NEATH 19 points CARMARTHEN QUINS 40 points
Neath’s holiday misery was complete when they were beaten up front by a Carmarthen Quins side who, fired by a 25-point haul from outside-half Steffan Marshall, took the try count 4-3 and the desired bonus point to confirm their place in the top half of the Division.
The Blacks started strongly, overcoming Quins’ fast-rushing defence, to carve out an early try-scoring chance but the final pass went begging. When Quins took the lead through a penalty by outside-half Steff Marshall it was against the run of early play but Neath could have no complaints thereafter when it was mostly Quins.
Winger Chris Banfield pounced for the opening try when Neath were tackled behind the gain-line and Marshall converted and Quins were firmly in command when a line-out drive resulted in a try for lock Haydn Pugh, Marshall again converting.
Neath hit back when winger Ed Howley exploited some loose play for a try by opposite winger Aaron Grabham, Howley converting from the touchline, but Marshall nudged Quins into a 20-7 half-time lead with his second penalty.
With his forwards setting a superb platform, Marshall banged over his third penalty early in the second-half before Grabham pulled back another try after a promising break by centre Gavin Evans was halted.
That score means that the ever-alert Neath wide man is once-again joint top try-scorer in the Premiership with Aberavon’s Steff Andrews but the over-worked Neath defence then gave Marshall the opportunity for a fourth penalty pot-shot.
Neath were under immense strain but they kept battling hard with Aled Morris, normally a hooker, revelling as a make-shift flanker and he ran himself to a virtual standstill alongside skipper Jordan Collier and Maesteg’s Scott Hicks. Behind the scrum, Dan Guarneri was a veritable rock at full back and Keiran Williams gave another classy showing.
But, for once, Neath were beaten undone at the scrum and by a strong Quins line-out – without their normal service in these departments, really Neath did remarkably well to limit Quins to only two further tries late in the second-half by former Glasgow prop Javan Sebastian and Marshall.
The outside-half converted both for a personal haul of 25 points but Neath hit back at the death with a third try of their own by Howley who converted from wide out – as the final act of 2016, it was a good way to sign off but it was too little too late and it is congratulations to the Quins who might just turn out to be the surprise package in the chase at the top.
As for Neath, they round off the pre-split programme with another eagerly-awaited local derby against Swansea. It has been two seasons since Swansea were last on The Gnoll and kick-off is at 2.30pm.
Neath RFC ring out the old year with a home game at The Gnoll against Carmarthen Quins in the Principality Premiership on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm) with Team Manager Martyn Morris demanding that his charges show their true worth after their alarming second-half collapse at Aberavon on Boxing Day.
Neath make several squad changes with a new front row and fit-again Iwan Evans resuming at outside-half. In the back-row, hooker Aled Morris is pressed into action alongside skipper Jordan Collier and Maesteg’s Scott Hicks due to an injury-crisis which has seen Leon Ward, Calum Davies and Charlie Davies join long-term absentees Josh Cole and Alun Jones on the casualty list.
Team Manager Martyn Morris says, “We need to show our true worth after Boxing Day’s second half. The squad have been reminded – not that they needed to be – that they let down both themselves and a lot of other people.
“We need to show we are better than that and we are still looking to finish the pre-split strongly and climb a couple of places in the table.
“Quins always play good rugby and are a strong side all round with Aled Thomas in from the Scarlets so we need to pick ourselves up for the challenge, be fully mentally attuned and, above all, perform.”
Neath v Carmarthen Quins (Home)
15 Dan Guarneri; 14 Ed Howley, 13 Gavin Evans, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Aaron Grabham; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Neil White, 2 Ifan Phillips, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Jonny Griffiths; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Scott Hicks, 7 Aled Morris
Replacements – 16 Sion Crocker, 17 Ben Uphill, 18 Ryan Thomas, 19 Jon Barley, 20 Tom Hayward, 21 Josh Guy, 22 Rory Morgan-Williams, 23 Matthew Pearce