NEATH 10 MERTHYR 26
Neath’s improvement continued in another valiant effort against Premiership leaders Merthyr who turned on the pressure in the second-half to clinch a well-deserved win at The Gnoll.
Attacking the Town end, the Blacks’ steady progress of late was borne out within three minutes when, following a quick tap penalty by scrum-half Chris Morgans, good combined play advanced Neath from the half-way line and full back Ed Howley skipped over for a try which he converted.
Scrummaging solidly, Neath continued to bubble and a defence-splitting break by Luke Price had supporting centre Keiran Williams tackled off the ball but the offence went unseen and another Neath attack saw them lose the ball on the line in the left corner.
But after 20 minutes play switched to the Union end for the first time and Merthyr’s first bit of sustained play brought them a try through former Neath captain Lee Evans to make it 7-5.
The Blacks responded with some strong play by their centres, backed up by a lively forward effort and, approaching half-time, Howley fired over a penalty from close on 40 metres.
Neath’s 10-5 lead lasted barely a minute though as they failed to secure the re-start and Merthyr, showing the confidence that comes with their lofty position, went ahead through a try by full back Josh Martin who collected an inside pass and outside-half Richard Powell’s conversion made it 12-10 to the visitors.
Most onlookers in a good Bank Holiday crowd would have agreed that Neath were a little unlucky to be behind at the interval after having the edge in the first-half. But similarly few would contend that Merthyr were much the better side after the break.
The Blacks had an early chance to go back in front but replacement scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams was thwarted. And gradually Merthyr turned the screw as Neath’s tenacious effort tired. With 10 minutes remaining, Neath were penalised at a scrum on half-way, Merthyr opted to kick for a line-out and, controlling possession, skipper Nick White eventually powered over for a try which Powell easily goaled.
Merthyr were well on top now and only stout Neath defence kept them at bay but, with five minutes of normal time remaining, Merthyr’s bulkier forward power settled it when lock Craig Locke, summoned from the bench for the second-half, was driven over and Martin’s conversion made it 26-10. Brave as Neath were to the end, the better side won.
NEATH – E.Howley; J.Roberts, K.Williams, M.Evans, A.Jenkins (S.Gibson); L.Price (D.Guarneri), C.Morgans (R.Morgan-Williams); B.Uphill (H.Wilkes), G.Lloyd (S.Crocker), L.Tobias (G.James); M.Davies, J.Barley; E.Hopkins (D.McLachlan), L.Ward (capt), A.Cockwell (C.White)
MERTHYR – J.Martin; R.Carter, T.Riley, G.Dacey, A.Howman; R.Powell (G.Davies), A.Hoskins; R.James (L.Jones), M.Dwyer (R.Wilkes), S.Pocskai (B.Warren); B.Sier (C.Locke), B.Murphy; L.Evans, N.White (capt), E.Siggery
Referee – Mr. R.Jones (Pencoed)
Neath break with tradition and host an important Premiership game on Good Friday against league leaders Merthyr at The Gnoll (kick off 2.30pm).
The Blacks need to be geared up for a big effort against the reigning champions and the starting line-up shows three changes from the that which scored 6 tries in losing 36-48 at Newport last week.
Behind the scrum, James Roberts and Chris Morgans return while Elis Hopkins comes into the back row alongside Leon Ward who continues as captain.
Neath v Merthyr (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 James Roberts, 11 Alec Jenkins, 13 Keiran Williams, 12 Mike Evans; 10 Luke Price, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Ben Uphill/Huw Wilkes, 2 Garin Lloyd, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Matthew Davies, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Elis Hopkins, 8 Leon Ward (captain), 7 Aled Cockwell
Replacements – 16 Huw Wilkes/Dan Morgan, 17 Sion Crocker, 18 Geraint James, 19 Ryan Bean, 20 Ceri White, 21 Reuben Morgan-Williams, 22 Dan Guarneri, 23 Scott Gibson