Neath were left kicking themselves after a last minute penalty attempt by unrecognised kicker Chris Morgans sailed wide and denied them a point at Bedwas.
Despite a dreadful opening quarter during which they conceded 12 points and being under pressure at the scrums, Neath somehow stayed with Bedwas for the rest of the game and, in the end, can count themselves a little unlucky to go home empty-handed.
Indeed, had the touchline and corner-flag not denied flying winger Josh Jones two tries – one in each half – and, had Neath not spurned other simple penalty chances smack in front of the posts, it may have been a very different story indeed.
Bedwas started strongly and two penalties by ace-kicker Richard Powell soon had the scoreboard moving and, when full back Alec Jenkins was closed down and possession turned over, the home side struck for the opening try through Dragons Academy centre Conor Edwards which Powell goaled.
However, Neath upped their game and responded boldly to spend much of the remainder of the half in Bedwas territory. Twice they were awarded close-range penalties when advantage might have been played but, looking for tries, the goal-kicks were ignored.
Instead, Bedwas broke out and the Neath cover was not up to its task as winger Rory Budina claimed a try, Powell again converting for a 20-nil advantage, Josh Jones was denied a try in the corner (a decision which mystified Neath supporters on the spot !) but Neath’s spirit was finally rewarded when outside-half Joel Matavesi kicked a penalty and Neath’s resurgence brought a close-range try from scrum-half Tom James on the interval.
On the re-start, Bedwas took full advantage of a needless Neath forward pass for Budina to claim his second try and it all seemed over. But Neath were far from done and played a lot of enterprising rugby. When they were called on to defend their try-line, the effort was nothing short of superb and, with 10 minutes remaining, Neath staged a strong finish.
Only a brave fall by Conor Edwards saved an almost certain Neath try and, for the second time, Josh Jones was denied (seemingly a foot in touch) before a booming reverse pass from James found emergency outside-half Chris Morgans whose inside-pass sent replacement Ian Ellis flying to the posts for Morgans to drop kick the conversion.
As Neath kept up the attack, Bedwas conceded a penalty in the shadow of their posts and Neath’s ambition was such that they ignored what would have been a bonus-point clinching penalty but the move faltered. Bedwas stormed towards the Neath line and their forward advantage might have brought a fourth home try but Neath again defended magnificently and, running the ball from behind their own line, sped downfield. With the last play of the game, Neath were awarded a penalty 30 metres out but Morgans, in fairness an irregular goal-kicker, failed and the chance was lost.
Neath team manager Martyn Morris expressed mixed emotions, “We can be very proud of the attitude and adventure shown throughout,” he said. “After going behind early on, many a side would have cracked but we countered well and, although it was tough to come away with nothing, there was a lot more encouragement for us.
“Really, we could have scored another 20-points – twice Josh Jones could not have got any closer to scoring and we ignored three very kickable penalties which, in the end, would have made the difference.
”Everybody stuck to their guns and we are getting there. This is a young squad, we have a long-term development plan and I think some of the newcomers we have introduced this year – Cameron Morris, Ian Ellis, Geraint James and young Josh Cole among them – will pretty soon be making a real impact on this Division.”
Next, it is on to Parc-y-Scarlets (kick off 1.30pm) and, although they will be lacking a few regulars attending Aaron Bramwell’s wedding, Neath are hoping that their new spirit of adventure will soon start paying dividends.