NEATH 30 BARGOED 12
A proper Neath team playing proper Neath rugby football in front of a proper Neath crowd took the spoils against a game Bargoed side who can count themselves unlucky to have come up against the most passionate Neath performance for many a day.
After three of the most traumatic weeks in Neath’s long and distinguished history which is still threatened by company complications, feelings are running high at The Gnoll and Bargoed stepped into a pretty febrile atmosphere in which the patched up and pumped up home team thrived.
The match programme cover heralded the message “Neath RFC Remembers” which was appropriate as The Gnoll club turned in a display which evoked fond memories of better days and maybe did justice to the spirit of their fallen World War heroes.
For heroic it was. After Bargoed had taken the lead with a try by winger Duane Dyer on the back of a suspiciously-looking forward pass, and converted by Josh Prosser, Neath were up against it. But the Blacks gradually fought back into the game : the scrum was solid, the line-out less so but newly-enthused Neath, showing a relish for the tackle, battled up-field and a typical Keiran Williams charge saw skipper Aaron Bramwell plunge over for a try which Callum Hall, playing on the wing, goaled easily.
Bargoed, well-drilled and confident, struck back with a fine second try by winger Ashley Norton and, with top referee Gwyn Morris accentuating the positive, only ball spillages stopped them going further ahead. But Neath’s spirit shone strongly in a combative forward effort and two fine Callum Hall penalties nudged them ahead 13-12 at the interval and the home side were cheered to a man as they retired to the dressing-rooms.
The Blacks made most of the running in the second-half and they deservedly extended their lead when former All Black centre Regan King scored his first try for the Welsh All Blacks, Hall again converting. Midway through the half, inspired Neath scored again when Callum Hall, by now switched to his more accustomed outside-half slot, took advantage of a ricocheted kick to touch down for his first try for the Blacks too and he added the conversion points for good measure.
The young Mountain Ash product also landed a third penalty for a 20-point haul and he saved a try with an enveloping tackle late on. Good enough for the Man of the Match award ? Normally perhaps but, on this occasion, the Supporters’ Club’s popular award went to the entire Neath team – an unprecedented honour. It was that kind of night and a pleasure to behold the joy on the sea of faces which cheered both sides at the end.
Former stalwarts Lee Evans, Marc Jones and Kevin James helped out their old club, the newcomers adapted brilliantly and the remaining Neath patriots – many of whom had points to prove – gave it everything on a night of high emotion. It would be unfair to single out any individuals in a genuine team performance by the full line-up :-
Aaron Bramwell (captain); James Roberts (Kevin James), Regan King, Keiran Williams, Callum Hall; Gavin Evans (Ian Ellis), Tom Briggs; Ben Uphill (Jonny Gethin), Sion Crocker (Garin Lloyd), Tyla Murvai (Marc Jones); Lee Evans, Rhys Morgan (Adam Harris); Elis Hopkins, Leon Ward, Ceri White (Iwan Davies) Other Replacement : Morgan Evans.
Proper Neath it was !
Aaron Bramwell captains a much-changed NEATH team to take on BARGOED at THE GNOLL on FRIDAY evening (kick off 7.30pm).
Scrum-half Tom Briggs (Kenfig Hill) makes his first start while stalwart Lee Evans lines up in the second row with Rhys Morgan (Trebanos).
The bench has a nostalgic air with former Gnoll favourites Kevin James and Marc Jones helping out their old Club in its hour of need alongside Jonny Gethin (Skewen), Adam Harris (Tondu), Iwan Davies (Trebanos) and Morgan Evans (Cross Keys).
Neath coaches Simon King, Paul Williams and Paul James united in saying, “This is not about those who have gone, it is about those who have stayed. And we are certain that the passionate Gnoll crowd will demonstrate their thanks and support to these loyal lads tomorrow night. Bargoed are a good, settled side but we have a committed side who will give it everything and wear the Neath jersey with pride.”
