mr. R.Jones (Pencoed)
Neath break with tradition and host an important Premiership game on Good Friday against league leaders Merthyr at The Gnoll (kick off 2.30pm).
The Blacks need to be geared up for a big effort against the reigning champions and the starting line-up shows three changes from the that which scored 6 tries in losing 36-48 at Newport last week.
Behind the scrum, James Roberts and Chris Morgans return while Elis Hopkins comes into the back row alongside Leon Ward who continues as captain.
Neath v Merthyr (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 James Roberts, 11 Alec Jenkins, 13 Keiran Williams, 12 Mike Evans; 10 Luke Price, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Ben Uphill/Huw Wilkes, 2 Garin Lloyd, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Matthew Davies, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Elis Hopkins, 8 Leon Ward (captain), 7 Aled Cockwell
Replacements – 16 Huw Wilkes/Dan Morgan, 17 Sion Crocker, 18 Geraint James, 19 Ryan Bean, 20 Ceri White, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Dan Guarneri, 23 Scott Gibson
NEWPORT 48 NEATH 36
In days of old this 13-try spectacular would have been dubbed an “end of season romp” – but there were league points at stake and Newport deservedly took them if only because their defence was marginally more lock-sure than Neath’s.
On a warm first day of summertime, both sides were guilty of a lack of fortitude in the tackle with too many holes appearing for either coaching team to be satisfied. Mistakes abounded but, with referee Gwyn Morris (Cardiff) at his best, there was plenty of running and handling and what the game lacked in grim resolution was more than made up for by the entertainment it provided.
The pace was set from the opening minute when Newport centre Alex Sabri was properly sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on and Neath scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams, making his belated first appearance of the season, spotted a gap in the Newport ranks and crossed for the game’s first try and Ed Howley converted.
Newport soon levelled with a try by flanker Morgan Burgess which Matt O’Brien converted before Neath bombed two chances as wing Geraint Llewellyn and centre Keiran Williams went close. Instead, it was Newport who went in front when wing Elliot Frewen expertly stood up full back Howley to score and O’Brien converted.
Neath’s response was immediate as good handling by Howley, Aled Cockwell and Llewellyn sent Morgan-Williams over for his second but Newport pulled further ahead with tries by centre Alex Sabri and wing Johnny Morris, O’Brien converting the former. Neath countered briefly with a try by flanker Ryan Bean but Newport ended a breath-taking first-half with their fifth try when scrum-half Owen Davies exploited weak tackling to score and O’Brien’s conversion made it a remarkable 33-17.
Neath started the second-half on the attack and Bean nearly got his second try before Howley crossed for their bonus-point try and converted himself. From the re-start, O’Brien banged over a penalty and Newport pulled clear again when prop Garin Harris crossed and it seemed curtains for Neath when Williams was yellow-carded and home No.8 Alex Everett scored Newport’s seventh try which O’Brien goaled.
But somehow Neath galvanised themselves for an extra effort and dominated the last quarter. The summoning of replacements from the fully-employed bench brought a couple of positional switches which saw Neath finish strongly with much better shape.
Newport lost another man to the bin as they defended desperately and Mike Evans snatched back a try which Howley converted but Evans then threw a scoring pass into the stand. Undaunted, Neath kept up the tempo : Keiran Williams was held up on the line, Iwan Evans and Morgans went close too in opposite corners and Neath signed off with their sixth try when replacement wing Scott Gibson squeezed in at the corner.
That brought to an end what was in many ways a crazy, hazy game of summer and Neath’s last stand saw them take the second-half 19-15. But the damage had been done in a soft first-half when far too many tackles were missed and, it must be said, team-mates were let down.
Neath’s next engagement is against Premiership leaders Merthyr at The Gnoll on Good Friday (kick off 2.30pm) and the Blacks will need to marry up their newly-restored scoring form with greater defensive discipline.
NEWPORT – H.Simons; J.Morris, A.Sabri, C.Smith, E.Frewen (H.Lang); M.O’Brien (capt) (G.O’Driscoll), O.Davies (R.Bates); N.Boyce (J.Lavender), H.Palmer (W.Evans), T.Piper (G.Harris); A.Mann (J.Little), J.Bartlett; M.Burgess, A.Everett, J.Reid
NEATH – E.Howley; A.Jenkins (S.Gibson), M.Evans, K.Williams, G.Llewellyn (I.Evans); L.Price, R.Morgan-Williams (C.Morgans); B.Uphill (N.White, H.Wilkes), G.Lloyd (S.Crocker), L.Tobias; M.Davies (C.White), J.Barley; R.Bean, L.Ward (capt) (J.Parry), A.Cockwell
Referee – Mr. G.Morris (Cardiff)
Neath visit high-riding Newport at Rodney Parade in the Welsh Premiership on Sunday (kick off 2.30pm).
The starting line-up shows only four changes from the that which did so well before going down a little unluckily 30-34 to Pontypridd last week.
Winger Geraint Llewellyn returns while half-backs Luke Price and Reuben Morgan-Williams come in for their first appearances of the season. Up front, the only change sees Matthew Davies return at lock with Ryan Bean taking over from the injured Elis Hopkins in the back row alongside Leon Ward who continues as captain.
Neath v Newport (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Alec Jenkins, 13 Mike Evans, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Geraint Llewellyn; 10 Luke Price, 9 Reuben Morgan-Williams; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Garin Lloyd, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Matthew Davies, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Ryan Bean, 8 Leon Ward (captain), 7 Aled Cockwell
Replacements – 16 Huw Wilkes, 17 Sion Crocker, 18 Neil White, 19 James Parry, 20 Ceri White, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Iwan Evans, 23 Scott Gibson