CARDIFF 31 NEATH 19
Neath gave a much-improved performance but ultimately lost out to a powerful Cardiff side who had to summon all their extra experience to take the try count 4-3.
There was an unreal air to the Cardiff Arms Park for this international morning fixture which attracted only a meagre crowd. The frozen onlookers were treated to a game of compelling movement even if cold hands did not always make for accurate rugby football.
Neath attacked from the start and centre Gavin Evans twice went close to scoring before the Blacks’ acting captain left the field with a knee injury to be replaced by Ryan Pugh. Cardiff used their big pack to good effect and dominated the next quarter but Neath, tackling like demons, kept them at bay.
It took Cardiff fully 20 minutes to break the deadlock through a try by No.8 Rory Pitman who has returned to Welsh club rugby from Jersey and Gareth Thompson’s conversion made it 7-nil.
Neath kept battling but lost flanker Aled Cockwell whose replacement Owain Morgan emerged to play equally as effectively in a fine back row with Elis Hopkins and Leon Ward.
Centre Mike Evans made several strong thrusts and Neath drew level before half-time when scrum half Chris Morgans stole along the touchline and scampered behind the posts for full back Ed Howley to convert.
It was all-square at 7-7 at the interval but Cardiff went in front when good work by Blues scrum-half Lewis Jones saw his regional team-mate full back Dan Fish cross wide out and Thompson again converted.
Neath though wasted no time in drawing level again as the forwards launched a productive line-out drive and winger James Roberts nipped in at the corner, Howley converting magnificently from the touchline.
The Blacks were certainly giving Cardiff a battle but the home side edged in front when Thompson landed a long range penalty to make it 17-14. Neath were still very much in it but Cardiff benefited from a series of penalty awards and Pitman crossed for a second try converted by Thompson who completed the home side’s scoring with a converted try of his own.
But Neath had the final say as another line-out drive saw them batter their way to the Cardiff line where Leon Ward crossed for their third try. There was still time on the clock for Neath to get closer but when the final whistle went there was no further score.
It was not the result Lyn Jones would have wanted on his return but it was a distinct uplift on recent showings and provided hope for the Neath supporters who braved the cold and the early start.
CARDIFF – D.Fish; J.Beal (L.Ap Myrddin), A.Jones, W.Rees-Hole (H.Griffiths), C.Howells; G.Thompson, L.Jones (R.Cole); F.Young (K.Brown), I.Jenkins (N.Huish), P.Lloyd (A.Court); J.Murphy (B.White), C.Bradbury; R.Pitman, L.Crocker (capt) (J.Miles)
NEATH – E.Howley; J.Roberts, M.Evans (J.Condon), G.Evans (capt) (R.Pugh), A.Jenkins; I.Evans, C.Morgans (D.Brown); B.Uphill (L.Tobias), G.Lloyd (N.White), G.James (R.Thomas); R.Jones (R.Bean), J.Barley; E.Hopkins, L.Ward, A.Cockwell (O.Morgan)
Referee – Mr. S. Allsop (Caldicot)
Neath travel to Cardiff in the Welsh Premiership on Saturday (kick off 11.30am).
The side shows only three personnel changes with Mike Evans coming in at centre, Leon Ward and Aled Cockwell in the back-row with Rhys Jones reverting to lock.
Looking forward to Saturday, it would be nice to see as many Neath supporters as are able join the team for the early kick-off at Cardiff where the team really would appreciate as much backing as possible.
Neath v Cardiff (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 James Roberts, 13 Mike Evans, 12 Gavin Evans (captain), Alec Jenkins; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Chris Morgans;
1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Elis Hopkins, 8 Leon Ward, 7 Aled Cockwell
Replacements – 16 Liam Tobias, 17 Garin Lloyd, 18 Ryan Thomas, 19 Ryan Bean, 20 Owain Morgan, 21 Scott Gibson, 22 Ryan Pugh, 23 Jordan Condon
24 Neil White, 25 Dalton Brown