NEATH 22 points LLANELLI 31 points
Neath’s second-half comeback burned out and was not quite enough to overturn Llanelli’s 21-3 interval leaving the All Blacks regretting their first-half generosity.
In the late autumn sunshine, these old rivals served up an entertaining game which
Neath started positively enough with centre Matthew Pearce twice making deep inroads into the Llanelli ranks and forwards Ryan Thomas, Lyndon Bateman and Leon Ward to the fore. But the warning signs were there when Llanelli lost flanker Tom Phillips to the sin-bin and the Blacks were unable to take advantage and make an impression on the scoreboard.
Thereupon, Neath became architects of their own downfall as two defensive errors were fully punished by Llanelli. Not for the first time this year, Neath had cause to rue a marginal refereeing decision – an early tackle on Iwan Evans went unpunished, instead Llanelli got a scrum put-in and outside-half Billy McBride stepped between two defenders to race clear for the opening try which he converted himself. It should have been prevented ! So too Llanelli’s second try which was down to Neath laxity as Llanelli gratefully accepted a gift ball and wing Dion Jones sped across for McBryde to convert.
Neath were stunned and the game seemed way beyond them when flanker Owain Morgan crossed for a third try which McBryde again converted. Just before half-time, Neath opened their account when winger Ed Howley kicked a penalty but at 3-21 Llanelli were very much in the driving seat.
The introduction of Keiran Williams after the interval sparked Neath into life and the young centre – back after a month away with the Ospreys – looked full of zest and enthusiasm. Inspired Neath hit back with a neat try at the posts by outside-half Iwan Evans and, although McBryde responded with a penalty, Neath were beginning to play and full back Dan Guarneri dropped the ball with the try-line beckoning,
Another score was in the offing though and good work by Iwan Evans and flanker Calum Davies freed Keiran Williams who jubilantly charged over for Neath’s second try which Howley converted and suddenly the Blacks were back in it at 17-24. Things looked brighter still for the home side when a defence-splitting run by the outstanding Williams saw the ball switched right and Howley capped a fine movement to cross for Neath’s third try in the right corner which made it 22-24.
An unlikely comeback seemed on the cards but Llanelli, with ex-Ospreys and Gloucester prop Nicky Thomas an imposing bench-presence at the scrum, tightened things up and, when Neath replacement Geraint James was somewhat harshly despatched to the bin in a rare Llanelli foray into Neath territory, the visitors pounced for a driving-lineout try by prop Rhys Fawcett which McBryde converted.
As time ticked by, Neath tried valiantly to recover at least a bonus-point or two, forward replacements Sion Crocker and Tom Hayward figuring in late handling attacks, but, with young prop Callum Jones also despatched to the bin, it was not to be and Llanelli got a deserved win on a 4-3 try-count.
Neath visit Llandovery on Saturday where the return of captain Jordan Collier, Jon Barley and Neil White should increase options ahead of a much more focussed forward effort which will be needed against one of the Premiership’s most dangerous sides.
Neath host Llanelli at The Gnoll on Saturday (early kick off 1.30pm) in the Principality Premiership with the Welsh All Blacks looking to build on last week’s win over Bridgend.
The Welsh All Blacks again rotate their squad and coach Gareth Llewellyn said, “We’ve freshened up the front five who have had some heavy duties in the last few weeks.
“Llanelli are a quality side and we know they will challenge us in all areas with players returning from the region. But our boys are a determined bunch and are looking to start climbing the table.
“Llanelli will be hurting after losing at the death to Cross Keys last week but we’ve had our share of results like that too and, had the luck run differently, both clubs would be higher placed than they are.”
With skipper Jordan Collier still sidelined under the concussion protocols, fellow back-rower Leon Ward will again lead the side.
Neath v Llanelli (Home)
Neath 15 Dan Guarneri; 14 Ed Howley, 13 Matthew Pearce, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Aaron Grabham; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Josh Guy; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Aled Morris, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Lyndon Bateman; 6 Leon Ward (captain), 8 Charlie Davies, 7 Calum Davies
Replacements – 16 Sion Crocker, 17 Callum Jones, 18 Geraint James, 19 Tom Hayward, 20 Aled Cockwell, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Keiran Williams, 23 Kristian Corbisiero