Neath clinched a dramatic draw against the English Championship’s newest addition Doncaster Knights in a thrilling encounter at a wet and wild Gnoll.
But this pre season friendly turned ugly towards the end with several brawls erupting in the final ten minutes.
Doncaster outscored their Welsh hosts two tries to nil but Neath played the conditions better than their English rivals and deserved to get something out of the contest.
It was the hosts that started the brighter in the opening ten minutes with good link up play between centres Dai Langdon and Lloyd Phillips, before open side flanker Calum Thomas supported the break to put Neath in striking distance of a try. Doncaster infringed at the resulting ruck and and the boot of James Thomas gave Neath an early advantage. From that point onwards, the professional side slowly moved up the gears and they were soon in the lead. After several phases, fly half Jamie Lennard spotted space behind the Neath defence and his cute dink outfoxed the hosts’ cover into winger Knights winger Tyson Lewis’ safe arms. Dougie Flockhart added the extras.
Whereas Doncaster’s first try was full of skill and guile, their second shortly after was one for the forwards. From a driving line out Neath were powerless to stop the visitors marching over with flanker Will Foden emerging with the ball.
If the first half belonged to the visitors, the second definitely belonged to their Welsh hosts. The Knights’ discipline began to falter and with the Welsh weather producing its worst, it was Neath that began to dominate proceedings.
Following constant Neath pressure and foray and foray of attack into Doncaster’s 22, three well struck penalties from the boot of Thomas drew the hosts level.
Flockhart and Thomas then traded kicks as the game went into the final ten locked at 15-15.
With Neath down to 14 players Clive Griffiths’ side looked like they had stolen it at the death with winger Flockhart crossing, but he was adjudged to have put his foot in touch on the way to touching down.
Ultimately there were positives for both teams as they kicked off their 2014/15 pre-season campaign –Neath’s Director of Rugby Rowland Phillips would have been impressed by his sides work ethic and scramble defence, while new signing Rhodri Cole at scrum half looked lively and posed a constant threat around the fringes.
For Clive Griffiths’ Knights their sizeable backline caused a number of problems in the first half and their scrum was well on top throughout and perhaps Doncaster would have felt they had done enough to claim the win.
Neath Director of Rugby, Rowland Phillips, stated ‘The game was an extremely useful exercise for us and I got a huge amount out of it in terms of seeing how much the players had taken on board in the last six weeks. We’ve worked a lot on defensive organization and attitude if you look at the two Doncaster tries, the first comes from a wicked bounce and the second a mix up in policy off a driving line out which is easily solved moving forward. Doncaster had a lot of possession in the first half and found it very hard to break us down so from that perspective I’m reasonably happy.’
‘Individually there were good performances from some of the new faces in the squad such as Calum Thomas (man of the match), Rhodri Cole and Lloyd Phillips which suggests our recruitment over the summer has been good. We are going to learn more about these players and where we are as a team over the next few weeks and we have an even tougher encounter against Plymouth Albion this Saturday.’
‘It was good to be back at the Gnoll, with quite a vocal crowd, chanting Neath, Neath, Neath and the atmosphere in the club house seems to be getting back to the old days. It’s important that there is an even bigger crowd this Saturday, as the new players need to keep experiencing and understanding what it means to play for this Club.’
On Saturday Neath play host to another English Championship side with Plymouth Albion the visitors at the Gnoll while Doncaster have more Welsh opposition when Swansea visit Castle Park.