NEATH 34 CROSS KEYS 25
Neath edged into the quarter-finals of the WRU National Cup with a much-needed win over Cross Keys at a wet Gnoll and, despite the Blacks scoring 5 tries to 1, the result was in the balance nearly to the end.
The Blacks started well but dithered and slithered in the worsening conditions before finishing strongly. The home side raced into a 17-3 lead but Keys fought their way back on the excellent boot of outside-half Kieran Hill before Neath secured their place in the last eight with two late tries.
Outside-half Dan Guarneri opened the scoring with an angled 45 yard penalty and then converted two well-worked tries by Nicky Griffiths and prop Liam Tobias – sustained forward driving yielded the first and the second came after good handling with centre Matthew Pearce and lively flanker Ben Lukes doing key work in the build-up.
Between the tries, Keys’ Bristol-based outside-half Kieran Hill had kicked a penalty and, as the home side’s accuracy and discipline declined, he added two more – one for not rolling away, the other for an alleged scrum offence. Keys were competing keenly yet Neath continued to create chances and prop Gareth Lloyd was held up over the line but Keys stuck in there and the home team had to be content with a 17-9 half-time lead.
Keys came out hungrily after half-time when Neath seemed plagued by a nasty bout of inertia. With five of the pack short of match-practice after recent injuries, Neath’s effort stalled badly. Errors proliferated and Keys, through possession, position and penalty goals, got their noses in front as Hill banged over three more goals.
Suddenly, Neath found themselves behind 17-18 but they immediately regained the lead, the home backs clicked and winger James Roberts sped away to score in the right corner, replacement Callum Hall converting from the touchline to make it 24-18.
But Roberts was then robbed in his 22 and Keys centre Corey Nicholls swooped to touch down, Hill’s touchline conversion putting them in front once more at 24-25. Neath’s response was instant and effective : awarded a penalty in the Keys’ 22, they bravely opted for the kick to touch, lock Jon Barley took the line-out, the forwards rumbled, rolled and hooker Jake Lewis marked his first start since breaking his foot with the try.
Back in front, Neath assured themselves of victory five minutes from the end when a cleverly-placed kick by acting-captain Griifiths was eagerly seized upon by James Roberts who nipped in for his second try of the afternoon and Neath were through.
Neath made hard work of reaching the last eight for the first time in four years which is no mean achievement but next Saturday they return to League action at Cross Keys which will be another one-off, must win encounter for Neath – and one thing is certain, they will need to crank up their game again as Keys will be hell-bent on hasty revenge.
NEATH – Jordan Rees; J.Roberts, Jarrad Rees (B.Atkins), M.Pearce, S.Summers; D.Guarneri (C.Hall), N.Griffiths (capt) (M.Griffiths); I.James (G.W.Lloyd), J.Lewis, (Iestyn Jones), L.Tobias (S.Jones); L.Ward (J.Coxley), J.Barley; J.Blackmore, T.Antozzi, B.Lukes (J.Hill)
CROSS KEYS – L.O’Brien; L.Allwood (J.Adams), A.Tetley (G.Jones), C.Nicholls, B.Simmonds (A.Upton); K.Hill, E.Ash (Z.Bartlett); O.Peddle (R.Cornock), C.Vaughan (Z.Hewlett), J.Rogers (S.Hoskins); C.Hague, H.Reader (capt) (J.Wall); C.Johnsey, S.Gibson, J.Thomas
Referee – Mr. S.Mills (New Dock Stars)
Neath host Cross Keys at The Gnoll on Saturday (kick off – 2.30pm) with a place in the last eight of the WRU National Cup at stake.
Scrum-half Nicky Griffiths takes over the captaincy as regular skipper Aaron Bramwell is in Bermuda, Jordan Rees reverting to full back. Winger Sion Summers and centre Jarrad Rees reinforce the three-quarter line while Dan Guarneri takes over at outside-half after making his 50th appearance last time out.
In the pack, Jake Lewis gets the nod at hooker and regular lock Rhys Morgan is sidelined by a hamstring strain but Neath are fortunate in having the experienced Leon Ward to cover and provide the grunt. Ben Lukes joins the back-row with Tomi Antozzi fit again to claim a bench spot.
Neath v Cross Keys (Home) 2.30pm
15 Jordan Rees; 14 Sion Summers, 13 Jarrad Rees, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 James Roberts; 10 Dan Guarneri, 9 Nicky Griffiths (captain); 1 Ifan James, 2 Jake Lewis, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Leon Ward, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Jacob Blackmore, 8 David Griggs, 7 Ben Lukes
Replacements: 16 Gareth Lloyd, 17 Iestyn Jones, 18 Steffan Jones, 19 Tomi Antozzi, 20 Jon Hill, 21 Macauley Griffiths, 22 Callum Hall, 23 Ben Atkins
ADMISSION – As it is a Welsh Cup match, season tickets are not valid but good news for supporters of both teams is that admission is at the special price of £5 with Under-16’s, as usual, free. Entry only via turnstiles at the Town End.