MATCH REPORT: CARDIFF 9 NEATH 20 – (03-02-2017)

CARDIFF 9 points NEATH 20 points
Hard-working Neath launched the second phase of the Principality Premiership campaign with a well-deserved second Arms Park victory of the season – and created a little piece of history in doing so.

Cardiff had first use of a strong wind and they soon launched their big forward runners. Neath lost flanker Calum Davies to a shoulder injury after seven minutes but two minutes later the Blacks took the lead with a penalty by Ed Howley into the wind. Cardiff levelled through outside-half Gareth Thompson and Neath lost winger Kristian Corbisiero with a knee injury but the Blacks were beginning to assert themselves with another strong scrum effort led by Ben Uphill, Sion Crocker back to his lively best and Geraint James who was conspicuous in all phases.

Former international Gavin Evans still has an incredible zest for the game and he led a strong Neath back-line and was always keen to counter-attack but there was no further score in the first-half although Howley was unlucky with two well-struck penalties which just faded left into the wind.

Cardiff came out strongly after the interval but the Neath defence handled all that they had to contend with. The excellent back-row of Leon Ward, Scott Hicks and Jordan Collier was well up to the task and were ever-eager to take the game to Cardiff too. A second Thompson penalty was immediately cancelled out by a Howley boomer from the halfway.

The game took an unusual turn on 58 minutes when the referee reversed a penalty decision to Neath and yellow-carded Neath lock Jon Barley for bit of gentle retribution. Thompson, Cardiff’s best attacker, kicked the resultant goal and numerically reduced Neath should have been up against it.

But Cardiff dropped the kick-off, 14-man Neath swooped on the ball and lock Rhys Jones (another beginning to produce the form of which he is capable) fed wing replacement Geraint Llewellyn, scrum-half Chris Morgans slipped the ball for skipper Collier to touch down for the game’s opening try. Howley converted and Neath’s instant riposte saw them lead 13-9.

Playing a man short seemed to have a galvanising effect on Neath and they struck again for a second try. Hicks and strong running centre Matthew Pearce (who had another fine game) made good ground, the lively Morgans made a telling impact and Geraint Llewellyn rounded it off with a try in the corner which Howley, almost nonchalantly, goaled from wide out to make it 20-9 to Neath.

Cardiff tried hard to rally but could not pierce the Neath ranks and the Blacks broke away through Morgans and Llewellyn sped away only to lose the ball. The game finished when a well-placed Pearce kick saw wing Aaron Grabham just beaten to the touchdown by the last Cardiff defender.

It was a strong performance by Jordan Collier and his men whose 10th win of the season cast them in the unlikely role of history-makers as this was the fourth time Neath have beaten Cardiff this season. Unprecedented certainly (the sides have never met 4 times in a season before) and, although life has changed for these two famous old clubs in the under-attack club game, it is a notable achievement indeed.


MATCH PREVIEW
Neath kick off Phase Two of the Premiership when they head to the Arms Park again to meet Cardiff on Friday (kick off 7.30pm) looking to repeat their earlier Foster’s Cup success on the ground.

Josh Guy comes in at scrum-half and the Welsh All Blacks overhaul their pack after last week’s 36-21 win over Narberth with Ben Uphill coming into the front row, Jon Barley returning to the second row and Scott Hicks, newly transferred from Maesteg, joining the back-row.
Former Welsh international Gavin Evans has committed to Neath for a further season and he continues in the outside-half role he reprised against Narberth. Iwan Evans and Dan Guarneri remain on the injured list but could come into contention for selection next week.

Neath v Cardiff (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Rory Morgan-Williams, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Kristian Corbisiero; 10 Gavin Evans, 9 Josh Guy; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Scott Hicks, 7 Calum Davies
Replacements –16 Aled Morris, 17 Neil White, 18 Callum Jones, 19 Jonny Griffiths, 20 Leon Ward, 21 Tom Sadler, 22 Chris Morgans, 23 Geraint Llewellyn

Referee – Mr. Mike English (Monmouth)