MATCH REPORT TO FOLLOW…
In one of only two Premiership fixtures on Saturday, Neath play Carmarthen Quins at The Gnoll (kick off 2.30pm) and the Blacks’ selection features many of those who finished so strongly against RGC last week.
Young centre Tom Evans who scored a quick-fire debut try last week starts at centre along with winger Jon Bayliss who last appeared on Boxing Day. Jordan Rees and Macauley Griffiths team up at half back.
Up front prop Kieran Griffiths, hooker Sion Crocker, lock Scott Davies and flankers Leon Ward and Ceri White re-appear.
It is not quite a rota but the bench comprises five players who started last week alongside the returning Connah Vaughan and Robat White (also Ystalyfera) with one prop position to be finalised.
Neath v Carmarthen Quins (Home)
15 Aaron Bramwell (captain); 14 Jon Bayliss, 13 Tomas Evans, 12 Jarrad Rees, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Jordan Rees, 9 Macauley Griffiths 1 Kieran Griffiths, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Tyla Murvai; 4 Scott Davies, 5 Ioan Jones, 6 Leon Ward, 8 Guido Volpi, 7 Ceri White
Replacements – 16 Connah Vaughan, 17 Robat White, 18 A.N.Other, 19 Rhys Morgan, 20 Jake Blackmore, 21 Garin Lloyd, 22 Callum Hall, 23 James Roberts
NEATH 10 RGC 24
Neath and RGC overcame wet and windy conditions to serve up an entertaining eve-of-Grand Slam appetizer at The Gnoll on Friday evening.
Playing with first use of the elements, RGC were out of the blocks as Neath, attempting to over-play in the conditions, made too many errors and the visitors were 12 points up in the first quarter after tries by both wings Aron Evans and Sam Jones, the latter converted by outside-half Billy McBryde.
Neath, again permitting heavily with 14 loanees in the 23-man squad, did not show too much cohesion although yet again nobody could be faulted for lack of effort. Jonny Thomas re-appeared alongside Garin Lloyd and Tyla Murvai in a hard-working front row who carried strongly as did No.8 Guido Volpi while flankers Jacob Blackmore and Ben Davies also made an impact. Reuben Morgan-Williams showed a few flashes of his best at scrum-half but RGC were in firm control and made full use of the wind.
Yet RGC’s third try would not have been out of place in a West End farce. It was credited to centre Delwyn Jones but really the score belonged to inconsistent referee Mr. Stephen Allsop who performed a totally effective piece of blocking by obstructing two Neath defenders and then compounded his error by awarding the try. Bizarre ! But Neath have been hammered by the whistlers this season and McBryde’s easy conversion more or less settle the game at 19-nil. It led one observer to comment wryly “Maybe they’ll give us better referees in the Championship” but the damage was done and Neath went in to the interval 19 points adrift instead of a manageable 12.
Now playing with the wind, Neath re-started strongly and outside-half Callum Hall, fine kicker as he is, landed a long-range penalty but the kick off was not dealt with and RGC claimed the bonus point when centre Iolo Evans touched down wide out.
To their credit, Neath kept coming and fresh legs from the bench saw the replacement front row of Ifan James, Sion Crocker and Gareth Hall provide industry while Leon Ward and Ioan Jones started winning more line-out possession despite the worsening rain.
Neath began to look increasingly dangerous and a series of forward drives had RGC defending, the referee played advantage and a speculative Hall chip bounced back favourably for Neath and young centre Tom Evans was on hand to gather and touch down for a rapid debut try which Hall converted.
Momentum was now with the Blacks, replacement scrum-half Macauley Griffiths was able to speed his backs away and winger James Roberts was denied a certain try. The Blacks pressed strongly to the end and only some rugged RGC defence kept them out.
RGC were worthy winners but Neath won the second-half : not by enough to win the game and not exactly hands down but, in this most miserable of seasons, it was a small consolation for the Blacks who next Saturday host Carmarthen Quins (kick off 2.30pm).
NEATH – Aaron Bramwell (captain); James Roberts (Gareth Hopkins), Jarrad Rees, Lesley Klim (Tom Evans), Alec Jenkins; Callum Hall, Reuben Morgan-Williams (Macauley Griffiths); Jonny Thomas (Ifan James), Garin Lloyd (Sion Crocker), Tyla Murvai (Gareth Hall); Ioan Jones, Rhys Morgan (Leon Ward); Jake Blackmore, Guido Volpi, Ben Davies (Ceri White)
In Friday’s only Premiership action, Neath host RGC at The Gnoll (kick off 7.30pm) and the Blacks again make changes as they seek to provide long-suffering supporters with something to cheer.
Ospreys’ Namibian international Lesley Klim makes his second appearance at centre while wing Alec Jenkins and scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams return.
