EBBW VALE 74 NEATH 7
Well and truly beaten, Neath remain defiant after this chastening defeat at Ebbw Vale where the home side ran in 11 tries against the visitors’ inexperienced line-up.
Again, there was plenty of effort about the Neath effort and they did some good things before the inevitable mistake crept in and they were rarely able to sustain pressure.
Neath handed first starts to prop Haydn Manorek (Vardre), hooker Connah Vaughan after 11 appearances as replacement, No.8 Travis Huntley (Tondu) and flanker Kiaran Mackey (Brynaman) and operated for most of the game with two teenage second rowers in Rhys Thomas and Ioan Jones.
All acquitted themselves well and showed promise for the future but taking such a raw and inexperienced pack to Eugene Cross Park is not the recipe for success against the grizzly Ebbw eight although Neath packs have fared worse there in the scrums than this.
Behind them, Macauley Griffiths coped well with the hand he was dealt, none did better than centre Will Holley while skipper Aaron Bramwell drew gasps from the crowd with his spectacular head-on tackling.
The travelling supporters made their presence felt and cheered loudly Neath’s brightest moment when outside-half Callum Hall danced his way over after a rare period of uninterrupted pressure and Holley added the conversion points.
A similar cheer greeted the injury time emergence of veteran deputy coach Paul Jones, a last-resort replacement when Leon Ward was detained at work.
But it was very much Ebbw’s day and the Blacks’ mood was not helped by the fact that two of the home tries were scored by Neath’s former Wales wing Dafydd Howells, now an under-used resource of the Dragons.
For the record their other scores came from flanker Dawid Rubasniak (3), centre Lloyd Evans (2), wing Stefan Thomas (2) and outside-half Rhys Jones and there was also a penalty try. Rhys Jones kicked a penalty and seven conversions for a 22-point haul.
Aaron Bramwell (captain) (Jordan Rees); James Roberts, Will Holley, Gavin Evans, Alec Jenkins (Gareth Hopkins); Callum Hall, Macauley Griffiths (Nicky Griffiths); Haydn Manorek (Kieran Griffiths), Connah Vaughan (Sion Crocker), Liam Tobias (Patryck Kaminski); Scott Davies (Rhys Thomas), Ioan Jones; Lee Evans (Paul Jones), Travis Huntley, Kiaran Mackey
Neath visit Ebbw Vale at Eugene Cross Park on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm) and, with a shortened turnaround after playing Aberavon on Easter Monday, make wholesale changes.
Skipper Aaron Bramwell switches back to full back with Alec Jenkins on the wing. Gavin Evans returns at centre with Callum Hall and Macauley Griffiths resuming at half back.
Lee Evans is the only starter to retain his place in the pack and he plays in the back row alongside Leon Ward and the one newcomer in Travis Huntley who hails from Tondu.
The front-five comprises Haydn Manorek, Connah Vaughan and Liam Tobias with Scott Davies and Ioan Jones in the second row.
The replacements bench is to be confirmed pending a permit.
Neath v Ebbw Vale (Away)
15 Aaron Bramwell (captain); 14 James Roberts, 13 Will Holley, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Callum Hall, 9 Macauley Griffiths; 1 Haydn Manorek, 2 Connah Vaughan, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Scott Davies, 5 Ioan Jones; 6 Lee Evans, 7 Leon Ward, 8 Travis Huntley
Replacements – TBC