Neath coach Gareth Llewellyn summed it up when he said, “There is obviously a lot of work to be done” after the Welsh All Blacks disappointed in losing the season’s opener against Newport at The Gnoll on Saturday.
In an untidy game that rarely scaled the heights, the two teams seemed a little bit apprehensive, both of each other and of the experimental laws which saw to it that there was not a single penalty attempt at goal – and that has not happened for longer than anyone can remember at The Gnoll!
Neath started strongly into the breeze and had the better of the opening exchanges and they took the lead when all-action hooker Sion Crocker crossed for the first 6-point try after outside-half Gareth McCarthy’s quickly taken penalty.
Neath’s back-row of skipper Jordan Collier, Calum Davies and Alun Jones got through a mountain of work as Neath strove to keep at bay the heavier Newport pack. Neither side lacked for effort but there was a distinct air of early-season rustiness about proceedings.
The home side enjoyed territorial advantage in the first-half but the Black and Ambers levelled through a try by centre Barney Nightingale before the interval after full back Alec Jenkins was closed down in defence.
Newport stepped up the pressure in the second-half and extended their lead to 18-6 through tries by centre Haydn Palmer and replacement flanker Craig Attwell, one of which Matt O’Brien converted.
The curse of the yellow card intervened and Neath fought back through tries by replacement back rower Steffan Jones and a sparkling effort of combined team play which was finished by scrum-half Tom James.
Replacement outside-half Joel Matavesi converted both and suddenly Neath were back in front at 22-16 and were attacking again when Newport broke out and a speculative kick ahead led to them being awarded a penalty try, the eight points giving them the lead again.
As Neath threw everything at Newport in a bid to gain the win, referee Gwyn Morris (Cardiff), his patience exhausted, sent off visiting skipper Adam Brown (who had earlier been yellow carded) and Neath’s Nicky Downs for fighting.
While there was not a lot in it at the end, Neath’s bonus point was of little consolation but they can have few complaints as they gave second best to the Newport pack and made too many mistakes to have had a genuine claim to victory – lessons need to be heeded quickly.