NEATH 33 ABERDARE 7
Neath turned on the pace in the second-half to overcome spirited Aberdare at The Gnoll – but only after the visitors had enjoyed the better of the first-half.
Leon Ward was handed the captaincy on his 200th appearance in a much-changed Neath side which saw only Sam Court, Matthew Pearce and Jacob Blackmore retain their jerseys from the Cup game at Merthyr.
The match was played in incessant rain but both sides showed a willingness to handle the ball in a game well refereed by Mr. Jason Griffiths (Baglan). It was Aberdare, unbeaten in Division 2 East Central, who took the first-half honours as they carried the game to a rattled Neath side. Playing into the elements, the Blacks’ scrum showed its power early on but the visitors shocked Neath by taking the lead when a well-worked front of line-out move ended with lock Callum Owen striding out for a super try which centre Jamie Richards converted.
Running some good, hard lines, Aberdare were well worth their lead too as Neath struggled to get their game going. Hooker Ben Staton, No.8 Connor Parker and flanker Dafydd Stonelake were particularly impressive in the loose while behind the scrum, captain Thomas Hopkins kicked led intelligently and full back Jordan Coles was safety personified at full back. Neath had very little to cheer in the first-half although outside-half Dan Guarneri made good ground with his line-kicks from penalties and forwards Jacob Blackmore and Gareth Wyn Lloyd tried hard to inject some much-needed drive into a faulty forward effort.
However, a few choice words from coach Patrick Horgan saw a different Neath come out after half-time. Suddenly, the lethargy of the first half was forgotten, life and energy were instilled and, within five minutes, the Blacks levelled when scrum power paved the way for scrum-half Ross Pritchard to squirm over for his first try for the Club. Almost immediately Guarneri converted before the outside-half himself turned bad ball into good and went over and added the conversion points to make it 14-7. Neath had certainly picked up the pace and full back Jordan Rees then picked a superb line to cross for Neath’s third which Guarneri converted.
On the half hour, good combined work with Rees and Pritchard prominent saw flanker Jon Hill race in under the posts for Guarneri to make it 28-7 and the Blacks were in control. Aberdare introduced replacements including Lee Evans and Matthew Nuttall for nostalgic Gnoll re-appearances before Neath, with Geraint Workman a lively replacement, had the final word when James Roberts was freed on the left and the winger slid in at the corner for their fifth try.
Even allowing for all the changes, Neath will not have been at all happy with their first-half display and it should not have required an interval rollicking from the coaches to get them going. Full marks to Aberdare on their terrific first-half effort – they left The Gnoll with heads held high and evidently they are a good bet for promotion this season.
NEATH – Jordan Rees; S.Court, B.Atkins, M.Pearce (G.Workman), J.Roberts; D.Guarneri, R.Pritchard; I.James (D.Morgan), Iestyn Jones, G.W.Lloyd (S.Jones); J.Blackmore, Ioan Jones; J.Hill, L.Ward (capt), B.Lukes (T.Antozzi) (J.Barley)
ABERDARE – J.Coles; D.Thomas, J.Richards, J.Price, C.Mackie; T.Hopkins (capt), J.Parfitt; M.Griffiths, B.Staton, N.Terry; K.Parry, C.Owen; N.Millard, C.Parker, D.Stonelake Repl. M.Nuttall, P.Bevan, I.Archer, C.Davies, J.Williams, L.Evans, A.Morris
Referee – Mr. J.Griffiths (Baglan)
Neath entertain Aberdare on Friday evening at The Gnoll (7:15pm KO) and make wholesale changes from the side which played Merthyr in the Cup.
Leon Ward plays his 200th game and will lead the side from No.8.
Neath v Aberdare (Home) 7.15pm KO
15 Jordan Rees; 14 Sam Court; 13 Ben Atkins; 12 Matthew Pearce; 11 James Roberts, 10 Dan Guarneri; 9 Ross Pritchard.
1 Ifan James; 2 Iestyn Jones; 3 Gareth Wyn Lloyd; 4 Jacob Blackmore; 5 Ioan Jones; 6 Jon Hill; 7 Ben Lukes; 8 Leon Ward (Capt).
Supporters should note that season tickets will be valid for this match, Under-16’s FREE and all others £5.