NEATH 31 points ABERAVON 33 points
Aberavon edged an entertaining Foster’s Cup match at The Gnoll, deserving the spoils on the back of a 5-4 try count.
Neither side was at full-strength but both will take some satisfaction from the displays of some of the irregulars on show and, for youthful promise, few did better than 19 year old referee Abercynon referee Ben Breakspear who contributed to an open game which gave the crowd plenty to enthuse over.
Neath took the lead after two minutes when outside-half Dan Guarneri kicked a penalty but they failed to collect the re-start and Aberavon went in front through a try by full back John Phillips which outside-half Steffan Williams converted. The visitors soon doubled their score, speedy wing Shaun Pearce touching down for Williams to convert.
This shook Neath into action; the home forwards had already established a strong scrum advantage with plenty of drive based on the front-row of Callum Jones, Sion Crocker and Geraint James and Neath rapidly got three tries, all of which emanated from scrums. A quickly-taken tap penalty by scrum-half Chris Morgans led to a try by No.8 Scott Hicks. A scrum penalty then gave Morgans the opportunity to send in Hicks for his second and further scrum pressure saw Morgans score himself after a break by centre Gavin Evans.
But, as half-time beckoned, Aberavon got back within a point as Pearce capitalised on a through kick when the Neath cover defence was conspicuous by its absence. That made it 3 tries apiece and 20-19 to Neath at halftime.
Aberavon struck first in the second-half. Neath were down to 14 men as the home team’s lively replacement lock Tom Hayward fell foul of the harsh new high tackle regime – the Blacks had a chance to clear their lines but a loose kick resulted in visiting flanker Rob Dudley-Jones crossing for Aberavon’s fourth try and Williams converted.
It was Aberavon’s turn to lose a player when prop Jonny Thomas was sin-binned after illegally trying to thwart Neath’s scrum dominance and Neath full back Rory Morgan-Williams (who had moved to outside-half when Guarneri left the field) pulled back three points when Aberavon gave away a professional foul penalty which had the crowd calling for a yellow-card.
Morgan-Williams levelled the scores at 26-26 when under-pressure Aberavon conceded another penalty. Neath threw everything at Aberavon but mangled two quick-penalty attempts and the visitors came again when replacement scrum-half Joe Williams crossed for their fifth try which was well converted again by Williams. The Blacks kept going and got their fourth try when wing Geraint Llewellyn squeezed in at “Edmunds’ Corner” but the conversion attempt was nowhere near and Aberavon ended winners by two points.
Plusses for Neath were the promising displays by young loose head prop Callum Jones in another strong scrummaging effort, lock Tom Hayward and No.8 Hicks while Colts back rower Elis Hopkins made an encouraging debut from the bench. Aberavon were slicker behind with hooker Gareth Harvey and lock Ben Davies their liveliest forwards. Neath’s only hope of progress now lies in a big, bonus-point win at Bridgend next Wednesday coupled with an unlikely Aberavon defeat by Cardiff.
Having completed “Phase One” of their Principality Premiership campaign with an uninspiring win over Swansea, Neath turn their attention to the Foster’s Cup and Aberavon at The Gnoll on Wednesday evening (kick off 7.30pm).
The “central” Pool is by far the most interesting with just 3 points covering leaders Bridgend (14), Aberavon (12) and Neath (11) and only Cardiff (5) out of the running.
In the other pools, Carmarthen Quins have already won the “western” group, Merthyr have all but won the “valleys” group while Newport or Bedwas will take the Gwent honours.
Centre Keiran Williams, outside-half Luke Price, hooker Ifan Phillips and flanker Charlie Davies are all required for Ospreys BIC duty while scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams and flanker Josh Cole are not yet ready to resume. Ed Howley, in outstanding form recently, has also earned an Ospreys invitation.
Neath make several squad changes with former Cardiff player Geraint Llewellyn making his first start after a couple of fleeting appearances off the bench. Promising loose-head prop Callum Jones and Maesteg No.8 Scott Hicks start again with young forwards Tom Hayward and Elis Hopkins (Neath Athletic) and Skewen winger Matthew Billett on the bench.
Neath v Aberavon (Home)
15 Rory Morgan-Williams; 14 Geraint Llewellyn, 13 Matthew Pearce, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Kristian Corbisiero; 10 Dan Guarneri, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Callum Jones, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Leon Ward, 8 Scott Hicks, 7 Jordan Collier (captain)
Replacements – 16 Aled Morris, 17 Neil White, 18 Ryan Thomas, 19 Lyndon Bateman, 20 Tom Hayward, 21 Elis Hopkins, 22 Josh Guy, 23 Matthew Billett
Referee – Mr. Ben Breakspear (Aberdare)
REMINDER TO NEATH SUPPORTERS – SEASON-TICKETS ARE ELIGIBLE FOR THIS GAME