Up front prop Jonny Thomas re-appears after spells with Bridgend, Aberavon and latterly Baglan while lock Rhys Morgan and No.8 Guido Volpi return and Dunvant flanker Ben Davies gets a first start.
On the bench, two young players in Newcastle-Emlyn prop Ifan James and Pontarddualis centre Tomas Evans are lined up for debuts while prop Gareth Hall (Glynneath), scrum-half Macauley Griffiths (Rhydyfelin) and winger Gareth Hopkins (Beddau) could make Gnoll debuts after assisting in recent away games.
Neath v RGC (Home)
15 Aaron Bramwell (captain); 14 James Roberts, 13 Jarrad Rees, 12 Lesley Klim, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Callum Hall, 9 Reuben Morgan-Williams; 1 Jonny Thomas, 2 Garin Lloyd, 3 Tyla Murvai; 4 Ioan Jones, 5 Rhys Morgan; 6 Jake Blackmore, 8 Guido Volpi, 7 Ben Davies
Replacements – 16 Sion Crocker, 17 Ifan James, 18 Gareth Hall, 19 Leon Ward, 20 Ceri White, 21 Macauley Griffiths, 22 Tomas Evans, 23 Gareth Hopkins
NEWPORT 48 points NEATH 10 points
Neath face RGC at The Gnoll on Friday evening (kick off 7.30pm) in the last of their floodlit games for 2018/19 and will be hoping for better luck than on their visit to Newport.
The game very nearly did not take place as the Rodney Parade groundsman feared for his pitch following heavy afternoon rain but both teams were keen to play, the Neath diehards were already in the ground and, thanks to the best efforts of home secretary Dennis Bennett, common sense prevailed.
Neath made 9 changes – mostly enforced – for this game and, with 13 players in their 23 on permit, they were always going to be up against it. However, the only debutant was Ospreys centre Lesley Klim who became the first Namibian international to play for Neath on this his first appearance in Wales having arrived last August.
He obviously needs more match practice but showed well enough in his 45 minutes of action and nearly got on the receiving end of a break by co-centre Jarrad Rees which would have spelled a first-half try for Neath.
As the rain eased, it was very much Newport’s night though and, after Neath lost prop Steffan Jones with injured ankle ligaments in the first five minutes, they steadily built up a 19-nil lead through first half tries by hooker, Henry Palmer, wing Andrew Evans and scrum-half Tom Lucas, outside-half Haydn Simons converting two.
Neath had chances of their own : Klim was nearly through and there were two kick and chase efforts by wing Gareth Hopkins and scrum-half Nicky Griffiths which might have brought better reward but the cover defence just got across in time.
Right on the stroke of half-time, Neath were awarded an eminently kickable penalty but, bravely opting for the line-out instead, the forwards drove on and flanker Lee Evans dabbed down for a try which Callum Hall converted to make it 7-19.
The Blacks started the second-half promisingly enough as Hall struck a good penalty but thereafter, gamely as Neath battled, it was virtually one-way traffic as they gave away a couple of soft tries from a charge-down and an interception.
The home side levied second-half scores by Morgan Burgess, replacement Chris Williams, Chay Smith, Elliot Frewen and on time winger Duan Thomas with Simons converting two.
There were errors galore on a greasy surface but the decision to play the game was fully vindicated and a word of praise is due too to referee Mr. Carwyn Williams (Ystalyfera), in charge of his first Premiership game, who kept things going.
So Neath must dust themselves down and prepare for Friday’s re-arranged home game against RGC. The team needs support at the moment and a good home crowd might just make a difference.
NEATH – Aaron Bramwell (captain); James Roberts, Jarrad Rees, Lesley Klim (Caine Woolerton), Gareth Hopkins; Callum Hall (Jordan Rees), Nicky Griffiths (Macauley Griffiths); Steffan Jones (Callum Jones, Lloyd Jenkins), Garin Lloyd (Sion Crocker), Tyla Murvai; Scott Davies (Rhys Morgan), Ioan Jones; Lee Evans (Ben Davies), Leon Ward, Jake Blackmore
Neath ring the changes when they travel to play Newport at Rodney Parade on Friday evening (kick off 7.15pm). Ospreys’ Namibian international Lesley Klim comes in at centre for his debut while several players return. Gareth Hopkins is on the wing while Callum Hall and Nicky Griffiths team up at half-back. Up front, Steffan Jones and Tyla Murvai will prop alongside hooker Garin Lloyd with Ioan Jones in the second row and Trebanos’ Jake Blackmore slots in to the back row.