The squads are as follows :-
|15||AARON BRAMWELL||JULIAN MOGG||15|
|14||JAMES ROBERTS||DUANE DYER||14|
|13||REGAN KING||BARNEY NIGHTINGALE||13|
|12||KEIRAN WILLIAMS||DARREN HUMPHRIES||12|
|11||CALLUM HALL||ASHLEY NORTON||11|
|10||GAVIN EVANS||JOSHUA PROSSER||10|
|9||TOM BRIGGS||JANES LEADBEATER||9|
|1||BEN UPHILL||JON LAVENDAR||1|
|2||SION CROCKER||RHYS BUCKLEY||2|
|3||TYLA MURVAI||ALEX GARDNER-KEY||3|
|4||LEE EVANS||ASHLEY GIBSON||4|
|5||RHYS MORGAN||BRYCE MORGAN||5|
|6||ELIS HOPKINS||LEWIS JOHNSON||6|
|8||LEON WARD||ADAM POWELL||8|
|7||CERI WHITE||GRANT ROGERS||7|
|16||MARC JONES||IWAN BURGWIN||16|
|17||GARIN LLOYD||JORDAN PURCELL||17|
|18||JONNY GETHIN||JORDAN HOWELLS||18|
|19||ADAM HARRIS||CALLUM DAVIES||19|
|20||IWAN DAVIES||LOUIS BLACKER||20|
|21||MORGAN EVANS||DANIEL SUTER||21|
|22||KEVIN JAMES||LEWIS LIPPIETT||22|
|23||IAN ELLIS||RHYS MORGAN||23|
REFEREE – MR. GWYN MORRIS (CARDIFF)
ASSISTANT REFEREES – MR. RICHARD DEACY & MR. LLOYD HUGHES
NEXT HOME GAME – CARDIFF NOVEMBER 23rd 7.30pm
CARMARTHEN QUINS 41 NEATH 14
Neath’s tenth defeat of an already wretched season, exacerbated by off-field troubles, was not unexpected as they went down 5 tries to 2 to a well-drilled Carmarthen Quins side who did all that was necessary for a bonus point win.
The Gnoll club’s problems are coming home to roost and, with individual errors abounding and detracting from the whole-hearted efforts of others, it did not appear that all the Blacks wanted to play while on-song Quins looked keen and focussed.
The Blacks were pegged in their own half from the start and Quins’ stronger set-piece saw to it that they were rewarded as they efficiently built up a 20-nil lead by half-time, two tries by scrum half Gareth Rees, enjoying an armchair ride behind his pack, were converted by ex-Scarlets full back Aled Thomas who also kicked two penalties.
After the interval, despite some brave defence, two penalty tries (the second resulting in a yellow card for replacement lock Rhys Jones) and a hat-trick clinching effort by Rees converted by Thomas saw the score mount alarmingly.
Fortunately, the Blacks suddenly found it in them to attack strongly in the last quarter and registered tries by replacement hooker Garin Lloyd who peeled off a maul and by winger Mike Evans who made the most of a poor pass.
Evans and winger Ian Ellis looked dangerous as did replacement full back Aaron Bramwell while Keiran Williams was as effective as ever on his season’s bow. Up front, Sion Crocker, Jordan Collier and Lee Evans, helping out his old club on permit from Aberdare, were conspicuous.
Chris Morgans, an unlikely goal-kicker, converted both and injected some late direction but Quins were much the better side. Their determination and desire was not matched by the visitors and the Neath loyalists who comprised the majority in a meagre crowd are desperately worried – something must be done !
Apart from a couple of injuries, Neath have close to a full squad for the visit to CARMARTHEN QUINS on Friday evening (kick off 7.15pm).
Two familiar faces return to the Neath line-up with promising centre Keiran Williams making a welcome first appearance of the season and former back rower Lee Evans returning to assist his old club on permit from Aberdare after spells with Merthyr and Cross Keys.
The team is :-
Neath v Carmarthen Quins (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Ian Ellis, 13 Regan King, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Mike Evans; 10 Gavin Evans, 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Ryan Bean, 5 Scott Andrews; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Leon Ward, 7 Lee Evans
Replacements : 16 Luke Garrett, 17 Garin Lloyd, 18 Ryan Thomas, 19 Rhys Jones, 20 Ieuan Jones, 21 Lloyd Evans, 22 Chris Morgans, 23 Aaron Bramwell
NEATH 17 NEWPORT 20
Close but not close enough for Neath who probably had the better part of this game and were leading going into the final minutes but had their hopes of a first Premiership win dashed by a late Newport score.
