MATCH REPORT – NEATH v MAESTEG HARLEQUINS (04/09/2021)
NEATH 13 points MAESTEG QUINS 16 points
It would be all too easy for Neath to attribute the blame for this defeat to refereeing indecision even if most people leaving the ground – including many in the Maesteg Quins contingent – could not believe that Neath did not receive a penalty try in either half.
But Neath contributed to their own downfall by failing to take their chances and they then lacked the nous to make the clinical strike when they had the Quins on the ropes.
Still, fortune sometimes quite rightly favours those who fight for it – and Quins certainly fought with admirably huge determination despite their numbers gradually dwindling.
It is unfortunate that this keenly contested game will be remembered more for some contentious refereeing. Bristol-based official Mr. Alsop showed remarkable patience and laxity throughout before he suddenly issued three yellow cards to desperate Quins transgressors in the last few minutes; but his over-tolerance cost Neath more than it did Quins who held on for their third victory in three attempts.
It was evident from very early on that there would be little in it. In the first-half, visiting full back Owen Howe and home outside-half Steff Williams traded two penalties each and the latter converted a well-worked try by home full back Luke Griffiths too.
But the Blacks might have had more reward – three times they had lineout drives illegally halted on the Quins line but there was no yellow card. And Sion Crocker looked as if he had made the line on the fourth attempt but the referee ruled otherwise
So Neath had to be content with a 13-6 interval lead – but a 7 point lead is no lead at all especially when the opponents have a goal-licker of the class of Owain Howe, a regular points-harvester for Swansea and Bridgend.
Quins got the only try of the second-half and a fine effort it was too – Tadhg McGuckin looping cleverly in midfield before replacement Ryan Lovett showed more determination than did the Neath defenders to get to the ball first in pursuit of a kick by star man Howe.
The full back has many admirers in Neath and he added the conversion points to level it at 13-13 and, having missed with one kick, he then slotted his third penalty to give the Quins their slender advantage.
Neath (who lost hooker Crocker with a popped calf muscle) responded with a strong finish but poor judgement behind cost them twice and, laying siege to the Quins line, came that controversial finish.
Elis Horgan was correctly denied a try for a forward pass and, as the Neath assault intensified, the Quins defence became ever more desperate – illegal but highly commendable nevertheless.
The referee had remembered his yellow card in the second half and in rapid succession Quins skipper Stephen Williams, Andrew Healy and Lee Ronan disappeared to the bin for their indiscretions – but their interventions had the key effect of halting Neath drives for the line.
Penalty try time ? Neath certainly felt so but gallant Quins survived and Neath’s fate ultimately fell upon a couple of mis-calls at lineouts. Coach Patrick Horgan was aghast as Neath ought to have had sufficient experience and composure to make the right decisions … they did not – and Quins’ jubilation at the final whistle was palpable.
On the Neath side, there was some improvement since the reverse fixture. Of the individuals, James Roberts impressed with his work at re-starts but perhaps should have done better on one fine first-half run when he might have left the final defender for dead.
Owain Morgan, in his first outing as captain, and Alun Jones set a tireless example in the back row and Ciaran Comerford – the latest in a line of young forward recruits being gradually introduced by Neath – can be pleased with his first showing off the bench.
But in the end, Neath were left kicking themselves – possibly they had done enough to win under most circumstances but not this time. The harsh lesson was that they did not do enough to make the win certain.
NEATH – L.Griffiths; J.Bayliss, R.Evans, D.Langdon, J.Roberts; S.Williams, M.Griffiths; G.W. Lloyd, S.Crocker, T.Ryan; S.Langford, J.Barley; A.Jones, D.Griggs, O.Morgan Replacements – J.Clark, J.Powell, C.Comerford, E.Horgan, B.Atkins
MAESTEG QUINS – O.Howe; K.Watkins, L.Evans, L.Ronan, A.Griffiths; T.McGuckin, J.Williams; L.Francis, C.Thomas, D.Ronan; S.Williams (capt), N.Ace; A.Evans, A.Healy, M.Tidball Replacements – A.Eubank-Anderson, G.Burridge, R.Lovett, B.Huntley, H.Grant-Morgan Referee – Mr. S.R. Alsop (Bristol)
*** Prior to the kick-off, both sides and a hushed crowd stood for an immaculately-observed minute’s silence in memory of former treasurer John Prichard and of others now departed including two members of Neath’s 1966/67 Welsh championship-winning side – Alan Butler and D. Brian Davies.