Neath v Newport (Away)
15 Aaron Bramwell (captain); 14 James Roberts, 13 Jarrad Rees, 12 Lesley Klim, 11 Gareth Hopkins; 10 Callum Hall, 9 Nicky Griffiths; 1 Steffan Jones, 2 Garin Lloyd, 3 Tyla Murvai; 4 Scott Davies, 5 Ioan Jones; 6 Lee Evans, 8 Leon Ward, 7 Jake Blackmore
Replacements – 16 Sion Crocker, 17 Callum Jones, 18 Lloyd Jenkins, 19 Rhys Morgan, 20 Ben Davies, 21 Macauley Griffiths, 22 Jordan Rees, 23 Caine Woolerton
NEATH nil LLANDOVERY 35 points
Neath’s already depleted ranks were stretched further in this home defeat by Llandovery as both captain Aaron Bramwell and centre Keiran Williams were forced to leave the field in the second-half with nasty-looking injuries.
The neck injury to their captain incensed The Gnoll crowd as Llandovery No.8 Emyr Price was yellow carded for the incident but home supporters clearly felt the offence merited a red card. Fortunately, Bramwell was not as seriously hurt as first thought and was his usual chirpy self in the Clubhouse afterwards.
It was the only severe incident in a hard-fought game in which the Blacks once more displayed great courage but were undone by their opponents’ greater organisation and a familiarity built upon having played together for far longer than this Neath team.
The loss of centre Williams was a blow as he was as busy as ever and on top form in a stubborn Neath team although he could take some consolation from being nominated “Man of the Match” by the Supporters’ Club.
He had been at the heart of a great defensive effort by the home backs who kept a rein on the Llandovery three-quarters who ran some pretty lines behind the scrum.
It was strange therefore that all five tries – by centre Rhodri Jones (2), scrum-half Lee Rees, flanker Stuart Worrall and No.8 Price – came from close-range situations with the debut-making referee hugely influential in at least two of them.
Defensive certainty usually goes with selection continuity – something which Neath cannot be assured of at the moment. In this game, the Blacks called upon three new props in Robat White (Ystalyfera), Lloyd Jenkins (Kenfig Hill) and Will Davies (Ystalyfera) with the fourth Kieran Griffiths making only his fourth appearance.
It is difficult therefore for the coaches to achieve the necessary level of organisation to cope with a well-drilled eight like Llandovery’s and, although working hard, the home forwards generally played second-fiddle to the away octet.
For Neath, the brothers Rees, Jarrad and Jordan, did a lot of good work and outside-half Jordan would have been a close second to Keiran Williams in the award stakes while it was good to see scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams making just his second start of the season although he had few opportunities to show his paces.
In the back row, Ceri White and Garin Lloyd – both out of action for two months – played a half each and came through well and Lloyd in particular made some strong incursions as Neath actually enjoyed the greater territory in the second-half.
Neath are away at Newport on Friday and the next home game will be on Friday week, March 15th when RGC visit The Gnoll for the match postponed from December.
NEATH – Aaron Bramwell (captain) (Callum Hall); James Roberts, Jarrad Rees, Keiran Williams (Sion O’Brien), John Lumb; Jordan Rees, Reuben Morgan-Williams; Robat White (Will Davies), Sion Crocker (Connah Vaughan), Kieran Griffiths (Lloyd Jenkins); Rhys Morgan, Scott Davies; Lee Evans (Ioan Jones), Leon Ward, Ceri White (Garin Lloyd)
Reuben Morgan-Williams makes his second appearance of the season when Neath entertain Llandovery at The Gnoll on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
Other changes see fit-again James Roberts and John Lumb back on the wings while Ystalyfera prop Robat White slots into the front row. Scott Davies returns at lock with Leon Ward and Ceri White in the back row.
Neath v Llandovery (Home)
15 Aaron Bramwell (captain); 14 James Roberts, 13 Jarrad Rees, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 John Lumb; 10 Jordan Rees, 9 Reuben Morgan-Williams; 1 Robat White, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Kieran Griffiths; 4 Rhys Morgan, 5 Scott Davies; 6 Lee Evans, 8 Leon Ward, 7 Ceri White
Replacements – 16 Connah Vaughan, 17 Will Davies, 18 A.N.Other, 19 Garin Lloyd, 20 Ioan Jones, 21 Nicky Griffiths, 22 Callum Hall, 23 Gavin Evans
BEDWAS 36 NEATH 28
Battling Neath came as close to victory as they have since beating Bargoed in November before two late tries secured a bonus point win for Bedwas in a keenly-fought encounter at the Bridge Field.
This time last year Britain was in the midst of the “Beast from the East” but in uncustomary sunny late February weather Neath gave as good as they got for much of the game; in the end it was probably Bedwas’ superior team-work which was enough to see them through.
Neath opened the scoring afetr 12 minutes with a penalty from fly half Jordan Rees after Bedwas were penalised at a ruck but home full back Joseph Scrivens equalised with a penalty of his own four minutes later to level the scores.
Lively Bedwas captain Alun Rees inspired the opening try by scrum-half Luke Crane and the referee doubled Neath’s woe when he yellow carded prop Gareth Wyn Lloyd before Scrivens converted.
