MATCH REPORT: ABERAVON 27 points NEATH 14 points – Saturday, September 2nd 2023.
Neath’s return to the Premiership was rather spoiled by Aberavon who deserved to win the season’s opener at the Talbot Athletic Ground on a sunny Saturday evening as they were stronger at the set-pieces, had the better of play and out-scored the Blacks by four tries to two.
The two grand old senior clubs and their supporters were happy to be re-acquainted although, in the course of this fixture which goes back well over 140 years, they had never met before as early as the first Saturday in September.
And the early start obviously suited the home side as they hit Neath with a first minute try as wing Frankie Jones touched down after they got outside the Neath defence far too easily.
5-nil became 12-nil in the eighth minute when the home forwards drove towards the try-line and referee Mr. Ben Breakspear (Abercynon) ruled a penalty try and yellow-carded Neath hooker Sion Crocker in the process.
Neath’s patched-up scrum was already in trouble and Aberavon were well on top although the Blacks had a chance when outside-half Kristian Jones hit an upright with a penalty and the ball rebounded into play.
Opposite number James Davies showed how it should be done at the other end and 25 minutes were gone but Neath found it in themselves to get right back into the game and they rocked Aberavon with two quick-fire tries before half-time.
The Neath forwards, although second best at the set-pieces, were giving their all in the loose where newcomers lock Cai Arnold and flanker Ben Williams showed up well. They sustained possession through the phases and all of a sudden it was Aberavon who were back-pedalling.
A wave of Neath attacks saw Joe Hutchings, a replacement wing for the injured Ryan Griffiths, pop up in midfield and barge over for Neath’s first try at the posts and Kristian Jones duly added the points to make it 7-15.
Neath seemed to have found their way and another period of good ball retention and productive attack saw winger Dafydd Howells slide over for the second, Kristian Jones again doing the honours for 14-15 at half-time.
The second-half started in nip and tuck fashion but Aberavon’s forward strength was always evident and it came as no real surprise when a kick to the corner and a forward rumble produced a third home try for prop Rowan Jenkins, James Davies converting.
On 65 minutes, Neath brought on Carwyn Sion only for the young No.8 to be instantly yellow-carded – it cannot have been a case of personal persistent offending !
Next minute, Aberavon struck again through Frankie Jones and Davies converted to make it 27-14.
Still, Neath fought on but, if they needed evidence that it was not their day, it came when a second Kristian Jones penalty struck an upright and rebounded.
As the benches were emptied, Neath stepped up their search for a losing bonus point and scrum-half Elis Horgan headed for the posts but was recalled for a Neath penalty – his opposite number Rhodri Cole also suffered ill-fortune as he was led off with a shoulder injury.
There was nothing wrong with Neath’s fitness as the visitors finished strongly and the home side were forced into some pretty desperate defence and Aberavon’s replacement flanker Cerith Davies suffered another quick yellow card.
Then Steff Andrews was penalised as he went for an interception and Neath hit the corner in pursuit of a converted try but Aberavon scrambled a defensive line-out into touch and the final whistle sounded.
On this evidence, both sides have much to do. Aberavon, for all their forward power, were inconsistent outside while Neath need to knit their pack together in the absence of six of last year’s regulars.
Aberavon go to Bridgend next week while Neath will make their Lextan Gnoll bow against Carmarthen Quins (kick offs 2.30pm).
** The earliest Neath and Aberavon had met before this game was on the second Saturday in September in 1960 when Neath won 8-nil at The Gnoll through tries by lock David Davies and back rower David Richards, full back Graham Hodgson adding a conversion … Aberavon went on to win the 1960/61 championship !
ABERAVON – S.Andrews; J.Baker, B.Roderick, J.Gage (capt) (S.Delnevo), F.Jones; J.Davies (S.Jardine), R.Cole (A.Hemmings); R.Jenkins (J.Walters), L.Davies (C.Lewis), G.James (R.Fawcett); S.Smallman (S.Pailor), R.Hughes; B.Gregory, R.Thomas, C.Williams (Cerith Davies)
NEATH – L.Evans; D.Howells, R.Evans (capt), K.Charles, R.Griffiths (J.Hutchings); K.Jones, E.Horgan (Gruff Williams); J.Powell (E.Hopkins), S.Crocker (E.Kneath), G.W.Lloyd (C.Phillips); C.Arnold, J.Blackmore (I.Jones); B.Williams (C.Sion), M.Kneath, F.Kneath (G.Tremlett)
Referee – Mr. B.Breakspear (Abercynon)
Images courtesy of Len Kowalski www.lensworkphotography.co.uk