NEATH 40 points CARDIFF 23 points
Neath registered a much-needed Foster’s Cup win over Cardiff who battled hard after losing flanker Jim Botham to a tip-tackle early on.
The first rain in weeks arrived to greet the kick off but Neath were quickly out of the blocks as winger Aaron Grabham flashed through for the opening try inside three minutes, full back Ed Howley adding the conversion points, before Botham’s dismissal.
There was a long delay for an injury to Neath winger Kristian Corbisiero as he bravely slid in optimistic pursuit of a score but, when Grabham crossed for a second time for his 15th try in all games this season, it looked like being a long night for Cardiff who hit back with a fine try by centre Paul King which full back Diggy Bird converted.
The next quarter was evenly fought as Neath lost lock Jonny Griffiths and his replacement Scott Hicks to injury and Cardiff, taking their lead from the defiant James Murphy and Johnny Edwards, looked dangerous. After a couple of penalty misses by Bird, Neath’s Chris Morgans was denied at the corner but the Blacks stole a Cardiff line-out and prop Geraint James burrowed over for a try which Howley converted.
Leading 19-7, Neath inexplicably lost momentum, conceding two penalties to Bird before the interval and one immediately after it and suddenly their lead had whittled away – at 19-16 it was anyone’s game.
As the rain intensified, both sides sought the aerial route – without much success – but Neath gradually turned the screw through their powerful scrum, Jon Barley headed a good lineout-stealing operation and skipper Jordan Collier and Leon Ward were always in the thick of things. Neath should have scored a fourth try in the right corner but it was not until the half-hour mark that they made their superiority count.
And they did so most spectacularly through a wonderful solo effort by Ed Howley. Receiving a loose Cardiff kick in his own half, the Neath full back who is on top of his game at the moment, looked up, spotted space and, leaving defenders rooted to the spot, flew to the Cardiff try-line for a super score which he converted himself.
Five minutes later, flanker Calum Davies was denied a score when the referee inadvertently blocked Cardiff defenders; instead, Neath had to settle for an attacking scrum, the forwards duly did their bit with another mighty heave and Chris Morgans (now operating in his third position of the evening) claimed the try, Howley again converting.
But Cardiff were not done and the impressive King carved out his second try against lackadaisical Neath defending and Bird’s conversion gave Cardiff a brief lift. Neath were not to be denied though and, in a grandstand finish, backs and forwards combined for a sixth try finished by replacement hooker Aled Morris, man of the match Howley adding the conversion points for a most welcome win.
The two sides must do it all again next Wednesday at the Arms Park which will be much tougher for the All Blacks – but before that is Saturday’s final Gnoll action before Christmas when Maesteg visit (kick off 2.30pm – admission £5, under-16’s free).
Neath RFC have two games lined up this week – both at The Gnoll.
On Wednesday evening, it is back to the Foster’s Cup when Cardiff RFC visit The Gnoll for a 7.30pm kick off; then on Saturday, old friends Maesteg RFC visit for a 2.30pm kick off.
Coach Gareth Llewellyn says, “We badly need to get a win in this competition after losing the two opening rounds and we owe the supporters a good performance. Although we have made six changes to the starting line-up, we have largely stuck within the squad.
“Playing Cardiff is always a game to look forward to and we are looking for each and every player to be at their best.”
Rory Morgan-Williams comes in at centre with Dan Guarneri taking over at outside-half from the injured Iwan Evans and he will have Josh Guy as his partner.
Ben Uphill reclaims the loose-head prop position, Jonny Griffiths returns at lock and Leon Ward takes over at No.8. Neath Athletic’s James Williams and Aled Cockwell appear on the bench alongside Maesteg No.8 Scott Hicks.
Neath v Cardiff (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Rory Morgan-Williams, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Kristian Corbisiero; 10 Dan Guarneri, 9 Josh Guy; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Jonny Griffiths, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Leon Ward, 7 Calum Davies
Replacements – 16 Aled Morris, 17 Callum Jones, 18 Ryan Thomas, 19 Rhys Jones, 20 Scott Hicks, 21 Aled Cockwell, 22 Chris Morgans, 23 James Williams