NEATH 14 ABERAVON 22
Aberavon took the honours in a keenly-fought Boxing Day derby played in teeming rain and deteriorating conditions in front of an appreciative 2,500 crowd at The Gnoll.
Although the wind was not especially strong, it was a classic game of two halves, Neath dominating the Welsh-style “El Clasico” up to the break to establish an interval lead of 11-nil before Aberavon enjoyed the better of the second half.
Referee Gareth John deserves praise for controlling a fine derby match in which no quarter was asked for and none given – and, despite the elements, the match apparently compared most favourably with the televised fare on offer.
Neath made light of their injury problems to produce a first-half display of effective wet-weather rugby, dominating territorially and sending Aberavon into a spin with two penalties by full back Ed Howley before the Blacks registered the first try of the game by lock Matthew Davies from close-range.
Centre Matthew Pearce was always a force in midfield while young halves Iwan Evans and Scott Gibson kept the pot boiling for a pack in which hooker Sion Crocker, prop Geraint James and No.8 Leon Ward continually took the game to the opposition.
The Blacks might have added to their score, the ambitious long-passing game of Evans and Howley freeing wing James Roberts who was halted only by a magnificent last-ditch tackle by Aberavon’s Chris Banfield.
11-nil was a reasonable lead in the conditions but Aberavon were a different team after the break after a couple of astute introductions from the bench whence Ospreys’ prop Rowan Jenkins and livewire hooker Luke Davies made a big impression.
Seven minutes into the second-half, Aberavon opened their account when Neath were penalised and the visitors muscled their way to the line where replacement back rower Jacob Blackmore got the touchdown for outside-half Steff Williams to convert.
Neath hit back almost straightaway when Howley landed his third goal to make it 14-7 but then Neath imploded as a midfield move – over-intricate for the conditions – saw the ball spilled and Aberavon overcame stout Neath resistance for Blackmore’s second try which Williams goaled.
Howley missed a penalty but Aberavon now had the prize in sight and were every bit as on top as Neath had been in the first half. Mistakes proliferated and when Williams launched another bomb, Howley for once spilled it and the Resolven-based outside-half nipped in to seize upon the ball for the try.
His conversion attempt grazed the upright but Neath did not have enough on the bench to reverse the trend and minutes before the end when Williams put over a penalty to put Aberavon eight points ahead – and, hard as the Blacks tried to pull back a score, that was how it remained.
NEATH – E.Howley; J.Roberts, M.Pearce, G.Evans (capt), M.Evans; I.Evans, S.Gibson (Jake Cole); N.White (L.Tobias), S.Crocker (C.White), G.James (R.Thomas); M.Davies, J.Barley; R.Jones, L.Ward (D.Griggs), A.Morris (A.Cockwell)
ABERAVON – L.Popham (M.Wilson); S.Andrews, Joe Thomas, W.Price (capt), C.Banfield; Steff Williams, J.Flynn (I.Temblett); R.Forse (R.Jenkins), I.Davies (L.Davies), Jon Thomas; B.Thomas (Sam Williams), B.Jones; C.Price, L.Joseph, R.Dudley-Jones (J.Blackmore)
Referee – Mr. G.John (Chepstow)
A great rugby tradition continues when Neath play Aberavon at The Gnoll on Boxing Day (kick off 2.30pm).
15 Ed Howley; 14 James Roberts, 13 Matthew Pearce, 12 Gavin Evans (captain), 11 Mike Evans; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Neil White, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Matthew Davies, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Rhys Jones, 8 Leon Ward, 7 Aled Morris
Replacements :- 16 Liam Tobias, 17 Ryan Thomas, 18 Aled Cockwell, 19 David Griggs, 20 Ceri White, 21 Jake Cole, 22 Chris Morgans, 23 Dan Guarneri
Supporters are advised to present themselves at the turnstiles at the Town End of the ground early to avoid congestion – gates open 1.30pm.