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Neath RFC

On an evening of high emotion at The Gnoll, an appreciative crowd saw Neath Veterans XV take on a Martin Jones Select XV in a benefit match for the former Neath prop forward who is seriously ill.

Martin was there himself (chauffered for the evening by  lock Neil Edwards who packed down behind him so often) and, setting aside the poignancy of the occasion, those who like their rugby as it used to be can only have been enthralled by the spectacle.

The esteem in which Martin is held was demonstrated by the number (and quality) of players who rallied to the cause; many more, no longer able to play, still came along to support.

The Select XV comprised mainly players from the upper Swansea Valley which has long been a fertile breeding ground for Neath RFC, the programme notes paying tribute to players like Will Twm Davies, Will Dic Thomas, D. Glyn Davies, Tom James, Les Anthony Eddie Morgan and Cliff Williams who contributed greatly to Neath’s cause either side of the war.

Back with the present, the match itself was an essentially good-natured affair but play was keen throughout, the defences resolute and splendid last-ditch tackles at either end earned the approval of the watching throng.

Of course, old skills never die; in many cases they don’t even fade away and a host of “rolling” (don’t take the term too literally !) replacements ensured that a fair pace was maintained to keep the crowd richly entertained.

The Neath Veterans slipped quickly into gear to resurrect old familiarities and, while pace may have slowed a little, they soon showed that their ‘skills and drills’ from ages past were not forgotten.

Consequently, they led 33-7 at half-time after wing Kevin James (resplendent in his brother Paul’s old No.1 jersey) opened the scoring and was followed to the try-line by prop Nicky Downs who latched onto a bouncing ball over the try-line.

Outside-half Arwel Thomas glided through a couple of gaps in vintage style and he converted the second try and the next effort by full back Gareth King who showed all his old poise and balance.

The Select XV hit back when No.8 Craig Price crossed from a scrum and ex-Swansea man Ricky Williams converted before the Neath side pulled away with two graceful tries by the still quick-footed three-quarters Nathan Brew and Luke Ford who converted both.

The second-half was end-to-end, despite rain making an untimely intervention.

Jay Jones pulled back a try for the Select XV and outside-half Gareth James (who played his 400th game for Ystalyfera at Maesteg Quins the next day) converted.

There was a fair proportion of youngsters in the crowd and they – and older followers – were quick to show their their appreciation of the old stars ion both sides.

Much interest was, of course, taken in the prowess of world darts champion Gerwyn Price who paraded all his oval ball expertise in the middle of the front row.

He gave way to hooker Ashleigh James who bagged Neath’s sixth try and the seventh try was added by wing Neil Clapham before the Select XV had the final word when wing Ben Pricthard crossed under the posts.

Most fittingly, the conversion points were added by Martin Jones’ son Iestyn and referee Mr. Keith David (Cefn Cribbwr) – who exuded expert control and sound judgement – perhaps in deference to bursting lungs drew proceedings to a close.

Neath captain Gareth Gravel, one of the key match organisers, is hopeful that over £10,000 will have been raised once the match takings, programme, advertising and sponsorship, the auction and raffle have been taken into account.

Teams (in no particular order of appearance) :-

NEATH VETERANS – Gareth King; Kevin James, Nathan Brew, Aaron Bramwell, Luke Ford, Dafydd  Lockyer, Matthew Nuttall, Neil Clapham, Gareth Morris, Arwel Thomas, Gareth B. James, Pat Horgan, Tom James, Tom Barry; Nicky Downs, James Reeves, Antony V. Lott, Gerwyn Price, Andy Littlehales, Asheligh James, Euros Evans, Jonny Griffiths, Haydn Pugh, Lyndon Bateman, Leon Ward, Lee Evans, Gareth Gravell (captain)

SELECT XV – Ricky Willaims, Ben Pritchard, Gareth Thomas, Tristan Davies, Andrew Luther, Gareth J. James, Ryan Jones, Ryan Perrott, Leighton Phillips, Iestyn Jones (captain), Ben McPhail, Rhodri Davies, Cameron Thomas, Craig Price, Alun Jones

Referee – Mr. Keith David (Cefn Cribbwr)

Images courtesy of Len Kowalski