NEATH 14 points BRIDGEND 17 points (FOSTER’S CUP)
A dramatic finish ended a fairly ordinary game at The Gnoll where Bridgend came from behind and survived a last-gasp Neath blast to edge the opening encounter in this year’s Foster’s Cup.
Both sides made mass changes from their sides which had registered encouraging League wins against Cardiff and Bedwas the previous Saturday.
Neath took the first-half honours with their scrum again to the fore but they were guilty of conceding a string of penalties when threatening in the opposition half and consequently it was a half bereft of tries.
Indiscipline blighted Bridgend too so there was little flow and Neath led at the interval 9-3 through two penalties by outside-half Iwan Evans who also dropped a goal (when the referee was playing advantage) to one by visiting opposite number Tadgh McGuckin.
In the second-half, Neath registered the first try when winger Aaron Grabham popped up on the opposite flank to get the touchdown. The two No.8 ‘s Calum Davies and Bridgend’s Ashton Evans tried hard to inject some direction but play was generally patchy.
Bridgend burst into life and hit back with a try by experienced centre Jamie Murphy which McGuckin converted and, reinforced by a useful bench, they went ahead when Ashton Evans touched down, McGuckin again converting.
Neath threw everything at them in a last desperate onslaught and, as the home forwards surged to the line, seemed headed for the match-winning try but superb last-gasp defence kept them out with Neath’s replacement lock Matthew Davies gang-handled into touch at the corner flag in the game’s final move.
Neath entertain Bridgend at The Gnoll on Wednesday (kick off 7.30pm) in the Foster’s Challenge Cup with coach Gareth Llewellyn calling on his team to repeat Saturday’s win against Cardiff.
“We led throughout against Cardiff,” said Llewellyn, “but it was tight at the end. For once though our performance brought the result but now we need to build on it.”
“We have made rapid strides at the set-piece – both our scrum and line-out again went well and we are making steady progress all round but we need to continue against Bridgend.
”There are changes as we need to rest two or three players who have played back-to-back for six games. We are building the squad and need to rotate – last Saturday’s bench will be in the starting line-up and we thank the local clubs who have boosted our resources.”
Lock Jonny Griffiths, one of two survivors from the pack which got the better of Cardiff, captains the much-changed Neath side which sees prop Callum Jones get his first start after showing well off the bench recently.
Lock Rhys Jones makes his first appearance after being injured pre-season playing for the Ospreys against Belgium and the only newcomer is Cardiff University’s former Italy Under-19 open side Sam Montieri who figures alongside Neath Athletic’s Aled Cockwell and Calum Davies.
The replacements’ bench features Neath Athletic three-quarter James Williams, Skewen outside-half Anthony Buselli, Crynant scrum-half Tom Sadler and Nantyffyllon lock Matt Davies who now plays for Maesteg.
With the weather set perfect for midweek rugby, Neath are anticipating a good crowd for their first midweek foray of the season and the team is :-
Neath v Bridgend (Home)
15 Gareth Morris; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Rory Morgan-Williams, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Ed Howley; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Josh Guy; 1 Callum Jones, 2 Aled Morris, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Jonny Griffiths (captain); 6 Aled Cockwell, 8 Calum Davies, 7 Sam Montieri
Replacements – 16 Ben Uphill, 17 Sion Crocker, 18 Geraint James, 19 Matthew Davies, 20 Leon Ward, 21 Tom Sadler, 22 Anthony Buselli, 23 James Williams