NEATH 13 CARDIFF 15
With 16 of their 32 registered players out of action and their 6-man Academy allocation again unavailable, injury-ravaged Neath did well to fulfil this fixture let alone push Cardiff to the limit, losing the game to the final kick.
Neath made most of the early running but squandered early chances as Ed Howley burst through twice then an attacking line-out was wasted but after 20 minutes they took the lead when Howley landed a penalty. Keeping up the pressure, Neath went further ahead when scrum-half Scott Gibson nipped up the narrow side to claim his sixth try of the season and Howley’s conversion gave Neath a deserved 10-point lead.
Cardiff were struggling to to make an impression as their passing was untidy but on the half hour they pulled back a try when hooker Ian Jenkins gleefully finished a front of the line-out move although many in the home crowd wrongly felt that he had put a foot in touch; it mattered not, he should have been tackled anyway – and it was 10-5 at half-time.
In the second-half, Cardiff hit the woodwork with a penalty but they took the lead when the referee, who had problems at the scrummage all day, deemed a yellow card necessary for Ben Uphill who had just moved to tight-head – it seemed rough on the Blacks as they were no more guilty at the scrums than Cardiff who got away with wheeling many a Neath scrum and Uphill went across to stop it … such is Neath’s ”luck” this year !
With young centre Sion O’Brien rightly binned too, Cardiff took full advantage of Neath’s numerical inferiority when they were awarded a penalty try so Neath trailed for the first time at 10-12 but the Blacks kept battling and survived until even numbers were restored.
As the game entered the final quarter there was everything to play for. Neath though had only one regular player (Dan Guarneri was nursing a hip injury) on their multi-permit bench whereas Cardiff had the luxury of bringing on fresh legs. The ever-lively Gibson nearly engineered a try with a kick and chase which Cardiff just saved in the nick of time; then outside-half Iwan Evans broke through and really should have scored himself. The home pressure told though when Howley made it 13-12 with a penalty.
Only 10 minutes remained and the finish was frantic period of play and counter-play. Thompson hit the woodwork again and it seemed as if Neath might pull through but with the last play Cardiff centre Rees-Hole collided with Netah prop Uphill on a dummy run and the referee gave Thompson one last chance with a penalty which crept ove rthe cross bar and the final whistle was blown.
It was desperately cruel for Neath who, despite their troubles, matched Cardiff on the day. To a man, the pack worked hard and were far livelier than of late with Ryan Bean and Aled Cockwell imposing in the loose and the backs certainly carved out more chances than Cardiff.
With other players returning imminently, Neath have a base to build upon and must use the next fortnight to adopt the Dr. Who approach and regenerate themselves.
NEATH – E.Howley; M.Evans, S.O’Brien, G.Evans (capt), J.Roberts; I.Evans, S.Gibson; B.Uphill, A.Morris, L.Tobias (N.White); R.Bean, J.Barley; L.Ward, S.Hicks, A.Cockwell
CARDIFF – L.Ap Myrddin; P.Lewis, H.Griffiths, W.Rees-Hole, O.Smyth; G.Thompson, G.Watkin (R.Cole); P.Lloyd (J.Greenfield), I.Jenkins (R.Spriggs), K.Brown (A.Court); J.Murphy, C.Bradbury; C.Tucker, L.Crocker, T.Daley Referee – Dr. R.Thomas (Cardiff)
Neath, in the throes of a catastrophic injury crisis with 21 players out of contention, kick-off their 2017/18 WRU Cup campaign with a home tie against Cardiff at The Gnoll on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
Injured captain Jordan Collier hopes to be back in action by the end of the month and is not the only one targeting an end-of-month return by which time Neath’s injury-roll could be nearly halved as Alec Jenkins, Matthew Pearce, Chris Morgans, Ryan Thomas, Sion Crocker, Ifan Phillips, Rhys Jones, Elis Hopkins and Josh Cole should realistically be back too.
For Saturday’s Cup game, it is “all hands on deck” and players who should be resting are setting aside their injuries to help out as the Blacks strive to re-ignite their fire.
Team manager Martyn Morris said, “Despite the absences, there is more than enough talent on the field. We have nothing to lose and, if we play with the passion and fury expected of a Neath team, we can still pull it off. We are grateful to the Nantyffyllon, Neath Athletic and Tata Steel clubs for permitting players this week.”
Neath v Cardiff (Home)
15 Ed Howley, 14 Mike Evans, 13 Sion O’Brien, 12 Gavin Evans (captain), 11 James Roberts; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Aled Morris, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Ryan Bean, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Leon Ward, 8 Scott Hicks, 7 Aled Cockwell
Replacements – 16 Neil White, 17 Rhys Davies, 18 Lyndon Davies, 19 A.N.Other, 20 Ceri White, 21 Jake Cole, 22 Conor Griffiths, 22 Dan Guarneri