BRIDGEND 40 NEATH 21
After this inexcusably sub-standard display, Neath’s team management know just where Liverpool AFC manager Jurgen Klopp was coming from when he observed after his side had taken a hiding at Leicester that “inconsistency is a sign of development.”
Now the hero of the Kop is a wise old bird and, although he did not say so, Klopp no doubt realises that inconsistency can be the sign of other shortfalls too – and Neath have plenty to digest from this game.
The methods which brought Neath recent League successes went out of the window – 11 changes from the last game did not assist but neither should they excuse such a dramatic fluctuation and a series of really shocking errors handed Bridgend some simple scores.
The deficiencies were there from early in the game. At the end of a first-half in which nearly all the play took place between the half-way line and the Bridgend 22, Neath led 14-12 through tries by hooker Aled Morris and Ed Howley, playing on the wing.
Howley converted both superbly from wide out but the Neath scores were more or less wiped out by two absolute gift tries for home wing Mike Powell, outside-half Jacob Lloyd converting the first.
Far from remedying their slackness after the interval, Neath continued on their merry way, showing alarming generosity in virtually all they did.
A certain try for Aaron Grabham was wasted on one of several forward passes, No.8 Leon Ward was halted short of the line and when play switched to the Neath 22, the lead was promptly handed to Bridgend as scrum-half Conor Tantum scampered through a negligent Neath defence to score at the posts for Lloyd to convert.
The trend of individual errors continued as Neath conceded two further soft tries – a touchline-glancing effort by replacement scrum-half Geraint Watkins and an out-of-hand present to centre Garan Loughor, Lloyd converting both.
Neath did hit back with a third try by 19 year old flanker Charlie Davies who, like his captain Jordan Collier alongside him, carried strongly and tirelessly all day.
Again, Howley converted but, with Neath replacement Tom Hayward consigned to the sin-bin, Bridgend had the final word when Ospreys’ Exeter-bound wing Tom O’Flaherty eluded the defence for the home team’s sixth try which Lloyd converted.
Among few crumbs of comfort for Neath was the debut of teenage centre Max Llewellyn who made a sound enough debut and, it must be said, displayed more poise than one or two around him.
One thing is certain, it will have to be a very different Neath which takes the field against Aberavon next week – Klopp’s charges bounced back immediately by beating mighty Arsenal … and Neath need to do the same !
Neath head to the Brewery Field to play Bridgend on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
The Welsh All Blacks’ side is much-changed from that which lost last time out to Cross Keys in the Cup. Dan Guarneri returns at full back, outside-half Iwan Evans resumes after suffering an injury against Carmarthen Quins in December and he is partnered by Josh Guy, while centre Max Llewellyn, son of coach Gareth, makes his debut after completing his stint with the Blues Under-18’s.
Up front, Neil White, Aled Morris and Geraint James take over in the front row with Jonny Griffiths and Charlie Davies also returning.
Neath v Bridgend (Away)
15 Dan Guarneri; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Max Llewellyn, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Ed Howley; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Josh Guy; 1 Neil White, 2 Aled Morris, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Jonny Griffiths; 6 Charlie Davies, 8 Leon Ward, 7 Jordan Collier (captain)
Replacements -16 Sion Crocker, 17 Callum Jones, 18 Ryan Thomas, 19 Tom Hayward, 20 A.N. Other, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Rory Morgan-Williams, 23 Gavin Evans
Referee – Mr. Stephen Allsop (Caldicot)