Despite playing into a strong wind, Neath opened purposefully and their scrummage strength was evident as they enjoyed the better of the opening quarter and it was rather against the run of play that midway through the half Newport outside-half Matthew O’Brien gave the visitors the lead with a penalty for a wheeled scrum – typical of Neath’s luck this season as Newport resorted to this several times but escaped scot-free.
But Neath responded magnificently and, after some good work by hooker Sion Crocker, scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams was taken out by a nasty high tackle. After playing advantage, the referee came back and awarded Neath a penalty which was relatively light punishment for the offence.
Still, Neath kicked to touch and from the resultant line-out, lock Rhys Jones leapt highest and the Black forwards drove on for No.8 Ieuan Jones to touch down and full back Ed Howley’s superbly judged conversion gave the Blacks a lead they richly deserved. Newport’s Andrew Mann was harshly yellow-carded for apparently tipping Rhys Jones at the line-out and many a Neath man felt he had paid the penalty for the perpetrator of the earlier high tackle.
Neath’s lead did not last long though because, when home lock Scott Andrews drove strongly to the Newport 22 and was dispossessed, Newport flipped the ball wide and, with Neath’s defence organising too slowly, the end product was a try at the town end by full back David Richards, O’Brien’s easy conversion making it 10-7 to the visitors.
Neath were playing much better stuff than of late however and good build up play was rewarded when Crocker sent wing Mike Evans crashing over for their second try to make it 12-10 but, as is Neath’s unfortunate habit this season, they conceded a soft penalty bang on the whistle and O’Brien’s kick made it 13-12 at half-time.
The second-half started like the first. Scoring opportunities were few but Howley should probably made more of a chance on the left before confusion ensued as referee Mr. Wayne Davies (Llanelli) departed the field following a collision with a Newport player, continued, then departed and assistant Mr. Richard Brace (Maesteg) took over.
Neath were still looking good though and after a period of sustained movement and passing Howley went over to make it 17-13 to Neath. But back came Newport and after a yellow-card for replacement prop Luke Garrett the visitors struck with a late try which O’brien goaled to make it 17-20.
Neath could see the game disappearing from their grasp but had one final chance to redeem themselves. Spurning the chance of a penalty kick at goal which might have earned them another point, the Blacks kicked to the corner for a line-out. But Newport stole the ball, banged the ball out of play and, not for the first time, Neath were left to rue vital mistakes at key times.
In fairness, many Newport supporters felt that they were lucky to get away with this one but for Neath, it was a case of another winnable game that got away.
© 2018 Neath Rugby – Images courtesy of Len Kowalski @neathtog www.lensworkphotography.co.uk
Neath make several changes, two positional, for the visit of NEWPORT to The Gnoll on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm). The team is :-
Neath v Newport (Home)
15 Edd Howley 14 Ian Eillis 13 Regan King 12 Gavin Evans 11 Mike Evans 10 Ceiron Thomas 9 Ruben Morgan- Williams 1 Ben Uphill 2 Sion Crocker 3 Liam Tobias 4 Rhys Jones 5 Scott Andrews 6 Jordan Collier 7 Lloyd Evans 8 Ieuan Jones
Replacements: 16 Luke Garrett 17 Garin Lloyd 18 Tyla Murvai 19 Ryan Bean 20 Leon Ward 21 Ellis Hopkins 22 Chris Morgans 23 Calum Hall
Referee – Mr. Wayne Davies (Llanelli)
LLANDOVERY 30 NEATH 3
Few expected Neath to come away with much from Church Bank on Friday evening – and they were right !
In front of the BBC Scrum V cameras, Neath’s limitations were laid bare for all to see as the Blacks showed endeavour and enjoyed periods of possession but made far too many mistakes.
These let in Llandovery for four tries by prop Berian Watkins and full back Gavin Thomas in the first half then hooker Matthew Moore and replacement Lee Rees in the second-half.
Jack Maynard kicked a conversion and a penalty in the first-half to give Llandovery a 15-nil and he did the same after the break when full back Ed Howley landed a goal for Neath’s only points.
Skipper Jordan Collier again set a rousing example but Llandovery played with more vigour and method and really Neath rarely threatened and spent much of the time trying to play behind the gain-line.
