NEATH 17 BARGOED 40
Neath’s 2017 of few highs and far too many lows ended on a depressingly sad note when they were well beaten at home by Bargoed.
From the time Neath gifted visiting No.8 Ieuan Jones a try under the posts, there was only one winner as the Blacks turned in a very poor display, the likes of which they will not wish to repeat.
A couple of penalties by outside-half Matthew Lewis who converted the try put Bargoed firmly in control although Neath had their chances but lacked the set-piece control to take advantage of good positions.
They hit back with a penalty of their own by Ed Howley but generally the Neath forwards lacked the collective ambition and drive needed to succeed.
In fact, they were a pale image of the opposing eight and Bargoed extended their lead through a try on the stroke of half-time by flanker Jonathan Armitage.
After the interval, prop Keegan Bale put the visitors further ahead with a try which Lewis converted before Neath at last started to win some possession which allowed the backs a chance to show a glimpse of their capabilities.
A good ten minutes saw the Blacks add tries by replacement Chris Morgans off a sparkling break by acting-captain Gavin Evans who was making his 50th appearance and by debut-making 18 year old centre Sion O’Brien who was one of few to emerge with much credit.
Howley converted both to make it 17-25 and Neath briefly threatened a bonus point as they attacked again on the Bargoed line but it all came to nothing as Bargoed broke out and scored at the other end through full back Julian Mogg.
With the game a long time lost, Neath conceded two late tries to Ashley Norton and Mogg in as flat a performance as many supporters could remember.
Players and coaches must somehow raise themselves for a tilt at Cardiff next Saturday at The Gnoll because supporters’ patience, even allowing for all the injuries, is evidently wearing thin.
Fortunately, the Cup provides just the “one-off” opportunity to restore some battered pride; an injection of the old Neath fire is an absolute must.
Things need to change – and change quickly – in 2018 when all will be demanding an early upturn in fortunes and a re-assertion of traditional Neath values.
Neath kick-off the second phase of the re-united Premiership against Bargoed at The Gnoll on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
The Blacks have ground to make up following an injury-ravaged first half of the season. Hookers Sion Crocker and Aled Morris joined the casualty-list in the excellent local derby against Aberavon on Boxing Day so prop Geraint James moves across, Ryan Thomas and Ceri White coming in. Behind the scrum, Dan Guarneri and Jake Cole come in.
Neath v Bargoed (Home)
15 Dan Guarneri; 14 Ed Howley, 13 Gavin Evans (captain), 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 James Roberts ; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Jake Cole; 1 Neil White, 2 Geraint James, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Matthew Davies, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Rhys Jones, 8 Leon Ward, 7 Ceri White