CROSS KEYS 48 points NEATH 3 points
The message from this heavy defeat at Cross Keys is clear : Neath’s young side must adapt quickly if they are to make any impression on the Premiership this season.
There was effort and energy from Jordan Collier’s men but eventually they were outplayed by the more mature home outfit whose 6-try haul was magnified by an immaculate 18-point goal-kicking haul from Dragons’ senior pro Rhys Jones.
As the scoreline suggests, Keys were in control throughout and remain one of the best sides in the Premiership but Neath’s habit of giving away soft penalties haunted them again and meant that play rarely reached Keys’ 22.
Jones gave the home side the lead with a penalty after 12 minutes and a quarter of the game was gone before Keys carved out the first try by full back Josh Prosser and Jones converted.
Neath were battling hard and full back Ed Howley landed a wonderful goal from halfway to trail 3-10 as the interval approached. But not for the first time, timid line-out delivery handed possession to Keys who pounced to make it 17-3 through a try by hooker Darren Hughes, converted by Jones, and, having lost both props to injury, Neath were clearly up against it.
A second Jones penalty on the resumption made it 20-3 and a swathe of replacements made little difference although Ifan Phillips, Leon Ward and Rory Morgan-Williams did their best to instil some urgency.
It was, however, only a matter of time. Midway through the half, Keys were awarded a questionable short-range try by outstanding flanker and captain Scott Matthews which Jones converted.
Neath countered with probably their best spell but it ended in tears as winger Matt Powell intercepted and sprinted fully 75 metres to score – all after a promising spell of play during which Neath had re-cycled possession repeatedly.
Powell’s try, well-taken as it was, owed something to fortune and it knocked the stuffing out of Neath. In quick succession, Leon Andrews and the excellent Matthews crossed as Neath lost their defensive shape and too many tackles were missed.
Some supporters (many of whom had endured an arduous and time-consuming journey as a result of the Severn Tunnel closure) argued that three of the tries were down to bad luck and perplexing refereeing decisions.
That may be so but the old adage is that you make your own luck and Neath did not do anything like enough to make things go their way. It was not quite as bad as last year but there is no hiding place at this level and only an immediate riposte will do when Neath visit Bedwas on Saturday.
Neath visit Pandy Park to play Cross Keys in the Welsh Premiership on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
With a won and a loss so far, the Welsh All Blacks’ coach Gareth Llewellyn said, “Things get much tougher from now on. Although they have lost both their games so far, Cross Keys have been one of the leading sides in the Division for a few seasons now and are a settled outfit. Most people would consider it a real feather in our cap if our young team can get a result and, although we are heading in the right direction, we are not the finished product.”
Changes see Ed Howley switch back to full back with Matthew Pearce at centre and Chris Morgans and Aaron Grabham back on the wing while Josh Guy takes over at scrum-half. a rest. In the pack, Sion Crocker and Ryan Thomas come into the front row with Lyndon Bateman at lock and Aled Cockwell on the flank where the unlucky Alun Jones is sidelined by injury. There are places on the bench for Rory Morgan-Williams, Luke Price and Ifan Phillips whose start to the season was delayed after having his tonsils removed.
Neath v Cross Keys (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Gavin Evans, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Chris Morgans; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Josh Guy; 1 Neil White, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Lyndon Bateman, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Charlie Davies, 7 Aled Cockwell
Replacements – 16 Matt Jeffreys, 17 Ifan Phillips, 18 Geraint James, 19 Leon Ward/Tom Hayward, 20 Calum Davies, 21 Luke Price, 22 Rory Morgan-Williams, 23 Keiran Williams