Neath v Llandovery (Principality Premiership)
Llandovery outmuscled Neath at scrum-time to claim a convincing bonus-point victory at the Gnoll.
The power generated by the Llandovery front-five forwards simply swept the Blacks away, and victory was achieved on a 6-2 try-count.
Neath included wing Aisea Natoga from the Ospreys, who became the first Fijian to represent the Blacks since flanker Alfie Mocelutu back in 2003.
But Mocelutu is likely to revisit Neath soon, as he’s now Fiji forwards coach – and they face Wales at The Millennium Stadium on November 15.
Ospreys hooker Scott Otten also made a Neath debut while Llandovery blooded Scarlets lock George Earle and again included former Neath flier Kristian Phillips from the Llanelli-based region.
The Drovers, who gained a first league victory at The Gnoll during the 2012/13 campaign and repeated the feat last term, soon suggested a third successive win was on the cards.
However, it was the Blacks who got the scoreboard moving after just two minutes.
Captain and No 8 Lee Beach and centre Ryan Evans both made inroads for unmarked wing Natoga to claim a debut try.
It went unconverted, but the Drovers soon exerted pressure and eased into a 7-5 lead.
The Neath eight were driven back at a scrum five that eventually crumpled, and referee Owain Griffiths awarded a penalty try that fly-half Ian Brooks goaled.
Back came Neath with a penalty from replacement full-back Luke Price only for Llandovery to immediately retake the lead.
Space was created down the right touchline and it was exploited by wing Kristian Phillips, who touched down close to the flag.
A third Llandovery try followed after a quarter of an hour with another scrum five proving the downfall of the former champions.
This time on the Neath put in, the scrum wheeled for No 8 Richard Brooks to secure a sucker try that once more was unconverted for 17-8.
And the Drovers went on to bank one of the quickest four-try bonus points in league history, completing the feat in the 26th minute.
Another scrum five caused Neath problems – this time twisting left – and wing Sam Soul squeezed over for an unconverted try.
That made it 22-8 and in the 33rd minute, there were yellow cards for Neath lock Leon Ward and opposite number Earle.
A Price penalty then narrowed the deficit, but during stoppage time the Drovers struck again.
Turnover ball on their 22 was spread right and wing Phillips chipped ahead and regathered to claim a 59thleague try.
Once more the conversion attempt from Brooks failed and Llandovery changed ends with a 27-11 advantage.
Further yellow cards went to the Llandovery duo of prop Greg Cunniffe and lock Bryn Griffiths along with Neath replacement Marc Jones.
But on the hour it was Neath who got the next score – hooker Scott Otten touching down from close range with Price converting – to reduce arrears to 27-18.
It led to Llandovery increasing the tempo, and they resumed normal service on the back of a James Garland penalty.
It was soon followed by a smart corner try from nippy scrum-half Lee Rees on 65 minutes that completed the scoring.
Ironically, the Drovers only took the second half, 8-7, and afterwards Neath director of rugby Rowland Phillips seized on that point.
He said: “It doesn’t take an Albert Einstein to workout our main problem area, and we will again look to address the scrum this week.
“Three of the six Llandovery tries were scrum related – and you cannot afford to do that at this level.
“Again we made a decent start only to switch off, and provide Llandovery with 22 points in as many minutes.
“But when we were able to get our hands on the ball, there was a definite threat and we brought them back to 18-27.
“The main source of encouragement was our second-half display when the players got to grips with the structure.’’
|September 27, 2014
|The Lextan Gnoll