There was little for the hardy Neath supporters who made the trip to enthuse over but sound enough debuts were made by lock Nathan Smith who worked hard and scrum-half Tom Briggs who showed some deft touches. Now for Newport at home !
Neath ring the changes behind for the visit to Llandovery on Friday (kick off 7.10pm) which is being televised live on Scrum V. The team is :-
Neath v Llandovery (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Ian Ellis, 13 Mike Evans, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 James Roberts; 10 Regan King, 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Luke Garrett, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Nathan Smith; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 7 Lloyd Evans, 8 Ieuan Jones
Replacements : 16 Ben Uphill, 17 Garin Lloyd, 18 Liam Tobias, 19 Leon Ward, 20 Elis Hopkins, 21 Aled Cockwell; 22 Tom Briggs, 23 Callum Hall
Referee – Mr. Adam Jones (Brecon)
NEATH 6 MERTHYR 34
Battling Neath gave it their all but were ultimately well beaten by high-riding Merthyr who led 17-3 at half-time, a score they were a little fortunate to double in the second-half when the Blacks held them in check for long periods.
Neath took first use of a strong wind but Merthyr took the lead with a try by wing Kyle Evans which full back Jarvis converted and Neath outside-half Callum Hall pegged them back with a penalty before another Merthyr try made it 12-3.
The Blacks then enjoyed a good period but, as the interval approached, captain Craig Locke used his considerable weight to barge over and, after the sin-binning of two errant props, it was 17-3 to the visitors with wind advantage to come.
Merthyr may well have expected to pull away in the second-half but they were held at bay by a dogged Neath effort. Once again, skipper Jordan Collier led by example, rocketing into tackles throughout, hooker Sion Crocker was as lively as ever and again the Neath scrum held up well.
Behind the scrum, full back Dan Guarneri and winger Ian Ellis were sound with the latter delivering one crunching tackle which warmed the crowd if not the recipient while Scott Gibson was a lively scrum-half.
The Blacks came close to scoring on a couple of occasions but had only a second Hall penalty to show for their efforts as the referee gave the visitors considerable leeway at tackles and scrums – such tolerance was not extended to Neath.
Merthyr added to their tally with tries by and flanker Perkins, replacement Williams and finally a break out try from a Neath attack which saw Baker score at the opposite end for the off-form Jarvis to convert,
Neath’s defeat by champions Merthyr was no big surprise but it was an improved, brave performance and now the Blacks move on to Llandovery on Friday when there will be no hiding place from the Scrum V cameras.
Neath ring the changes behind for the visit of Merthyr to The Gnoll on Saturday. The final place on a strong bench is subject to a fitness test :-
Neath v Merthyr (Home)
15 Dan Guarneri; 14 Ian Ellis, 13 Regan King, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Ryan Pugh; 10 Callum Hall, 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Luke Garrett, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Scott Andrews; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 7 Lloyd Evans, 8 Leon Ward
Replacements: 16 Ben Uphill, 17 Darren Hughes, 18 Liam Tobias, 19 Ryan Bean, 20 Elis Hopkins, 21 Ieuan Jones; 22 Owen Nesbitt, 23 A.N.Other
Referee – Mr. Rhys Jones (Pencoed)
MATCHDAY HOSPITALITY IS AVAILABLE:
PONTYPRIDD 76 NEATH 38
A crazy 114 points including 17 tries reflects a high octane game but it cannot be allowed to mask a shocking performance by the Welsh All Blacks whose indiscipline and defensive irresolution cost them dear.
It all started well enough for Neath who hit Pontypridd from the start with a fine try by centre Aaron Bramwell who just made the try-line before retiring with an injury recurrence. Full back Callum Hall converted but that was just about as good as it got for the Blacks as Pontypridd, encouraged by an abundance of penalties (mostly justified), took command through tries by prop Gareth Smith and wing Corey Howells.
Neath prop Ryan Thomas marked his 50th appearance with a yellow card and, as the penalty count raced into double-figures, the porous visitors’ defence conceded three more tries in the second quarter to captain Dafydd Lockyer, winger Dale Stuckey and Blues full back Ben Jones, veteran former Wales fly-half Ceri Sweeney converting two. Callum Hall landed a neat 40-metre penalty but at half-time it was 29-10 to Pontypridd.
