BARGOED 10 points NEATH 13 points
A late penalty by teenage outside-half Iwan Evans gave Neath victory at the first time of asking against the Premiership new boys in teeming rain at Bargoed.
It was little more than the Blacks deserved because they held the upper hand for most of the game but battling Bargoed showed the spirit expected of them and drew on their superior scrummage to draw level with five minutes remaining.
Neath started well but full back Ed Howley missed two eminently kickable penalties and, when Neath over-threw at a lineout and play switched to the other end, Bargoed outside-half Sam Withers showed how it should be done to give them a 3-nil lead.
Despite the odd line-out malfunction, the Neath forwards were working hard and getting on top with the back row of skipper Jordan Collier, Charlie Davies and Alun Jones working well as a unit and the Blacks, showing improved discipline and therefore control, drew level midway through the half when Iwan Evans took over the kicking duties and landed a penalty.
The swarming Neath side imposed a stranglehold on Bargoed who found it difficult to sustain possession under such pressure. Conditions did not help and ball spillages were frequent and Neath pounced for the game’s first try when winger Alec Jenkins latched on to a loose ball and sped to the posts for Evans to convert to make it 10-3.
With the rain still pouring down, that was how it stayed until the interval and the second-half started in spectacular fashion when 18 year old No.8 Charlie Davies launched himself on a spectacular 35-metre run shredding the Bargoed defence. His pass found winger Aaron Grabham who was just tackled into touch in the act of scoring.
Neath continued to dominate territorially, rolling back Bargoed with a series of driving mauls, and, after Howley missed a speculative, long-range penalty both half-backs, Iwan Evans and the influential Chris Morgans who had a fine game at the base of the scrum, sent drop-kicks wide.
But the game took a twist on the 70th minute – Iwan Evans had propelled Neath to a line-out metres from the Bargoed line only for play to be dragged back into Neath half where prop Geraint James was yellow-carded on the touch judge’s advice. The one-man advantage gave Bargoed new life and they struck to level at 10-10 when they were awarded a penalty try from a scrummage and Withers converted.
Last season there may have been no way back but to Neath’s credit they swept back onto the offensive to earn a penalty in the Bargoed 22. Up stepped Iwan Evans to perform the heroics and, restored to 15 men for the game’s final act, Neath settled the spoils which overall they deserved and upset the book-makers’ odds.
After last season’s travails, along with all Neath supporters, coaches Gareth Llewellyn and Paul Williams were relieved to get the win which was hugely encouraging. But work remains to be done – especially at the set-pieces.
Captain Jordan Collier, the youngest leader in the Premiership, set a tremendous example which his charges followed to a man and he contented himself with a realistic, “Delighted with the win – but we can do much better.”
** Neath now move on to next Saturday’s Gnoll clash against RGC who won 20-3 at Bridgend. It will be the first chance to see the new-look All Blacks at home. Supporters should note that it is Fair Saturday so extra time should be allowed for travel.
Neath open their campaign in the re-structured Welsh Premiership with a visit to new-boys Bargoed (kick off 2.30pm).
The Welsh All Blacks expect a warm welcome at the newly-promoted side and a hostile atmosphere as Bargoed make their bow in the top level.
Last season, Neath beat Bargoed 29-22 in the WRU Cup but it was a close-run thing and Gareth Llewellyn’s young squad are under no illusions that only their best will be good enough.
“We could not have been handed a bigger or better first-day challenge really,” said the former Wales cap now coaching Neath.
“Bargoed are a strong side and we expect them to be fully revved up for the occasion. We have one of Wales’ top referees Craig Evans in charge so we need to be disciplined and accurate in all we do.”
“While their side is largely settled, we have a new squad so it is a big occasion for us too. We used pre-season to explore all our options so we need to settle quickly.”
Back row forward Jordan Collier captains the team which sees Neath debuts for centre Gavin Evans, prop Matt Jeffreys and back-rower Charlie Davies. Neath will come up against their former captain Lee Beach who is named in the second row for Bargoed.
Neath v Bargoed (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Alec Jenkins, 13 Gavin Evans, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Aaron Grabham; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Matt Jeffreys, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Leon Ward, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Charlie Davies, 7 Alun Jones
Replacements – 16 Neil White, 17 Aled Morris, 18 Callum Jones, 19 Lyndon Bateman, 20 Aled Cockwell, 21 Gwion Jones, 22 Dan Guarneri, 23 Matthew Pearce