NEATH 19 LLANDOVERY 5
Sharpness in attack and total commitment in defence ensured that Neath put an end to their depressing run with a well-merited victory under The Gnoll floodlights on Friday.
Both sides were under-strength – Neath due to their injury-list and Llandovery due to Scarlets’ calls – but the sides served up entertaining, action-packed rugby football which warmed the crowd on a cold, still November night.
Neath showed their determination from the start. Quickly out of the blocks – a rarity this season – after only four minutes, they took a lead they would never lose. Immediately onto the attack, No.8 Leon Ward took a quick tap and big lock Matthew Davies celebrated his inclusion in the preliminary Wales Under-20’s squad by bundling over for the opening try and the young forward went on to enjoy a fine game, frequently making the hard yards and inroads into the Llandovery ranks.
Neath were playing some good rugby with halves Chris Morgans and Iwan Evans probing and kicking well and the three-quarters looked strong and full of running. Up front, Neath had the edge at the scrums, the line-out work was sound and prop Geraint James, hooker Sion Crocker and flanker Ryan Bean showed up well in the loose.
The Blacks went further ahead after good sustained play saw them retain possession through the phases and the hard-working Leon Ward took an inside pass from scrum-half Morgans to cross and full back Ed Howley converted to make it 12-nil. It was fast and furious stuff and Neath were a little unfortunate not to add to their advantage, Mike Evans and Morgans going desperately close.
Leading 12-nil at half-time, Neath were determined not to let the opportunity escape them. Llandovery started the second-half on the attack but two good relieving kicks by Morgans kept them at bay and the Blacks soon levied their third try.
The forwards, hunting as eight, marched on impressively from a line-out on the 22 and Crocker put back-rower Rhys Jones through a gap to ploug over at the posts and Howley’s conversion made it 19-nil. Llandovery came back at Neath and forced a series of close-range positions but their efforts came to nothing as the home defence was resolute and replacement Dan Guarneri ran enterprisingly out of defence.
At the other end, Neath pressed but were thwarted by the Llandovery defence which bordered dangerously on the off-side line. Llandovery kept coming and, after Crocker had been yellow-carded, their efforts brought about a try for replacement Jamie Hughes.
Llandovery threw everything into attack at the end in a vain attempt to rescue a bonus-point and the Neath replacements worked as hard as anyone in defence as Neath kept them out and deservedly took the spoils.
Of course, the win came against a side every bit as disrupted as Neath but the Blacks will happily take it in the knowledge that Llanelli away next Friday will require an even bigger effort. For the 8th time this season, Neath hit 3 tries and, with 33 from 11 games, they are level with leaders RGC and second-placed Carmarthen Quins; this time the defence was tight and limited Llandovery to just one score … and that was the difference : a hungry Neath team on a mission. Now it must be sustained !
NEATH – E.Howley (D.Guarneri); M.Evans, R.Smith, G.Evans (capt) (M.Pearce) G.Llewellyn; I.Evans, C.Morgans (S.Gibson); N.White (L.Tobias),S.Crocker (J.Hawkins), G.James (R.Thomas); M.Davies (C.White), J.Barley; R.Jones, L.Ward, R.Bean
LLANDOVERY – L.Williams; O.Davies (D.Pritchard), R.Evans, K.Charles, R.Wall; K.Jones (N.Setaro), A.Davies (S.Maynard); B.Watkins (J.Hughes), M.Moore (R.Guest), G.Cunniffe (L.Green); B.Griffiths, M.Jones (L.Ellis-Jones); E.Price, R.Brooks (capt), D.Eager (S.Miles)
Referee – Mr. G.Morris (Cardiff)
It has been 8 long weeks since Neath last played a home game but on Friday the Welsh All Blacks host Llandovery at The Gnoll (kick off 7.30pm).
Neath’s injury problems mounted last week when they lost wing Alec Jenkins (quad) and prop Ben Uphill (ribs) at RGC but they battled away in the second-half before losing 19-31.
The Blacks make four changes with Neil White and Geraint James returning at prop and Ryan Bean in the back row. Only behind the scrum change sees Geraint Llewellyn take over from Alec Jenkins.
Neath coach Gareth Llewellyn said, “It will be nice to play at home again after such a long break. We still have a lot of injuries and Llandovery, probably the best footballing side in the Premiership, will obviously be another big challenge for us.
“If our forwards impose themselves like they did in the second-half last week and we stop killing ourselves with silly errors, we can play and boost our 30 tries tally which is up there with Llandovery’s best which is 35.”
Dan Guarneri and Ceri White return to the replacements’ bench which also features hooker Jordan Hawkins.
Neath v Llandovery (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Mike Evans, 13 Richard Smith, 12 Gavin Evans (captain), 11 Geraint Llewellyn; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Neil White, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Matthew Davies, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Rhys Jones, 8 Leon Ward, 7 Ryan Bean
Replacements :- 16 Liam Tobias, 17 Jordan Hawkins, 18 Ryan Thomas, 19 Scott Hicks, 20 Ceri White, 21 Scott Gibson, 22 Matthew Pearce, 23 Dan Guarneri