The start of the second-half was 10 minutes old before Pontypridd scored first when No.8 Morgan Sieniawski crossed and Neath’s No.8 Ieuan Jones was binned. But 14-man Neath silenced the home crowd as they rocked Pontypridd with three tries in quick succession. Lock Ryan Bean regathered the restart to initiate a fine try by flanker Lloyd Evans before wing Ian Ellis quickly grabbed a second. Then Lloyd Evans started and finished a remarkable effort following his airborne re-start collection and a thumping run by Mike Evans. The immaculate Hall converted all three into the wind and suddenly Neath were back in it at 31-36.
5 points in arrears with 20 minutes remaining should have spelled a competitive last quarter finish. But far from it, Neath’s late fade-outs have been a feature of the season – the Blacks cannot be accused of being an 80-minute team this term and, looking increasingly ragged, they collapsed into disgrace. Scrum-half Jamie Hill got a try, Smith and Stuckey both got their second scores before centre Alex Knott, flanker Rhys Shellard and replacement Joe Popple got on the score-sheet, Sweeney converting five of them.
Neath had the last word when, after a couple of good carries by replacement Elis Hopkins, Ian Ellis sped away for their fifth try and Hall converted to bring to an end an entertaining game for those who like that kind of stuff. To go to Pontypridd and score five tries is one thing; but to concede 12 is another – and, if the alarm bells were not already ringing at The Gnoll, they must be now and should send every player running to the analysis-room to examine his part in it.
PONTYPRIDD – B.Jones; C.Howells (A.Webber), A,Knott. D.Lockyer (captain), (T. Riley), D.Stuckey; C.Sweeney, J.Hill (D.Francis); I.George (H.Owen), H.Dowden (J.Page), G.Smith (J.Popple); S.Smallman, C.Dicomidis; L.Evans (R.Jones), M.Sieniawski (S.Jenkins), R.Shellard.
NEATH – C.Hall; I.Ellis, A.Bramwell (J.Roberts, R.Pugh), G.Evans, M.Evans; R.King, C.Morgans (D.Guarneri); L.Garrett (B.Uphill), S.Crocker (D.Hughes), R.Thomas (L.Tobias); R.Jones (E.Hopkins), R.Bean; J.Collier (captain) (C.White), I.Jones, L.Evans
Referee – Mr. Jason Morris (Rhigos)
Winger Mike Evans returns after injury and prop Ryan Thomas plays his 50th game when Neath visit Pontypridd.
The Neath team to play Pontypridd at Sardis Road on Saturday is :-
Neath v Pontypridd (Away)
15 Callum Hall; 14 Mike Evans, 13 Aaron Bramwell, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Ian Ellis; 10 Regan King, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Luke Garrett, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Ryan Bean; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 7 Lloyd Evans, 8 Ieuan Jones
Replacements : 16 Ben Uphill, 17 Darren Hughes, 18 Liam Tobias, 19 Elis Hopkins, 20 Ceri White, 21 Scott Gibson, 22 Dan Guarneri, 23 Ryan Pugh
Referee – Mr. Jason Morris (Rhigos)
NEATH 17 EBBW VALE 25
There is a fine line between success and failure – and Neath again failed to cross it in this marvellous exhibition of Welsh Premiership rugby.
A chance taken, a mistake made, an official’s whim – anything can make the difference and Neath are coming down too often on the wrong side.
Late withdrawals forced Neath into three changes behind the scrum where Callum Hall, Chris Morgans and Iwan Evans came in and perfect, warm conditions greeted the sides and The Gnoll looked a picture in the late September sunshine.
Neath kicked off towards the Union end and were soon into their stride. Their positive attacking intent was immediately evident as they hit Ebbw Vale with some some handling and running and might have scored even before the fourth minute when emergency winger Chris Morgan took lock Ryan Bean’s pass wide out to score and full back Callum Hall converted.
Neath’ scrum was again well on top but they got scant reward for it – perplexing when one considers how the Blacks used to suffer back in the days when it was not in the ascendancy !