Jordan Rees slotted another penalty but Bedwas extended their lead with a try from No.8 Dale Rogers, again converted by Scrivens, Neath losing a second man – No.8 Guido Volpi – to the sin bin and Bedwas capitalised on Neath’s 13-men when wing Adam Williams crossed, Scrivens’ conversion putting Bedwas 24-6 ahead.
Many sides would have capitulated at this stage but Neath battled back and as Bedwas conceded a string of penalties near their line – surprisingly in view of what had happened to Neath, no yellow card was issued here ! – excellent scrum-half Nicky Griffiths pounced for a try, Rees’ penalty closing the gap to 24-13 at half-time.
And the Blacks started the second-half with a bang as centre Kieran Williams scorched over for a try and a third penalty on 50 minutes by Jordan Rees cut the deficit to 21-24.
Thereafter, it was nip and tuck as both sides sought the vital next score. Every Neath player gave of their best with tearaway forwards Gareth Howells and Joe Grabham very much in the thick of the action.
But it was Bedwas who scored next when Scrivens crossed in the right corner for their fourth bonus point try and they made the game safe when replacement Sion Parry bagged another, Scrivens converting.
Still Neath were not done and, flooding their replacements, the Blacks finished stronger. Constant pressure on the Bedwas line eventually led to a third Neath try by winger Gareth Hopkins, replacement Callum Hall converting and, with the Neath scrum threatening a couple of pushovers, Bedwas held out to the relief of the home crowd.
Bedwas leapt into the safe-for-now 11th spot in the table but Neath deserved to take more than just pride out of this game which fully lived up to the capital weather.
NEATH – Aaron Bramwell (captain); Gareth Hopkins, Jarrad Rees, Keiran Williams, Richard Carter; Jordan Rees (Callum Hall), Nicky Griffiths (Macauley Griffiths); Gareth Wyn Lloyd (Steffan Jones), Sion Crocker (Connah Vaughan), Kieran Griffiths (Gareth Hall); Rhys Morgan (Scott Davies), Gareth Howells; Lee Evans, Guido Volpi (Jacob Blackmore), Joe Grabham
Four players return for Neath in their noon kick off at Bedwas on Saturday.
Keiran Griffiths comes in at prop with Rhys Morgan in the second row and Lee Evans back at flanker while scrum-half Nicky Griffiths plays against one of his former clubs.
Neath v Bedwas (Away)
15 Aaron Bramwell (captain); 14 John Lumb, 13 Jarrad Rees, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Gareth Hopkins; 10 Jordan Rees, 9 Nicky Griffiths; 1 Gareth Wyn Lloyd, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Keiran Griffiths; 4 Rhys Morgan, 5 Gareth Howells; 6 Lee Evans, 8 Guido Volpi, 7 Joe Grabham
Replacements – 16 Connah Vaughan, 17 Steffan Jones, 18 Gareth Hall, 19 Scott Davies, 20 Ioan Jones, 21 Dyfan Ceredig, 22 A.N. Other, 23 Callum Hall
MERTHYR 47 NEATH 5
Neath’s visit to Premiership leaders Merthyr predictably ended in defeat as it was bottom versus top – but again there was much to commend in the All Blacks’ performance.
A squad featuring 12 players on permit, 6 in the starting backs line-up, is no recipe for success at big-spending Merthyr and the Premiership leaders duly beat Neath – but not without a fight !
Neath held them to 5-12 at half-time and, though heavily penalised by an unsympathetic referee who added to Neath’s woes with a double sin-binning before half-time, the Blacks tackled tenaciously, defended doggedly and competed courageously.
Both those tries – by Adam Hoskins and Rhys Williams – came from the scourge of the modern game – innocuous penalties around the halfway line, followed by a kick to touch and a close-range line-out drive with defenders unable to get near the ball.
Neath stole a score themselves when Guido Volpi’s sleight of hand sent Skewen winger Matthew Billett in at the left corner and the Blacks to a man worked overtime not least the back row of Volpi and his flankers Alun Jones and Joe Grabham and Bedlinog scrum Liam Roberts on his debut.
Hooker Williams repeated the line-out drive trick twice in the second-half leading one Neath follower to wonder aloud why Sir Stan Thomas is spending his millions just to watch line-out drives.
Those scores put the home side out of reach and they added three prettier scores after that. While Neath are bringing in players from Division 3, Merthyr brought in Welsh international Tom James who got one before Jay Baker added two in injury time – and six Jarvis conversions meant that Neath went down to a heavier defeat than it might have been.
Arguably, Neath made better use of the possession they had with Keiran Williams and Jordan Rees inventive attackers. Up front hooker Sion Crocker, locks Scott Davies and Gareth Howells and the back row worked hard throughout.
