NEATH 17 CROSS KEYS 34
Another brave performance by battling Neath was not quite enough to hold Cross Keys who, after trailing until the stroke of half-time, went on to take the spoils in the second-half.
Scrum-half Nicky Griffiths and No.8 Gareth Jones came in for first starts for Neath with Jordan Rees, Gareth Howells, Ioan Jones and Craig Hill making home debuts as were all of the replacements bench – but the permit-count was down to 11 after the Christmas highs. In contrast, Keys had the services of 2 senior Dragons and 4 Academy lads.
Neath’s raw side suffered a pre-match blow when newly-signed lock Scott Davies pulled a hamstring in the warm-up. Keys started on the attack but on 12 minutes Neath weathered the storm and a brilliant jinking run by full back Jordan Rees sent Craig Hill away and the flanker showed outstanding pace to blaze away and score at the posts for Callum Hall to convert.
The Neath scrum had Keys under the cosh all afternoon and midway through the half when Keys conceded another scrum penalty up stepped Hall to make it 10-nil.
Keys hit back when a disorganised Neath chase allowed the visitors to run the ball back and flanker Joe Thomas scored at the posts for Dragons’ outside-half Jacob Botica to convert. But Neath bounced back on the half hour when new signing scrum-half Nicky Griffiths capped a marvellous debut by shooting up the blind-side from a rock-solid scrum to score in the corner and Hall converted splendidly from the touchline.
Keys then took advantage of poor midfield defence to score again when Leon Andrews sent Academy No.8 Garin Price over for Botica to convert and the ex-RGC record-holder levelled the scores at 17-17 when he kicked a penalty on the stroke of halftime.
15 minutes into the second-half Keys took the lead for the first time when winger Wesley Cunliffe shrugged off a tackle to send Botica in for a try which he converted himself.
Neath continued to hammer away at Keys and after gaining two scrum penalties near the Keys line the referee chose to penalise Neath on the third; play swept to the other end via another missed tackle and the ubiquitous Leon Andrews dabbed down.
Botica converted and kicked an unambitious late penalty to give the Dragons’ man a haul of 19 points and the scoreline a slightly flattering look – it was a lot closer.
Again, the newcomers can be proud of their efforts in a team which never gave up and, with players to return, Neath will be looking for a big effort against in-form Swansea next week.
NEATH – Jordan Rees (Laurence Howley); James Roberts, Aaron Bramwell (captain), Gavin Evans, Alec Jenkins (Geraint Roberts); Callum Hall, Nicky Griffiths; Ben Uphill (Lewis Price), Sion Crocker (Connah Vaughan), Tyla Murvai (Kieran Griffiths); Rhys Morgan, Gareth Howells; Ioan Jones (Greg Callow), Gareth Jones (Dyfan Ceredig), Craig Hill
CROSS KEYS – C.Perry; L.Ap Myrddin, L.Andrews, Adam Jones (R.Budina), W.Cunliffe (S.Majkic); J.Botica, O.Leonard (D.Fidler); Z.Hewlett (W.Griffiths), E.Shipp (T.Hansen), R.Cornock (G.Carpenter); S.Andrews (C.Johnsey), T.Lampard; D.Welsh (captain), G.Price, J.Thomas (J.Carlin)
Referee – Mr. J.Bessant (Heol-y-Cyw)
Neath play their first game of 2019, hoping that the New Year will be better than the Old, when they entertain Cross Keys at The Gnoll (kick off 2.30pm).
A brave performance at Aberavon on Boxing Day brought their re-shaped side many plaudits which were well deserved; it also delivered the try of the week by skipper Aaron Bramwell which many neutrals rated the try of the season. But it will take a big effort against Keys who have experience on their side.
With speculation increasing over the Club’s ownership, Neath supporters are totally behind the lads on the field. New recruit from Cardiff Nicky Griffiths follows in the footsteps of his father Jonathan Griffiths (Bridgend Sports) by debuting at scrum-half and another newcomer is No.8 Gareth Jones who hails from Porth.
Home debuts will be made by Jordan Rees, Craig Hill, Ioan Jones as well as replacements Connah Vaughan and Dyfan Ceredig who made their bows over Christmas.
Neath v Cross Keys (Home)
15 Jordan Rees; 14 James Roberts, 13 Aaron Bramwell (captain), 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Alec Jenkins, 10 Callum Hall, 9 Nicky Griffiths, 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Tyla Murvai; 4 Rhys Morgan, 5 Scott Davies; 6 Craig Hill, 8 Gareth Jones 7 Ioan Jones
Replacements – 16 Lewis Price, 17 Connah Vaughan, 18 Keiran Griffiths, 19 Gareth Howells, 20 Dyfan Ceredig, 21 A.N.Other, 22 Geraint Roberts, 23 Laurence Howley