Neath came away from Sardis Road beaten but far from disgraced in an entertaining game on a glue-pot of a pitch.
There were eight changes in Neath’s starting line-up from the Aberavon game but in the opening quarter the visitors gave as good as they got. The back row set a high work-rate which they maintained throughout and scrum-half Chris Morgans exploited several gaps around the tackle area to keep the Blacks going forward.
But Ponty scored first when they moved the ball left from a quick penalty and Blues Academy outside-half Callum Hall was worked over for a debut try which he converted himself. Neath responded immediately when lock Jonny Griffiths careered away over 30 metres and, not to be left out, his co-lock Rhys Jones powered over for a try after a splendid run by flanker Alex Humfrey.
But Ponty’s forwards turned the screw up to half-time and they were awarded a penalty try to go with two scores from former Neath hooker Ashleigh James, Hall converting one, Neath had their chances too notably when winger Aaron Grabham put a foot in touch just short of the line and the interval was reached with Ponty 30-6 to the good.
Neath started the second-half well as impressive flanker Jordan Collier led a charge out of defence which was carried on by Humfrey but the eager Grabham was just beaten to his own chip to the corner. It mattered little as from the resultant line-out the Neath forwards gave Ponty a taste of their own medicine as hooker Ieuan Dobbs dabbed down from the inevitable driving maul.
No sooner prop Joel Ringer arrived than Neath lost him to a yellow card and Ponty took numerical advantage as scrum-half Tom Williams crossed under the posts for Hall to convert. With replacements Leon Ward and Josh Cole carrying on the good work of Griffiths and the tireless Alun Jones, Neath’s spirit was undaunted.
Sustained forward pressure from the visitors saw the numbers evened as James was carded and this time Neath struck through a second try by Dobbs. But Ponty had the last word when Neath lost Grabham to the bin and Matthew Nuthall crossed wide out, Hall again converting.
Neath continued to play and if anything finished stronger as they sought a fourth try which would have been theirs had not centre Iwan Evans, who generally had an excellent game, delayed what would have been a scoring pass to the unmarked Ed Howley outside him.
The League table indicates the gap between Ponty and Neath but travelling supporters were pleased with the never-say-die attitude of this young All Blacks side. 10 of the match-day squad are Under-20’s – a fact which underlines the belief that better days are ahead.