NEATH 17 EBBW VALE 25
There is a fine line between success and failure – and Neath again failed to cross it in this marvellous exhibition of Welsh Premiership rugby.
A chance taken, a mistake made, an official’s whim – anything can make the difference and Neath are coming down too often on the wrong side.
Late withdrawals forced Neath into three changes behind the scrum where Callum Hall, Chris Morgans and Iwan Evans came in and perfect, warm conditions greeted the sides and The Gnoll looked a picture in the late September sunshine.
Neath kicked off towards the Union end and were soon into their stride. Their positive attacking intent was immediately evident as they hit Ebbw Vale with some some handling and running and might have scored even before the fourth minute when emergency winger Chris Morgan took lock Ryan Bean’s pass wide out to score and full back Callum Hall converted.
Neath’ scrum was again well on top but they got scant reward for it – perplexing when one considers how the Blacks used to suffer back in the days when it was not in the ascendancy !
Still, running the ball at every opportunity with the handling skills of Regan King, slotting into the 10 shirt, most prominent, the Blacks set a fast pace which had Vale reeling and it was no surprise when impressive No.8 Ieuan Jones crossed for their second try, Hall again converting and adding a penalty as Neath surged into a 17-nil lead which they held at half-time.
But Neath’s poetry of the first half was muted after the interval when, quite simply, they were unable to prise the ball from Vale’s eager grasp. There was little wrong with Neath’s defensive organisation – and some of the home side’s tackling led by Jordan Collier was positively heroic – but twice individuals fell off tackles and twice Vale profited through tries by wing Paul King and full back Dan Haymond.
With Rhys Jones converting the former, Carl Meyer and Jones banging over penalties, Vale now led by a point and their joy was complete and visiting players leapt into the air when lock Lance Randall crossed for a third try in the 70th minute and Jones converted.
Neath fought back and got their hands on the ball. Home supporters felt they should have been awarded a penalty for a high tackle on Iwan Evans but none was awarded and, to the dismay of both sides, the referee blew up without recourse to injury time.
It was a classic game of two halves with neither side ever threatening to score at the Town end and it was a close run thing. But Sunday’s result from Parc-y-Scarlets means that the outcome is that Vale went top, Neath went bottom … a fine line indeed !
Neath make four starting changes when they entertain second-placed Ebbw Vale at The Gnoll on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
Behind the scrum, Ashley Evans returns on the wing while Regan King – the first New Zealand All Black to play for the Welsh All Blacks – comes in at outside-half with Callum Hall on the bench against his old club.
Up front Darren Hughes comes in at hooker with Ryan Bean getting his first start of the season in the second row.
Neath v Ebbw Vale (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Ashley Evans, 13 Aaron Bramwell, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Ian Ellis; 10 Regan King, 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Darren Hughes, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Ryan Bean, 5 Scott Andrews; 6 Jordan Collier, 7 Lloyd Evans, 8 Ieuan Jones
Replacements: 16 Luke Garrett, 17 Sion Crocker, 18 Ryan Thomas, 19 Leon Ward, 20 Elis Hopkins, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Callum Hall. 23 Iwan Evans
Referee – Mr. Wayne Davies (Llannon)
Note – Admission (via turnstiles at Town End) – Adults £10, Under-16’s FREE