Rejoice ! Rejoice ! – it was not quite the stuff to set the bells of St. David’s Church ringing but an overdue win it was; and how thankful the good folk of Neath can be.
Both sides fielded youthful combinations – Llandovery out of choice, Neath (with 21 players unavailable, 18 through injury) more out of necessity … and it was the Neath lads who came out on top by a comfortable 5 tries to 2 margin.
Llandovery started well enough but when Neath got the ball they sustained possession well and they were rewarded with a try at the posts by livewire hooker Ieuan Dobbs, Iwan Evans adding the conversion points.
Neath scored again when full back Ashey Evans and No.8 Steffan Jones ran well off a midfield scrum move and impressive scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams was on hand to outpace the defence and claim his second try against Llandovery this season.
The Blacks should have added to their score but Evans missed a penalty chance and then Ashley Evans dropped a scoring pass off speedy winger James Roberts. At the resultant scrum, Neath were harshly penalised but they countered with a superb third try.
Winger Ian Ellis made the running on the let before Iwan Evans, looping around both his props, made space for flanker Leon Ward to crash over.
Both centres Cameron Morris and Dean Howell threatened but, with support slow to reach the former, Neath were penalised again and their defence didn’t regroup quickly enough to prevent Llandovery scoring at the other end where centre Craig Woodall got the touchdown and it was 20-6 at half-time.
The home side started the second-half scenting victory for the first time this season and the bonus point was soon registered when good combined play by backs and forwards ended in lock Jonny Griffiths pile-driving over for the fourth try at the posts and Iwan Evans’ conversion made it 28-6.
Griffiths was yellow-carded midway through the half as Neath conceded a string of penalties. Visiting flanker Andrew Green went over for one of those lineout and drive tries that are fast becoming a blot on the Premiership game and outside-half Steffan Marshall converted superbly to make it 28-14.
As both replacements’ benches were emptied, ironic cheers greeted the awarding of Neath’s first penalty of the second-half in the 38th minute and, after a long stoppage for an injury to visiting centre Rhodri Wall (who happily revived quickly after the final whistle), Neath struck on time with their fifth try by replacement full back Lewis Evans.
Neath supporters were delighted to see the barren spell ended. It ended on the back of an improved scrummage, an energetic display by the pack as a whole with Dobbs and Alun Jones always in the thick of it and a skilful display by the backline prompted by the “youth half-backs” who gave credence to one of Ron Waldron’s maxims “where there’s youth there’s hope.”
Both sides scored tries of genuine quality and Neath coach Patrick Horgan was spot on in his assessment saying, “We are obviously delighted and relieved to have tasted victory for the first time this season. It’s been a long time coming but we are under no illusions. The next challenge at Cross Keys in the League will be far, far tougher and we won’t be happy until we are winning regularly. But full marks to everyone – both sides contributed to a decent game of rugby and it was great to see our followers happy.”
NEATH – Ashley Evans; James Roberts (Lewis Evans), Cameron Morris, Dean Howell (Ryan Evans), Ian Ellis; Iwan Evans, Reuben Morgan-Williams (Tom James); Nicky Downs (captain) (Roy Jones), Ieuan Dobbs, Mark Jones (Adam Nation); Jon Barley, Jonathan Griffiths; Leon Ward (James Bain), Steffan Jones (Jack Davies), Alun Jones
LLANDOVERY – Lee Rees (James Davies); Jacob Clement (Rhys Gealy), Rhodri Wall (Bryn Griffiths), Craig Woodall, Mike Evans; Steffan Marshall, Rhodri Davies (Dan Brooks); Bradley Davies (Berian Watkins), Tom Ball (Dafydd Hughes), Simon Jenkins (Dean Howells); Jake Baker, Colin Markham; Andrew Green, Joe Powell, Richard Rees (captain), (Shaun Miles)
Referee – Mr. David Cambourne (Treorchy)