NEATH 13 MAESTEG QUINS 31
Neath can have had very few darker days at The Gnoll than they had on Saturday when they lost to Maesteg Quins who were very good value for their three tries to one victory.
The Blacks are now on the crest of a slump with four consecutive defeats consigning their good start to the season to memory and the time has come to make a stand.
The coaches’ scope is limited given the length of the injury-list at the moment with hooker Sion Crocker and No.8 Tomi Antozzi – the best forwards on view at Cyncoed the previous week – missing out on this one and skipper Aaron Bramwell joining them. But a dramatic improvement is called for as Gnoll supporters’ patience is not unlimited.
An early exchange of penalties between Quins outside-half Tadhg McGuckin and Neath’s Luke Griffiths was followed by a Quins try by flanker Andrew Healy which McGuckin converted to make it 10-3.
Neath levelled when No.8 David Griggs crossed for his eighth try of the season and Griffiths converted and things were evenly contested for most of the first half. But, when Neath counter-rucked effectively, the referee strangely found fit to issue a yellow card to Neath scrum-half Nicky Griffiths before the Blacks went in at the interval 13-10 to the good when Luke Griffiths landed his second penalty goal.
In the second-half, McGuckin soon evened things up with his second penalty before the referee double yellow carded Nicky Griffiths and the loss of their experienced play-maker certainly hit the Blacks hard – it was a crucial decision, possibly the turning point, and it came for two rather innocuous events.
McGuckin fired over the resultant penalty but the Blacks were still in it. They heaped pressure on the visitors line but were repelled by a combination of strong defence and several poor options and eventually Neath’s set-piece faltered in the face of a determined effort by the tight-knit Quins eight who were well led by Dean Ronan.
Quins weathered the storm and, when play switched to the other end, made the most of their opportunity when they were awarded a blind-side try following a blatant knock-on which was seen by just about everyone in the ground except the man who matters.
Wing Alex Griffiths was the beneficiary but, as the Bedwas game had proved, Neath really needed to put points on the board when on top as they cannot rely on correct refereeing decisions at this level where, minus assistants, unsighted whistlers do not always get it right.
McGuckin’s conversion made it 23-13 and Quins cemented their historic victory when Healy crossed for his second try to complete their delight and McGuckin landed another penalty. All credit to the Quins on their victory which will put them in good heart when they entertain Narberth next while Neath must make an immediate response.
NEATH – L.Griffiths; E.Clayden, A.Bramwell (capt) (D.Guarneri), W.Holley, J.Roberts; Jordan Rees, N.Griffiths (M.Griffiths); S.Jones (I.James), Iestyn Jones (J.Lewis), L.Tobias; Ioan Jones (B.Lukes), R.Morgan; J.Blackmore, D.Griggs, J.Hill
MAESTEG QUINS – K.Watkins; A.Griffiths, P.Songhurst, L.Ronan, G.Evans; T.McGuckin, C.Jones; L.Francis, J.Ronan, D.Ronan; N.Smith, N.Ace; L.Tutt, A.Hillier-Rees, A.Healy Replacements – Steve Williams, C.Thomas, G.Burridge, Scott Williams, R.Powell
Referee – Mr. E.Morris-Roberts (Ystradgynlais)
Neath seek to get their season back on track when they host Maesteg Harlequins at The Gnoll for the first time on Saturday (kick off – 2.30pm).
For various reasons, 14 players were unavailable last weekend but the Blacks are boosted by the arrival of new centre Will Rees-Hole who is one of six changes to the side which started at Cardiff Metropolitan.
Top points scorer Luke Griffiths is at full back with speedster Ethan Clayden coming in on the wing having last played in the pre-season win over Swansea and Jordan Rees is partnered at half back by fit-again Nicky Griffiths.
Up front, Iestyn Jones deputises for Sion Crocker at hooker with Ioan Jones returning at lock, Jacob Blackmore moving to the back row alongside Jon Hill and top try-scorer David Griggs who has missed the last two games.
Neath v Maesteg Harlequins (Home) 2.30pm
15 Luke Griffiths; 14 Ethan Clayden, 13 Aaron Bramwell (captain), 12 Will Rees-Hole, 11 James Roberts; 10 Jordan Rees, 9 Nicky Griffiths; 1 Steffan Jones, 2 Iestyn Jones, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Ioan Jones, 5 Rhys Morgan; 6 Jacob Blackmore, 8 David Griggs, 7 Jon Hill
Replacements : 16 Ifan James, 17 Jake Lewis, 18 Ben Lukes, 19 Macauley Griffiths, 20 Will Holley
Touch Judge – Mr. Adrian Shaw