Despite it being almost a “mission impossible”, Neath as usual took strong support and their large band of followers was rewarded with another committed performance from the team. And the faithful will be there at Bedwas for Saturday’s re-arranged fixture (12 noon kick off).
NEATH – Aaron Bramwell (captain) (Callum Hall); John Lumb, Jarrad Rees, Keiran Williams (Sean O’Brien), Matthew Billett; Jordan Rees, Liam Roberts; Ben Uphill (Stef Bond), Sion Crocker (Connah Vaughan), Gareth Wyn Lloyd (Zach Evans); Scott Davies (Lee Evans), Gareth Howells; Alun Jones (Leon Ward), Guido Volpi, Joe Grabham
Neath make several changes when they head to table-topping Merthyr on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
Behind the scrum, wingers John Lumb (Cardigan) and Matthew Billett (Skewen) come in while Jordan Rees and Liam Roberts (Bedlinog) link up at half-back. Ben Uphill returns to the front row with Gareth Howells in the second row and Academy prospect Joe Grabham gets a start in the back row.
Neath v Merthyr (Away)
15 Aaron Bramwell (captain); 14 John Lumb, 13 Jarrad Rees, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Matthew Billett; 10 Jordan Rees, 9 Liam Roberts; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Gareth Wyn Lloyd; 4 Scott Davies, 5 Gareth Howells; 6 Alun Jones, 8 Guido Volpi, 7 Joe Grabham
Replacements – 16 Connah Vaughan, 17 Stef Bond, 18 Dyfan Ceredig, 19 Ioan Jones/Lee Evans, 20 Leon Ward, 21 Callum Hall, 22 Sion O’Brien, 23 Gareth Hopkins
NEATH nil PONTYPRIDD 45
Another brave performance by Neath could not mask the superiority of a Pontypridd team riding high in second place in the table and galvanised by the revelation of financial troubles at Sardis Road.
The Neath team showed bags of courage and might have improved the scoreline but were well beaten by the buoyant visitors who levied tries through winger Alex Webber (2), hooker Rob Jones, Blues full back Ben Jones, lock Shay Smallman, flanker Rhys Shellard and No.8 Alun Lawrence, former Wales outside-half Ceri Sweeney (4) and replacement Diggy Bird adding conversions.
Keiren Williams returned to good effect at centre before being replaced at half-time when it was nil-24 while No.8 Guido Volpi made an impressive debut at No.8 while scrum-half Nicky Griffiths collected the Supporters’ Club Man of the Match award.
NEATH – Aaron Bramwell (captain); Richard Carter, Jarrad Rees, Keiran Williams (Jordan Rees), Alec Jenkins, Callum Hall, Nicky Griffiths (Nathan Griffiths); Gareth Wyn Lloyd (Ben Uphill), Sion Crocker (Connah Vaughan), Tyla Murvai (Kieran Griffiths); Scott Davies (Ioan Jones), Rhys Morgan; Lee Evans (Leon Ward), Guido Volpi, Alun Jones (Joe Grabham)
Referee – Mr. Simon Mills (New Dock Stars)
Young Ospreys No.8 Guido Volpi makes his debut for Neath when they take on Pontypridd at The Gnoll on Friday evening (kick off 7.30pm).
The Argentinian forward, previously with Narbonne, steps up for Neath’s first game since their change of ownership and he is joined in the starting line-up by centre Keiran Williams while Joe Grabham re-appears on the bench.
With James Roberts still on the injured list, an S.O.S. has gone out to Richard Carter, the former Neath and Aberavon wing who now coaches at Resolven, while prop Gareth Wyn Lloyd, a try-scoring replacement against Swansea, starts for the first time.
Neath v Pontypridd (Home)
15 Aaron Bramwell (captain); 14 Richard Carter, 13 Jarrad Rees, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Alec Jenkins, 10 Callum Hall, 9 Nicky Griffiths, 1 Gareth Wyn Lloyd, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Tyla Murvai; 4 Scott Davies, 5 Rhys Morgan; 6 Lee Evans, 8 Guido Volpi, 7 Alun Jones
Replacements – 16 Connah Vaughan, 17 Ben Uphill, 18 Keiran Griffiths, 19 Ioan Jones, 20 Leon Ward, 21 Joe Grabham, 22 Nathan Griffiths, 23 Jordan Rees
NEATH 21 SWANSEA 48
Another spirited performance from Neath was not enough as they went down to a 3 tries to 6 defeat at The Gnoll. As rumours intensify about the club ownership, Neath produced another gritty display but Swansea’s greater organisation which has brought them their best Premiership run for many years saw them home.
But there was much to commend in this Neath performance. The forwards scrummaged powerfully as the front row of Ben Uphill, Sion Crocker and Tyla Murvai got the better of the vaunted Swansea trio comprising the regionally experienced Tom Sloane and Neath’s Ifan Phillips and Greg Cunniffe… and the Neath replacement threesome of Gareth Wyn Lloyd, Connah Vaughan and Keiran Griffiths relished the exchanges later on too.
Behind them, Rhys Morgan and the evergreen Lee Evans provided the grunt and the back row of Craig Hill, Aled Cockwell and Alun Jones worked their socks off. Scrum-half Nicky Griffiths again operated shrewdly and outside-half Callum Hall kicked perfectly, his two touchline conversions being particularly fine strikes.
Neath fell behind early on, the home tackling lacking as full back R. Rhys Williams crossed, Stef Williams converting. Swansea had strong ball carriers in Fox, Kiley and ex-Neath man Charlie Davies but they were not having it all their own and it was not until the 25th minute that they scored their second try through Phillips, Stef Williams converting before adding a penalty on the half-hour.
Neath were growing as the game progressed and they earned their reward on half-time when a strong forward surge produced a try for Alun Jones who touched down with fellow flanker Hill in close attendance. Hall’s splendid touchline conversion made it 7-17 at half-time.
A Ben Cambriani try converted by Williams settled the bonus point for Swansea but Neath refused to be subdued. The referee had resorted early on to tit-for-tat penalties at the scrums and, when he yellow-carded Uphill and Cunniffe,the pair left the field grinning like a pair of naughty schoolboys but Swansea were unable to hold the Neath scrum and the referee awarded the Blacks a well-deserved penalty-try. However, Swansea struck with two tries by J.Rhys Williams either side of a dropped goal by Stef Williams who converted the first, Luke Griffiths converting the second.
The result was established but Neath were still playing with drive though and when replacement lock Ioan Jones won line-out ball, the forwards took on the initiative and prop Gareth Wyn Lloyd powered over at the Union end for his first try which Hall again goaled immaculately from the touchline. However, Neath’s concentration wavered at the re-start and Swansea had the last word with a try by ex-Neath centre Mike Evans, Griffiths converting to end a game of spotless goal-kicking and much entertainment.
NEATH – Jordan Rees; James Roberts (John Lumb), Jarrad Rees, Aaron Bramwell (captain), Alec Jenkins, Callum Hall, Nicky Griffiths (Nathan Griffiths), Ben Uphill (Gareth Wyn Lloyd), Sion Crocker (Connah Vaughan), Tyla Murvai (Kieran Griffiths); Lee Evans, Rhys Morgan (Ioan Jones); Craig Hill (Leon Ward), Aled Cockwell, Alun Jones (Dyfan Ceredig)
SWANSEA – R.R.Williams (R.Griffiths); G.Rees, M.Evans, J.R.Williams, B.Cambriani; S.Williams, T.Ham (C.Morgans); T.Sloane (J.Powell), I.Phillips, G.Cunniffe (M.Walsh); S.Kiley (M.Dodd),’ J.Williams; C.Davies, J.Fox (capt) (D.Eager), C.Bowden
Referee : Mr. A.Liddington (Abertillery)
Neath take on near-neighbours Swansea at The Gnoll on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
With speculation rife about the Club’s ownership, Neath supporters have been rallying behind the team which this week features just four changes from last week’s starting line-up.
Behind the scrum, centre Jarrad Rees comes in for Gavin Evans. Up front Lee Evans returns to the second row with Aled Cockwell and Alun Jones in the back row.
Neath v Swansea (Home)
15 Jordan Rees; 14 James Roberts, 13 Jarrad Rees, 12 Aaron Bramwell (captain), 11 Alec Jenkins, 10 Callum Hall, 9 Nicky Griffiths, 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Tyla Murvai; 4 Lee Evans, 5 Rhys Morgan; 6 Craig Hill, 8 Aled Cockwell, 7 Alun Jones
Replacements from – Connah Vaughan, Gareth Wyn Lloyd, Lewis Price, Keiran Griffiths, Ioan Jones, Leon Ward, Dyfan Ceredig, Nathan Griffiths, Jon Lumb, Gavin Evans
NEATH 17 CROSS KEYS 34
Another brave performance by battling Neath was not quite enough to hold Cross Keys who, after trailing until the stroke of half-time, went on to take the spoils in the second-half.
Scrum-half Nicky Griffiths and No.8 Gareth Jones came in for first starts for Neath with Jordan Rees, Gareth Howells, Ioan Jones and Craig Hill making home debuts as were all of the replacements bench – but the permit-count was down to 11 after the Christmas highs. In contrast, Keys had the services of 2 senior Dragons and 4 Academy lads.
Neath’s raw side suffered a pre-match blow when newly-signed lock Scott Davies pulled a hamstring in the warm-up. Keys started on the attack but on 12 minutes Neath weathered the storm and a brilliant jinking run by full back Jordan Rees sent Craig Hill away and the flanker showed outstanding pace to blaze away and score at the posts for Callum Hall to convert.
The Neath scrum had Keys under the cosh all afternoon and midway through the half when Keys conceded another scrum penalty up stepped Hall to make it 10-nil.
Keys hit back when a disorganised Neath chase allowed the visitors to run the ball back and flanker Joe Thomas scored at the posts for Dragons’ outside-half Jacob Botica to convert. But Neath bounced back on the half hour when new signing scrum-half Nicky Griffiths capped a marvellous debut by shooting up the blind-side from a rock-solid scrum to score in the corner and Hall converted splendidly from the touchline.
Keys then took advantage of poor midfield defence to score again when Leon Andrews sent Academy No.8 Garin Price over for Botica to convert and the ex-RGC record-holder levelled the scores at 17-17 when he kicked a penalty on the stroke of halftime.
15 minutes into the second-half Keys took the lead for the first time when winger Wesley Cunliffe shrugged off a tackle to send Botica in for a try which he converted himself.
Neath continued to hammer away at Keys and after gaining two scrum penalties near the Keys line the referee chose to penalise Neath on the third; play swept to the other end via another missed tackle and the ubiquitous Leon Andrews dabbed down.
Botica converted and kicked an unambitious late penalty to give the Dragons’ man a haul of 19 points and the scoreline a slightly flattering look – it was a lot closer.
Again, the newcomers can be proud of their efforts in a team which never gave up and, with players to return, Neath will be looking for a big effort against in-form Swansea next week.
NEATH – Jordan Rees (Laurence Howley); James Roberts, Aaron Bramwell (captain), Gavin Evans, Alec Jenkins (Geraint Roberts); Callum Hall, Nicky Griffiths; Ben Uphill (Lewis Price), Sion Crocker (Connah Vaughan), Tyla Murvai (Kieran Griffiths); Rhys Morgan, Gareth Howells; Ioan Jones (Greg Callow), Gareth Jones (Dyfan Ceredig), Craig Hill
CROSS KEYS – C.Perry; L.Ap Myrddin, L.Andrews, Adam Jones (R.Budina), W.Cunliffe (S.Majkic); J.Botica, O.Leonard (D.Fidler); Z.Hewlett (W.Griffiths), E.Shipp (T.Hansen), R.Cornock (G.Carpenter); S.Andrews (C.Johnsey), T.Lampard; D.Welsh (captain), G.Price, J.Thomas (J.Carlin)
Referee – Mr. J.Bessant (Heol-y-Cyw)
Neath play their first game of 2019, hoping that the New Year will be better than the Old, when they entertain Cross Keys at The Gnoll (kick off 2.30pm).
A brave performance at Aberavon on Boxing Day brought their re-shaped side many plaudits which were well deserved; it also delivered the try of the week by skipper Aaron Bramwell which many neutrals rated the try of the season. But it will take a big effort against Keys who have experience on their side.
With speculation increasing over the Club’s ownership, Neath supporters are totally behind the lads on the field. New recruit from Cardiff Nicky Griffiths follows in the footsteps of his father Jonathan Griffiths (Bridgend Sports) by debuting at scrum-half and another newcomer is No.8 Gareth Jones who hails from Porth.
Home debuts will be made by Jordan Rees, Craig Hill, Ioan Jones as well as replacements Connah Vaughan and Dyfan Ceredig who made their bows over Christmas.
Neath v Cross Keys (Home)
15 Jordan Rees; 14 James Roberts, 13 Aaron Bramwell (captain), 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Alec Jenkins, 10 Callum Hall, 9 Nicky Griffiths, 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Tyla Murvai; 4 Rhys Morgan, 5 Scott Davies; 6 Craig Hill, 8 Gareth Jones 7 Ioan Jones
Replacements – 16 Lewis Price, 17 Connah Vaughan, 18 Keiran Griffiths, 19 Gareth Howells, 20 Dyfan Ceredig, 21 A.N.Other, 22 Geraint Roberts, 23 Laurence Howley
ABERAVON 36 NEATH 17
Once again, the Neath Loyalists worked wonders and, after late withdrawals, fielded :-
15 Callum Hall; 14 James Roberts, 13 Aaron Bramwell (captain), 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Alec Jenkins, 10 Lewis Humphreys, 9 Nathan Griffiths, 1 Jonny Gethin, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Scott Hoskins; 4 Aled Cockwell, 5 Scott Davies; 6 Craig Hill, 8 Thomas Jevons, 7 Alun Jones
Replacements : Connah Vaughan, Roy Jones, Gareth Wyn Lloyd, Ioan Jones, Ceri White, Dyfan Ceredig, Morgan Evans, Jon Bayliss
That selection embodied 17 permit players from 15 clubs but they were 23 absolute heroes – tackling themselves into the ground in a never say die performance.
