MERTHYR 47 NEATH 5
Neath’s visit to Premiership leaders Merthyr predictably ended in defeat as it was bottom versus top – but again there was much to commend in the All Blacks’ performance.
A squad featuring 12 players on permit, 6 in the starting backs line-up, is no recipe for success at big-spending Merthyr and the Premiership leaders duly beat Neath – but not without a fight !
Neath held them to 5-12 at half-time and, though heavily penalised by an unsympathetic referee who added to Neath’s woes with a double sin-binning before half-time, the Blacks tackled tenaciously, defended doggedly and competed courageously.
Both those tries – by Adam Hoskins and Rhys Williams – came from the scourge of the modern game – innocuous penalties around the halfway line, followed by a kick to touch and a close-range line-out drive with defenders unable to get near the ball.
Neath stole a score themselves when Guido Volpi’s sleight of hand sent Skewen winger Matthew Billett in at the left corner and the Blacks to a man worked overtime not least the back row of Volpi and his flankers Alun Jones and Joe Grabham and Bedlinog scrum Liam Roberts on his debut.
Hooker Williams repeated the line-out drive trick twice in the second-half leading one Neath follower to wonder aloud why Sir Stan Thomas is spending his millions just to watch line-out drives.
Those scores put the home side out of reach and they added three prettier scores after that. While Neath are bringing in players from Division 3, Merthyr brought in Welsh international Tom James who got one before Jay Baker added two in injury time – and six Jarvis conversions meant that Neath went down to a heavier defeat than it might have been.
Arguably, Neath made better use of the possession they had with Keiran Williams and Jordan Rees inventive attackers. Up front hooker Sion Crocker, locks Scott Davies and Gareth Howells and the back row worked hard throughout.
Despite it being almost a “mission impossible”, Neath as usual took strong support and their large band of followers was rewarded with another committed performance from the team. And the faithful will be there at Bedwas for Saturday’s re-arranged fixture (12 noon kick off).
NEATH – Aaron Bramwell (captain) (Callum Hall); John Lumb, Jarrad Rees, Keiran Williams (Sean O’Brien), Matthew Billett; Jordan Rees, Liam Roberts; Ben Uphill (Stef Bond), Sion Crocker (Connah Vaughan), Gareth Wyn Lloyd (Zach Evans); Scott Davies (Lee Evans), Gareth Howells; Alun Jones (Leon Ward), Guido Volpi, Joe Grabham
Neath make several changes when they head to table-topping Merthyr on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).
Behind the scrum, wingers John Lumb (Cardigan) and Matthew Billett (Skewen) come in while Jordan Rees and Liam Roberts (Bedlinog) link up at half-back. Ben Uphill returns to the front row with Gareth Howells in the second row and Academy prospect Joe Grabham gets a start in the back row.
Neath v Merthyr (Away)
15 Aaron Bramwell (captain); 14 John Lumb, 13 Jarrad Rees, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Matthew Billett; 10 Jordan Rees, 9 Liam Roberts; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Gareth Wyn Lloyd; 4 Scott Davies, 5 Gareth Howells; 6 Alun Jones, 8 Guido Volpi, 7 Joe Grabham
Replacements – 16 Connah Vaughan, 17 Stef Bond, 18 Dyfan Ceredig, 19 Ioan Jones/Lee Evans, 20 Leon Ward, 21 Callum Hall, 22 Sion O’Brien, 23 Gareth Hopkins