CROSS KEYS 21 NEATH 24
Two weeks, two games against Cross Keys and two wins have got Neath’s season back on track – but now the Blacks need to build on it and string a run of victories together.
Neath adopted a more direct approach than of late – and it paid dividends – straighter running and improved continuity hall-marked their display. But, having established a comfortable 24-7 lead, two minutes of madness saw Keys hit back with two converted tries which made for a fraught finish.
The Blacks’ pack played with more fizz than of late with prop Steff Jones and hooker Jake Lewis looking lively from the start and lock Jon Barley having his moments too. Macauley Griffiths prompted well from the base of the scrum while the back-line handled well on a ground still heavy after the recent rains.
Neath were first to attack but overthrew a line-out on the Keys line and the home side swept up-field for an attacking line-out of their own which led to an efficient try by No.8 Spencer Gibson and outside-half Kieran Hill slotted the conversion.
But Neath were in determined mood and territorially dominated the rest of the half. Dai Griggs should have put in fellow back-rower Tomi Antozzi and Neath bearly squeezed in on the left but, on the back of two good advantages played by referee Ben Breakspear whose calm assurance marks him out as one of Wales’ most promising young officials, the Blacks continued to attack and, piling pressure on the Keys line, flanker Jacob Blackmore bundled over for his first try and Callum Hall converted – just ! – to level.
Neath now had to play up the slope and, mindful of Hill’s kicking capabilities, they needed to keep Keys in their own half. Griggs led two superb charges out of defence and the Blacks attacked. Impressive build up play led to winger James Roberts cutting back on the angle to dab down for a try on his 50th appearance – a landmark also being celebrated by prop Loam Tobias.
Hall converted then quickly landed a penalty to extend Neath’s lead to 17-7. Neath now upped the tempo and Hall’s inside pass found full back Jordan Rees who scampered to the posts for Neath’s third try which Hall converted with ease to make it 24-7.
But Neath lost the re-start and Keys came away in a flashing movement which was crowned by flanker Joe Thomas for Hill to convert. Neath hit back and attacked again and when they kicked to the posts Keys desperately ran out of defence. Their enterprise paid off, good handling seeing replacement Gwion Jones touch down at the other end for Hill to convert. Suddenly, it was 24-21 but Neath, through the strength of their forwards, kept play in the right dominion and well out of Hill’s kicking range.
The Blacks face another stern challenge next Saturday when Beddau visit The Gnoll with all guns blazing after beating Ystalyfera at the weekend.
CROSS KEYS – L.O’Brien; L.Allwood (W.Cunliffe), A.Tetley, C.Nicholls, A.Upton; K.Hill, Z.Bartlett (G.Jones); R.Cornock, C.Vaughan ( Z.Hewlett), J.Rogers (O.Peddle); H.Reader (capt) (C.Hague), S.Andrews; J.Thomas, S.Gibson, C.Johnsey
NEATH – Jordan Rees; W.Holley (S.Summers), Jarrad Rees (B.Atkins), M.Pearce, J.Roberts; C.Hall, M.Griffiths; S.Jones (G.Lloyd), J.Lewis, L.Tobias; L.Ward (capt) (J.Hill), J.Barley; J.Blackmore, D.Griggs, T. Antozzi
Referee – Mr. B.Breakspear (Abercynon)
It is a case of “here we go again” when Neath visit Cross Keys at Pandy Park on Saturday (kick off – 2.30pm) the two sides having met in the Cup last weekend.
The home side will be seeking a quick revenge win after Neath took the spoils 34-25 last week when, despite scoring five tries to one, the Blacks were unable to shake off a spirited Keys side.
Neath know they cannot afford to give any kicking opportunities away as Keys fly-half Kieran Hill banged over six penalties and a conversion – they must therefore play the game in opposition territory.
Neath starting changes see winger Will Holley coming in as well as half backs Callum Hall and Macauley Griffiths while in the pack prop Steff Jones and back rower David Griggs return.
Two of Neath’s try-scorers last week- James Roberts and Liam Tobias – will make their 50th appearances in an important match which the Neath forwards must establish control in.
Neath v Cross Keys (Away) 2.30pm
15 Jordan Rees; 14 Will Holley, 13 Jarrad Rees, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 James Roberts; 10 Callum Hall, 9 Macauley Griffiths; 1 Steff Jones, 2 Jake Lewis, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Leon Ward, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Jacob Blackmore, 8 David Griggs, 7 Tomi Antozzi
Replacements: 16 Gareth Lloyd, 17 Iestyn Jones, 18 Jon Hill, 19 Ben Atkins, 20 Sion Summers