MATCH REPORT: NEATH 23 BRIDGEND 14 -(18-11-2016)

NEATH 23 points BRIDGEND 14 points
Neath got the victory their greater control deserved as these two old rivals served up winter warmth on a chill evening at The Gnoll.

Bridgend entered the game on a run of five wins from six but, after a few near misses, Neath were determined to nail this one down although it was the visitors who took the lead through a penalty by their full back Joseph Scrivens which opposite number Ed Howley soon levelled, punishing Bridgend’s fast wheel at a scrum, with a magnificent strike from 48 metres.

From the early stages, Neath’s scrummage strength asserted itself. The front row of Neil White, Aled Morris and Ryan Thomas gave their opposite numbers a torrid time and Bridgend’s cause was not helped when heavy tight-head Keiron Jenkins left the field.

Neath were exerting pressure through their forwards with the backs eager to handle. The Blacks took the lead when winger Aaron Grabham, the Premiership’s top try-scorer, made full use of a loose Bridgend kick to collect his own kick ahead to dab down for his 12th try in all games this season, Howley adding the conversion points to make it 10-3.

A second penalty by the impressive Scrivens brought it back to 10-6 and right on half-time and, it must be said, slightly against the run of play, Bridgend stole the lead with a third try in as many games for winger Ryan Griffiths as the Neath defence paused for a forward pass. The Blacks did not deserve to be trailing but the 10-11 interval scoreline served as a timely warning that greater accuracy was demanded in the second-half if their efforts were to be rewarded.

On the resumption, Neath were soon on the offensive and wasted little time in getting back in front as Howley kicked his second penalty after a silly trip by Bridgend’s experienced centre Jamie Murphy. The Blacks laid siege to the Bridgend line as their forward power established command with lock Lyndon Bateman often to the fore.

Bridgend defended stubbornly but, after conceding five consecutive penalties on their own try-line (and a yellow card on penalty three), the tolerance of referee Mr. Dai Cambourne finally cracked and he awarded Neath the penalty try their scrummage strength merited.

Howley’s conversion made it 20-11 but Scrivens landed his third penalty from long-range – ironically from a scrum where Bridgend were in distinct trouble throughout – but the Blacks were soon back on the attack with replacements Ifan Phillips with his zip and Chris Morgans with his kicking keeping the Black pot boiling.

A 6-point lead was never safe though and Neath were in search of another score. Strong-running centres Matthew Pearce and Gavin Evans were a constant threat for Neath but not for nothing are Bridgend possessed of one of the best defensive records in the Division.

Bridgend could not break out and, with Neath attacking to the end, acting-captain Leon Ward who led the side well in the absence of Jordan Collier celebrated his status as Neath’s most experienced player by handing a last-minute penalty to Ed Howley and the full back fired over to seal a good win over doughty opponents whose victories over Cross Keys, Bedwas, Newport and Merthyr have come against sides who have beaten Neath. Next up for Neath, it’s Llanelli home next at Saturday (kick off at the earlier 1.30pm).


MATCH PREVIEW
Neath host Bridgend at The Gnoll on Friday (kick off 7.30pm) in the Principality Premiership with the Welsh All Blacks looking to end a 3-match losing run.

The Welsh All Blacks again rotate their squad and coach Gareth Llewellyn said, “After leading at half-time we were eventually well beaten at Merthyr last week. Merthyr themselves were well beaten at Bridgend the week before so Bridgend will probably fancy their chances.

“But our boys will have something to say about that and are in determined mood. We make squad rotations and picked up one or two injuries including Jordan Collier our captain so Leon Ward will lead the team again.

“We were disappointed that the referee took our scrum out of it last week because that has been a strong area for us and our pace behind is causing sides problems. We expect Bridgend to come with a strong kicking game which has brought them success recently and it should be good Friday night entertainment.”

Neath v Bridgend (Home)

Neath – 15 Dan Guarneri; 14 Ed Howley, 13 Matthew Pearce, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Aaron Grabham; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Josh Guy; 1 Neil White, 2 Aled Morris, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Jonny Griffiths, 5 Lyndon Bateman; 6 Leon Ward (captain), 8 Charlie Davies, 7 Calum Davies
Replacements – 16 Ifan Phillips, 17 Callum Jones, 18 Geraint James, 19 Ryan Jones, 20 Aled Cockwell, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Rory Morgan-Williams, 23 Kristian Corbisiero

Bridgend – 15 Jamie Murphy; 14 Ryan Griffiths, 13 Joseph Gatt, 12 Ryan Evans, 11 Mike Powell; 10 Joseph Scrivens, 9 Will Baird; 1 Cai Lewis, 2 Jordon Liney, 3 Keiron Jenkins; 4. Kyle Evans, 5 Jack Pope; 6 Matthew John, 8 Ashton Evans (captain), 7 Gareth Beer
Replacements – 16 Iestyn Merriman, 17 Nicky Boyce, 18 Rhodri Apsee, 19 Jonny Kenny, 20 Owain Lloyd, 21 Connor Tantum, 22 Garin Lougher, 23 Ryan Davies


MATCH PREVIEW
Neath host Bridgend at The Gnoll on Friday (kick off 7.30pm) in the Principality Premiership with the Welsh All Blacks looking to end a 3-match losing run.

Coach Gareth Llewellyn said, “After leading at half-time we were eventually well beaten at Merthyr last week. Merthyr themselves were well beaten at Bridgend the week before so Bridgend will probably fancy their chances while our team is in determined mood.

“There will be changes as we will rotate our squad as usual and make one or two adjustments to counter Bridgend’s kicking style which has brought them recent success.

“We need to exploit our set-piece strength and keep our error count low whilst remaining true to our attacking intent.” (Team selection will appear here as usual Thursday night).