LLANELLI 57 NEATH 13
As the scoreline suggests, Llanelli ran out comfortable winners at Parc-y-Scarlets but not for the first time the stark headline does not reflect that Neath again went down fighting and showed much of the spirit they will need next season.
The home side, reinforced in recent weeks by several Scarlets, achieved the maximum points they needed to help prevent them joining Neath’s descent and they had too many big guns for Neath’s determined scrappers.
The Blacks simply don’t have the team organisation at the moment but, with improved cohesion, things might have been a whole lot closer. Half a dozen line-out positions on the Llanelli line failed due to the unfamiliarity amongst the forwards.
Indeed, lack of familiarity was a problem for the Blacks as scrum-half Nicky Griffiths did his utmost to carve out a few openings which – again with greater back-up from support runners – might have produced more.
Throw in a couple of silly errors and there could only be one result and Llanelli were too strong with Scarlets flanker Dan Davis setting a rousing example. Fast to the breakdown, committed to the tackle and rugby-intelligent, Davis is the real deal and should be playing at regional level.
He scored one of Llanelli’s nine tries, the others coming from skipper Jason Lewis (2), No.8 Richard Rees, lock Chris Long, the Australian-Scarlet Ed Kennedy, Ryan Davies, a final intercept by hooker Greg George.
Outside half Ioan Hughes converted five but did not have a chance to convert the penalty try which interspersed two Callum Hall penalties at the start of the game.
Neath often threatened but lacked the control; those attacking line-outs prevented better and they lacked the incisiveness to make it count so had to be content with a sixth try of the season for skipper Aaron Bramwell, Hall converting, off a Nicky Griffiths tap.
Still, as has been the case in nearly every game since the “Troubles”, there was commendable effort and endeavour from the Neath lads whose time will come again as this type of effort, if produced consistently, will not go unrewarded.
Llanelli, suffering their own domestic upheaval, meanwhile cannot now be relegated automatically; they may yet, however, face a play-off against Pontypool but they could also be safe.
It all hinges on Bridgend’s game at Pontypridd on Saturday – if Bridgend get 3 points or more, Llanelli will enter the play-off with Bedwas relegated 2 points; if Bridgend get 2 points, they will face the play-off with Bedwas relegated; if, however, Bridgend get 1 point or less, they will be relegated and Bedwas will take on the play-off.
NEATH – Callum Hall; James Roberts (Nathan Cornelius), Aaron Bramwell (captain), Dean Howell, Matt Billett (Mark Harvey); Jordan Rees, Nicky Griffiths (Nathan Griffiths); Ifan James (Tyla Murvia), Sion Crocker, Gareth Hall (Keiran Griifths); Ioan Jones (Jon Barley), Rhys Thomas; Lee Evans, Leon Ward (Kiaran Mackey), Travis Huntley
Neath visit Llanelli at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm) and as usual are much-changed.
In a behind the scrum shuffle, Callum Hall moves to full back with skipper Aaron Bramwell going to centre and Dean Howell (Seven Sisters) and Matt Billett (Skewen) coming in on permit. Jordan Rees and Nicky Griffiths are re-united at half.
Up front, Ifan James, Sion Crocker and Gareth Hall (Glynneath) comprise an all-change front rank with Rhys Thomas and Ioan Jones paired behind them while Leon Ward returns to the back row.
Neath v Llanelli (Away)
15 Callum Hall; 14 James Roberts, 13 Aaron Bramwell (captain), 12 Dean Howell, 11 Matt Billett; 10 Jordan Rees, 9 Nicky Griffiths; 1 Ifan James, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Gareth Hall; 4 Ioan Jones, 5 Rhys Thomas; 6 Lee Evans, 8 Leon Ward, 7 Travis Huntley
Replacements – 16 Keiran Griffiths, 17 Connah Vaughan, 18 Tyla Murvai, 19 Jon Barley, 20 Kiaran Mackey, 21 Nathan Griffiths, 22 Nathan Cornelius, 23 Mark Harvey