Still, running the ball at every opportunity with the handling skills of Regan King, slotting into the 10 shirt, most prominent, the Blacks set a fast pace which had Vale reeling and it was no surprise when impressive No.8 Ieuan Jones crossed for their second try, Hall again converting and adding a penalty as Neath surged into a 17-nil lead which they held at half-time.
But Neath’s poetry of the first half was muted after the interval when, quite simply, they were unable to prise the ball from Vale’s eager grasp. There was little wrong with Neath’s defensive organisation – and some of the home side’s tackling led by Jordan Collier was positively heroic – but twice individuals fell off tackles and twice Vale profited through tries by wing Paul King and full back Dan Haymond.
With Rhys Jones converting the former, Carl Meyer and Jones banging over penalties, Vale now led by a point and their joy was complete and visiting players leapt into the air when lock Lance Randall crossed for a third try in the 70th minute and Jones converted.
Neath fought back and got their hands on the ball. Home supporters felt they should have been awarded a penalty for a high tackle on Iwan Evans but none was awarded and, to the dismay of both sides, the referee blew up without recourse to injury time.
It was a classic game of two halves with neither side ever threatening to score at the Town end and it was a close run thing. But Sunday’s result from Parc-y-Scarlets means that the outcome is that Vale went top, Neath went bottom … a fine line indeed !
Neath make four starting changes when they entertain second-placed Ebbw Vale at The Gnoll on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
Behind the scrum, Ashley Evans returns on the wing while Regan King – the first New Zealand All Black to play for the Welsh All Blacks – comes in at outside-half with Callum Hall on the bench against his old club.
Up front Darren Hughes comes in at hooker with Ryan Bean getting his first start of the season in the second row.
Neath v Ebbw Vale (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Ashley Evans, 13 Aaron Bramwell, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Ian Ellis; 10 Regan King, 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Darren Hughes, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Ryan Bean, 5 Scott Andrews; 6 Jordan Collier, 7 Lloyd Evans, 8 Ieuan Jones
Replacements: 16 Luke Garrett, 17 Sion Crocker, 18 Ryan Thomas, 19 Leon Ward, 20 Elis Hopkins, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Callum Hall. 23 Iwan Evans
Referee – Mr. Wayne Davies (Llannon)
Note – Admission (via turnstiles at Town End) – Adults £10, Under-16’s FREE
SWANSEA 25 NEATH 12
Disappointing Neath slipped to a fourth League defeat when they were beaten by Swansea at St. Helen’s in a dour game which produced but one try.
Weather conditions were poor given the weekend’s torrents although the pitch itself was fine. Neath, playing with the wind from the town end, were soon in the ascendancy thanks to their powerful scrum which had Swansea in trouble.
Two long-range penalties by full back Ed Howley fired Neath in front and he quickly added a third to make it 9-nil to the visitors inside 10 minutes
But Swansea countered with what was to be the game’s only try when lock Tudor Hughes barged over near the posts for Luke Griffiths to convert and the full back nudged Swansea ahead with his first penalty of the afternoon before Howley restored Neath’s lead with his fourth penalty to make it 12-10 to Neath at the interval.
That lead was surrendered early in the second-half as Neath, coming under increasing pressure, conceded penalties and Griffiths banged over five kicks in a commendable display which brought him 20 points.
In the midst of it all, Neath threatened occasionally with No.8 Ieuan Jones leading the charge and skipper Scott Andrews lending great support. Regan King, debuting as a replacement, showed his undoubted class which will surely bring benefits in games to come and Neath pegged Swansea in their 22 only for an interception to deny them a try.
Swansea’s stronger line-out driving and Griffiths’ boot were more than enough to keep Neath at bay and the Blacks are now in real trouble in 14th spot. Supporters will be hoping that the team pulls together and raises its effort for next week’s home game with Ebbw Vale to at least salvage something out of the opening month.
Neath make the short trip to St. Helen’s to play Swansea on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm) with both sides seeking their first Premiership win.
After losing at Cross Keys where they gleaned two bonus points and may well have won, the Welsh All Blacks make a number of changes from last week’s starting line-up. Behind the scrum, Scott Gibson returns at scrum half with Ryan Pugh on the wing and Ed Howley at full back.
