EBBW VALE 22 NEATH 6
Neath’s long wait for victory continued as Ebbw Vale made the most of their first half opportunities and, rather cruelly, added a last-minute try to take the honours at Eugene Cross Park.
The Ebbw Vale ground-staff had made a splendid effort to get the pitch playable and they were rewarded by a strong start from the home team but Neath showed great resilience and, although they were nil-14 down at half-time, the Blacks were still in it with slope advantage to come.
Vale’s settled unit were quicker into their stride and deservedly led but Neath could point to a couple of crucial decisions which went against them in the lead up to each of the home team’s tries.
For the first Neath were recalled for a forward pass when “advantage over” had not been called following a Vale spillage and Vale pounced for a score by scrum-half Dai Jones; and the second came after Vale could easily have been penalised for obstruction yet Jon Barley was sin-binned and this time skipper Ronnie Kynes was credited with the score after more good combined work by the home forwards.
Former Neath outside-half David Langdon converted both but Neath had their moments and, were it not for the capricious bounce of the ball, Alec Jenkins’ charge-down of his erstwhile colleague’s relieving kick might have produced a Neath score.
If Neath needed reminding that Lady Luck was not with them, a superb long kick to the Vale 22 by full back Ed Howley skidded over the dead-ball line – which it had no right to do on a glue-pot surface.
Still, Neath rolled up their sleeves for the second-half and for a long time achieved set-piece parity as lively hooker Evan Whitson on debut struck up a fine understanding at the line-outs with young lock Matthew Davies and the scrum improved too.
Two penalties by Howley brought Neath right back into contention as Vale struggled to hold some strong-running by the Neath midfield where Iwan Evans, youth player Sion O’Brien and Mike Evans operated well.
But Vale were not done and Langdon nudged over a penalty of his own and they seemed set to score again when the referee awarded Neath a scrum penalty.
With tyro flanker Elis Hopkins again prominent, Neath kept battling away but their fate was sealed when Uphill was carded for allegedly collapsing a scrum – common-sense would suggest that when a scrum goes down as sharply as that one did it would not have been pulled down deliberately !
Neath were therefore reduced to 14 men again and in the last play Vale’s numerical advantage counted as wing Toby Fricker squeezed in on the overlap.
The Blacks therefore move on to Friday’s home game against Pontypridd (kick off 7.30pm) and will be cheered by the fact that they competed for long periods of this game. Moreover, the Blacks emerged relatively unscathed from this game with the physiotherapist having an easy shift – and that has not happened often this season !
EBBW VALE – D.Haymond; S.Thomas, J.Lewis (T.Hoppe), D.Franchi, T.Fricker; D.Langdon, D.Jones (S.Ireland); J.Harries (J.Rogers), R.Francis (J.Franchi), R.Sevenoaks; K.Parker, L.Randall (J.Jacas); R.Clarke (J.Davies), L.Young, R.Kynes (capt)
NEATH – E.Howley;J.Roberts (G.Llewellyn), M.Evans, S.O’Brien (D.Guarneri), A.Jenkins; I.Evans, C.Morgans (S.Gibson); N.White (B.Uphill, C.Jones), E.Whitson, G.James (L.Tobias); M.Davies, J.Barley; E.Hopkins, L.Ward (capt), C.White (J.Williams)
Referee- Mr. M.English (Caldicot)
Neath travel to Ebbw Vale in the Welsh Premiership on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
The starting side shows four changes with Sion O’Brien coming in at centre, Matthew Davies at lock and Ceri White in the back-row with Evan Whitson, son of former Neath lock Mike, coming in at hooker on permit from Newport.
Neath v Ebbw Vale (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 James Roberts, 13 Mike Evans, 12 Sion O’Brien, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Neil White, 2 Evan Whitson, 3 Geraint James; 4 Matthew Davies, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Elis Hopkins, 8 Leon Ward, 7 Ceri White
Replacements – To Be Confirmed