Easter Saturday is always a special day for Neath RFC for it marks the return of the Welsh All Blacks to The Gnoll after just over 10 years playing at the nearby Bird-in-Hand Field.
1898 was the year in which Neath returned and April 9th the day – here is how the “Evening Express” reported the match (spellings and names have been tidied up) :-
NEATH v. MORRISTON.
This match was played at Neath, on the Gnoll Ground. The weather was dull, and a very strong wind blew down the field, and militated against a good game. Both teams were fairly well represented. Mr. Betts, of Newport, acted as referee.
Mog Reynolds started for Neath, and for the first few minutes Neath attacked hotly. Close to the line scrums were formed, and once or twice the All Blacks all but got over.
One of the Morriston halves got away and relieved to the centre, where the visitors were penalised. Joe Davies relieved well into Morriston ground, where Play of an even nature followed. Round after round of passing ensued, and Neath got quite close to the line again. Here a scrum was formed, and Charlie Powell, getting around nicely, scored a try which Joe Davies failed to convert.
After the resumption Neath pressed, and Morriston were penalised for the off-side play of the halves. Joe Davies tried a shot for goal, but one of the visiting backs received and returned into the field of play. Dai Evans failed to get under, or a mark in a favourable position would have resulted.
The All Blacks continued to attack, and a grand goal was kicked by Joe Davies from a mark. After the re-start Charlie Powell got away cleverly in midfield and passed to Phillips who gave rather a hard pass to Morris, which the latter failed to take.
A moment later a long kick compelled Morriston to concede a minor. When the game was resumed Neath again took up the attack, and the Morriston halves being again penalised, Joe Davies essayed another shot at goal.
The Morriston centre made a mark, but his kick was a failure, and Jim Thomas got away nicely, and passed to Bill Jones, who kicked and put his men on side, a lucky flying kick by Tom White averted a certain score, and a moment later a run by Dai Davies changed the venue to the centre, where for a time the game was strongly contested.
A fine round of passing between the home backs, in which Owen Harris was conspicuous, enabled the All Blacks to once more put on the pressure, but then a change came. Tom Roberts started a nice dribble, which was supplemented by some good passing between the visiting backs.
This resulted in Dai Davies scoring a neat try, which was not, however, converted. The game had not long been resumed when the home forwards got right up to the line. One of them knocked on at a critical moment, and nothing tangible resulted.
After another minor had been registered against the visitors Jack Linnard came away cleanly from half-way, arid when near the line he passed to Morris, who nearly got over.
The efforts of the home team were at last rewarded, and after a nice round of passing Bill Jones got over. The kick at goal just failed.
Half-time score: — G. T. M.
Neath 1* 2 4
Morriston 0 1 0
In the second half Morriston had the advantage of the wind, which was a very important factor. Morriston waged a good fight and as a result of a fine forward dribble the oval was taken right up to the Neath line.
Jack Linnard secured there, and passed to Owen Harris, who cleared his tine and got back to the 25 flag before his progress was arrested. Good play by the home backs changed the visitors quarters where a good chance of scoring was spoiled by the referee’s whistle.
There a nice bit of play by Charlie Powell, Charlie Morris, and Bill Jones followed, and the last named was held up close to the line. A penalty kick brought the visitors relief, and enabled them to get back to the centre.
One of the Morriston halves penalised his side, but no ground was gained by the kick. Play continued in midfield for a time. and honours were fairly even. then the visitors pressed, but it was not for long. for combined play saw Neath get back once again into Morriston ground.
The visiting forwards, who were glaringly off-side, rushed into Neath ground. but Owen Harris, with the run of the afternoon, changed the venue to the centre. A moment later, Oliver Harris receiving a pass from Phillips, clean beat five men, and would have easily scored had not the touch-line judge been a bit too careful on his own side.
A moment later Charlie Powell got away splendidly from half-way, and just failed to score. The All Blacks attacked hotly, and a fine forward rush ended in Mog Reynolds adding an unconverted try. The game had just been resumed when Charlie Powell again experienced hard lines, but Neath were not long to be denied, for after a grand round of passing Bill Jones scored an unconverted try. Time was called, with the score reading:
G. T. M.
Neath 1* 4 5
Morriston 0 1 0
• The score equates to 16-3.
• Bill Jones (2 tries) captained Neath for 9 seasons.
• Joe Davies and Charlie Powell were multi-Wales reserves but never capped.
• Morriston’s Tom White (later Wigan RL) and Dai Davies played for Neath – school-master Davies was killed on the Western Front in September 1918.
• Charlie Morris was the first Neath player to be killed in WWI on December 28th, 1914.
NEXT WEEK – we’ll return to Neath’s championship-winning Match Reports