Up front Ben Uphill, Sion Crocker and Liam Tobias take over in the front row while Jordan Collier and Lloyd Evans are fit to resume in the back row. The replacements’ bench is yet to be confirmed depending on availabilities but may include former New Zealand star Regan KIng.
Neath v Swansea (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Ryan Pugh, 13 Aaron Bramwell, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Ian Ellis; 10 Callum Hall, 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Jon Barley, 5 Scott Andrews (captain); 6 Jordan Collier, 7 Lloyd Evans, 8 Ieuan Jones
Referee – Mr. Gareth Newman (Cardiff)
CROSS KEYS 36 NEATH 30
Two points gained, three points lost – that was the verdict of Neath supporters leaving verdant Pandy Park with mixed emotions.
Playing uphill, Neath conceded a penalty, Keys kicked for the line-out and their outside half Jason Tovey ran through a gaping hole between Gavin Evans and Ryan Thomas to send centre Srdan Majkic over for the game’s opening try. Tovey converted and added a penalty before Neath hit back with a penalty by outside-half Callum Hall.
Keys seemed to be getting the benefit of all the marginal calls but a correct decision saw Tovey land his second penalty before the Welsh All Blacks forced their way up-field and a series of drives at the Keys line eventually created out the space for full back Dan Guarneri to score.
The visitors were reduced to 14 men after around 30 minutes when former Keys hooker Darren Hughes was sent to the sin bin but Neath finished the half strongly and hard-running centre Aaron Bramwell broke through to cross for Neath’s second try of the game. Callum Hall added the conversion for a 15-13 interval lead which would have been far greater had Neath not squandered at least three try-scoring opportunities.
Keys caught Neath unaware at the start of the second half. Still with 14 men, the Blacks should have been alert to a strong Keys start; they weren’t and Keys hit them for 20 points in a 10-minute blast which settled the game.
A scrum penalty saw Tovey kick his third penalty of the day from in front of the posts before the Keys props were allowed to run further than they ought with Neath tacklers conspicuous by their absence and scrum half Owain Leonard went under the posts.
Tovey converted, added his fourth penalty and then created and added the points to Keys’ third try by winger Wes Cunliffe. To their credit, Neath shook themselves out of their inertia and a splendid passing movement freed winger Ian Ellis who beat his man to score in the corner and reduce the arrears to 20-33 with a quarter of the game left.
Keys calmed their nerves when Tovey landed his fifth penalty taking him to 21 points but Neath evidently had a lot left in the tank. The powerful All Black eight still had the better of Keys not least at the scrums and Neath assured themselves of a bonus point when a series of scrums on the Keys line saw the home side infringe repeatedly. The penalty try made it 27-36 with five minutes remaining.
The clock was ticking when Keys lost prop Corey Hewlett binned for illegally attempting to thwart Neath’s scrum and, after concerted pressure, Neath claimed a second point on time when replacement Iwan Evans kicked a straightforward penalty.
Another few minutes may have brought victory but Neath were left regretting slow starts to each half which led to 27 points, too many penalties awarded against them which Tovey joyfully kicked and, above all, too many missed tackles – from re-starts and from general play. Neath will be seeking quick improvements ahead of Saturday’s visit to Swansea.
Neath visit Cross Keys on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm) hoping it will be a case of third time lucky after defeats at RGC and Bridgend.
The Welsh All Blacks make a number of changes from last week’s starting line-up. Behind the scrum, Ian Ellis returns on the wing while up front Luke Garrett, Darren Hughes and Ryan Thomas start in the front row. Elis Hopkins returns to the back-row alongside Aled Cockwell. Scott Hicks and Iwan Evans figure on the replacements’ bench.
Neath v Cross Keys (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Ashley Evans, 13 Aaron Bramwell, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Ian Ellis; 10 Callum Hall, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Luke Garrett, 2 Darren Hughes, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Jon Barley, 5 Scott Andrews (captain); 6 Elis Hopkins, 7 Aled Cockwell, 8 Ieuan Jones
Replacements – 16 Ben Uphill, 17 Sion Crocker, 18 Liam Tobias, 19 Ryan Bean, 20 Scott Hicks, 21 Scott Gibson, 22 Dan Guarneri, 23 Iwan Evans
Referee – Mr. Gareth John (Chepstow)
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: