CARDIFF 23 points NEATH 28 points
Neath completed back-to-back Foster’s Cup wins over Cardiff in a compelling encounter under the Arms Park floodlights.
Coach Gareth Llewellyn warned pre-match that this would be much tougher than the game at The Gnoll a week before and so it proved with a highly entertaining first-half giving way to an attritional second-half that ended with Neath defending their line to the man.
Cardiff fielded something more akin to their league selection for this game but Neath started strongly and superb handling by centre Gavin Evans and full back Dan Guarneri led to scrum-half Josh Guy crossing for the opening try within three minutes and Ed Howley’s conversion made it 7-nil go the visitors.
The Blue and Blacks were soon on level terms when centre Will Rees-Hole crashed through a hole in the Neath defence to score a try which outside-half Diggy Bird converted. Neath squandered an eminently kickable penalty, opting for a failed catch and drive line-out instead whereupon Cardiff promptly went down the other end and Bird kicked a penalty.
Neath were looking threatening though and Howley levelled affairs with a penalty and the goal-kicking wing then latched onto a cross-kick by outside-half Rory Morgan-Williams to feed Gavin Evans on the inside and the centre, back at his old Blues’ hunting-ground, went in for Neath’s second try under the posts, Howley’s conversion making it 17-10.
In a ding-dong affair, Cardiff got back on terms again when winger Cameron Gibbon touched down wide out, Bird converting superbly from the touchline, but Neath stepped up again and after a typically strong run by emerging centre Matthew Pearce, young prop Callum Jones drove to the line and side-stepping No.8 Leon Ward nipped in at the corner for Neath’s third try.
Neath’s scrum had been dominant in the first-half but they conceded a penalty just before the interval and Bird’s successful attempt made it 22-20 to Neath at half-time after a first-half of real quality.
The second-half was a more pedestrian affair though. Cardiff had more of the play with some direct running by their forwards but the home three-quarters had an attack of the Des O’Connors – careless hands letting them down. A Bird penalty put them in front temporarily but two Howley penalties made it 28-23 with 20 minutes remaining. Both teams emptied their benches but neither side added to their score and, in a frenetic finish, Neath’s tackling was just about up to the mark as they defended their advantage.
Again, Neath put in a strong set-piece showing with Jon Barley, Jonny Griffiths and Jordan Collier a real line-out presence on either throw-in. Aled Morris was a lively hooker alongside busy props Callum Jones and Geraint James in a team effort which was borne out by tackles put in at the death by the unsung Ben Uphill and Neath Athletic’s James Williams, another who is still in youth rugby.
All fought hard to ensure that Neath completed 3 non-League wins in a week – a welcome boost as Christmas beckons.
Neath RFC visit Cardiff at the Arms Park on Wednesday in the Foster’s Cup (kick off 7.30pm) seeking a second win in this year’s competition.
Last week Neath won the return fixture at The Gnoll 40-23 after Cardiff had flanker Jim Botham sent off and coach Gareth Llewellyn says, “This will be a far more difficult task and, just like last week, our forwards will have to take control physically. Cardiff’s artificial pitch is a fast track and should suit our approach as the pace in our back division is frightening sides.”
“We took a lot from last week’s game and Saturday against Maesteg with players like Rory Morgan-Williams, Callum Jones and Tom Hayward earning further chances.”
Neath stick largely within the squad with lock Jon Barley lined up for his 50th appearance for the Club and, among the players on permit, is outside-half Geraint Llewellyn who previously played for the Blue and Blacks.
Neath v Cardiff (Away)
15 Dan Guarneri; 14 Ed Howley; 13 Gavin Evans, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Aaron Grabham; 10 Rory Morgan-Williams, 9 Josh Guy; 1 Callum Jones, 2 Aled Morris, 3 Geraint James; 4 Jon Barley, 5 Jonny Griffiths; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Leon Ward, 7 Calum Davies
Replacements – 16 Sion Crocker, 17 Ben Uphill, 18 Ryan Thomas, 19 Rhys Jones, 20 Tom Hayward, 21 Tom Sadler, 22 Geraint Llewellyn, 23 James Williams