MERTHYR 44 NEATH 18
Battered but unbowed, Neath went out of the WRU National Cup at Merthyr on Saturday – a not totally unexpected result given the clubs’ current standings – but the score-line hides a terrific effort by the visitors whose fire was only extinguished by two late yellow cards brandished for technical offences.
It was a brave effort by the Blacks to hold last year’s beaten finalists to 2 tries to 5, two of which came in an extended injury-time, and the home side’s advantage was magnified by the immaculate goal-kicking of Matthew Jarvis – eight from eight this week and 19 points after succeeding with only one out of six the previous week.
The first-half was quite evenly-fought with neither side able to make much headway. Neath were there for the battle and they coped admirably with Merthyr’s close-range driving and shackled their biggest attacking threat behind of centres Aaron Pinches and Harley Thomson. Neath lost hooker Sion Crocker and scrum-half Macauley Griffiths to early injuries in an engaging first-half in which the best try-scoring chances came on the left flanks, Ben Atkins getting outside his man on a touchline dash and Neath captain Aaron Bramwell making a splendid last-ditch tackle at the opposite corner.
Jordan Rees and Nicky Griffiths put in several telling kicks for Neath and the outside-half was responsible for Neath’s first-half points via two penalties which matched two efforts by Jarvis who banged over a third on the stroke of half-time to give Merthyr a 9-6 lead.
However, Merthyr came out strongly after half-time and when No.8 and captain Phil Rees forced his way over from a short-range scrum, Jarvis’ conversion made it 16-6. Neath refused to lie down but, as their defence tired and their chase slowed, they conceded two quick tries to half-backs Rhys Davies and Robert Downes. Yet, the Blacks hit back and forced a scrum on the home line, Nicky Griffiths exploited the blind-side and flanker Tomi Antozzi popped up in support to claim the try.
With ten minutes remaining, the referee, showing little empathy, chose to issue Neath with two late yellow cards which astonished supporters home and away. The deficiency allowed Adam Hoskins to steal in for Merthyr but Neath refused to die and were rewarded for some excellent continuity when replacement prop Ifan James forced his way over and replacement Callum Hall converted to make it 30-16. 13 against 15 is ever a mismatch though and, on the final play of an elongated injury-time, Hoskins rather took the gloss off a valiant Neath effort with his second try on a kick to the corner.
Really, Neath deserved better as the pack lifted their game to a new level. Prop Steff Jones and lock Jacob Blackmore were active grafters while Jon Barley enjoyed his line-out tussle with Blues lock James Down. Then, of course, there was the “AGM back row” – Antozzi, Griggs, Malone – who shirked nothing.
Playing within the system but more aggressive, challenging and vigorous is something which must be repeated over the rest of the season ! If the Neath pack had played with this determination all season, the Blacks would have won three or four more games…
MERTHYR – M.Jarvis; A.Hoskins, H.Thomson (G.Davies), A.Pinches, S.Jones (L.Lloyd); R.Davies, R.Downes; C.Phillips (R.B.Thomas), I.Morris (S.Evans), J.Gilding (L.Owen); B.Siers, J.Downs; G.Legge (T.Daley), P.Rees (capt), J.Thomas (J.Perkins)
NEATH – I.Morgan (C.Hall); S.Court, A.Bramwell (capt), M.Pearce, B.Atkins; Jordan Rees, M.Griffiths (N.Griffiths) (R.Pritchard); B.Uphill (I.James), S.Crocker (I.Jones), S.Jones (G.W.Lloyd); J.Blackmore, J.Barley; T.Antozzi (J.Hill), D.Griggs (B.Lukes), S.Malone
Referee– Mr. E.Morris-Roberts (Ystradgynlais)
It is Cup quarter final day on Saturday and Neath, along with Pontypool, keep the Championship flag flying. The Blacks visit Merthyr at the Wern (kick off 2.30pm).
With winger James Roberts away, Neath re-shuffle their resources behind. Macauley Griffiths takes over at scrum-half with Iestyn Morgan coming in at full back. Sam Court moves to the wing with skipper Aaron Bramwell at centre. The only change up front sees Jacob Blackmore return for Rhys Morgan who suffered a calf injury against Pontypool.
Neath v Merthyr (Away) 2.30pm
15 Iestyn Morgan; 14 Sam Court, 13 Aaron Bramwell (captain), 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Ben Atkins; 10 Jordan Rees, 9 Macauley Griffiths; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Steffan Jones; 4 Jacob Blackmore, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Tomi Antozzi, 8 David Griggs, 7 Scott Malone
Replacements – 16 Ifan James, 17 Iestyn Jones, 18 Gareth Wyn Lloyd, 19 Jon Hill, 20 Ben Lukes, 21 Nicky Griffiths, 22 Callum Hall, 23 Ross Pritchard
Referee – Mr. Elfyn Morris-Roberts (Ystradgynlais)