In fact, the Blacks had the satisfaction of conjuring up the best try of the game by skipper Bramwell converted by Callum Hall – and there were other scores from replacement Ioan Jones which brought a broad smile to father Paul’s face and from speedy winger James Roberts who got in at the corner after Neath might have been awarded a penalty try.
Over very many years, Neath supporters have been lucky enough to have seen some wonderful Neath RFC performances including against the biggest and the best in the world – and the true Neath fighting spirit demonstrated by ALL was up there with the best.
Neath started well and might have taken the lead only for Roberts to be recalled for a foot in touch but Aberavon deserved their win through tries by Ieuan Davies (2), Francis Jones, Andrew Waite, Iwan Temlett and Jacob Blackmore with Christopher Banfield converting three.
What energy Neath displayed ! Thanks to everyone who helped and to the tremendous support from both touchlines.
Let sanity prevail in the New Year 2019 – CASTELL NEDD AM BYTH !
Neath have again pulled out all the stops to take the field at Aberavon on Boxing Day (kick off 2.30pm).
Neath rugby secretary Mike Price said, “The majority of our remaining players are now injured so it looks as if 17 of our 24 man squad will be on permit. In fact, we are thinking of asking them to wear club socks to aid identification like the Barbarians !
“Seriously though, it is an intolerable situation for the club to find itself subjected to after 147 years – 154 years for the purists – of rugby achievement. It cannot continue for much longer before the relevant authorities take action.
“Hats off to captain Aaron Bramwell and Pat Horgan for again bringing the side together and, if there is a silver lining to our current predicament, it is that it has thrown up one or two gems for the future of Neath RFC when we come through it.
“Our supporters, while totally behind the lads who are on the park, are heart-broken and understandably very, very angry. I just hope that followers of both clubs are appreciative of everyone’s efforts in what is a unique situation which no club should endure and we must hope that common sense prevails in 2019.”
Pending one permit the team will be :-
Neath v Aberavon (Away)
15 Callum Hall; 14 James Roberts, 13 Aaron Bramwell (captain), 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Alec Jenkins, 10 Lewis Humphreys, 9 Morgan Evans; 1 Jonny Gethin, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Ben Uphill; 4 Scott Davies, 5 Rhys Morgan; 6 Craig Hill, 8 Thomas Jevons, 7 Alun Jones
Replacements : Connah Vaughan, Kieran Griffiths, Scott Hoskins, Ioan Jones, Ceri White, Dyfan Ceredig, Nathan Griffiths, Jon Bayliss
BRIDGEND 78 NEATH 5
Humiliating defeat at Bridgend was the outcome of the Neath Loyalists’ heroic efforts to field a team in the midst of their well-documented ownership problems.
Over 147 years – 154 for the purists – Neath’s fortunes have never been so low and the question must be asked how much more heart-break and punishment must the team and its supporters take.
The weak winter sun which greeted the teams was as pallid as Neath’s hopes against an organised Bridgend side that beat Aberavon – just – last time out.
Other than a neatly taken try by winger James Roberts – to huge cheers from the Neath support who travelled in good numbers – it was virtually one-way traffic.
For the record, Osprey Cai Evans gathered 33 points via 2 tries, 10 conversions and a penalty and other scores came from ex-Neath pair Aaron Grabham (2) and Jordan Collier, Ospreys’ duo Jack Pope and Connor Tantum (2), Nathan Edwards, Ben Jones and Iestyn Merriman.
But it all felt pretty hollow and the abiding memory will not be of the football played but of the repeated chants of “We Want Cuddy Out” from disgruntled Neath supporters who made their feelings plain.
Few Neath supporters questioned the commitment of the men in black, 17 of the 23 being on permit from 12 different clubs. Indeed, several did enough to suggest that they deserve further opportunities.
Recruiting around 75% of the squad from outside is a clear measure of how hard Neath’s beleaguered team of Loyalists worked to fulfil the fixture – but was it worth the trouble ? It really must not go on !
Neath have pulled out all the stops to field a team at Bridgend on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
Into the starting line-up come three Aberdare lads Garyn Payne and brothers Jordan and Jarrad Rees who have all played for Pontypridd while newly-transferred Glynneath lock Ioan Jones comes into the second row with former Bedwas man Craig Hill in the back row.
Captain Aaron Bramwell said, “Our remaining boys have pulled together but, with the injuries arising from the Llanelli game, our numbers are even more depleted. However, new players have taken the opportunity and will wear the Neath jersey with pride and we are very grateful to their clubs for releasing them on permit.”
Neath v Bridgend (Away)
15 Garyn Payne; 14 James Roberts, 13 Jarrad Rees, 12 Aaron Bramwell (captain), 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Jordan Rees, 9 Nathan Griffiths; 1 Adam Nation, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Tyla Murvai; 4 Lee Evans, 5 Ioan Jones; 6 Craig Hill, 8 Elis Hopkins, 7 Ceri White