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Neath RFC

MERTHYR 45 points NEATH 18 points

Entering the last quarter of an hour, Neath were still in the game trailing just 18-24 but Merthyr finished with an impressive bang, adding three late converted tries – two of them in injury time – as the All Blacks, forced to employ their full bench with players out of position, finally cracked.

There could be no doubting Merthyr’s supremacy – big-budget players like Aaron Pinches, Gareth Davies and Ed Siggery are proven Premiership acts – but it was bad luck for Neath who for a lot of the game matched the home side.

Neath started strongly with their scrum immediately in the ascendancy with Merthyr rapidly conceding three penalties; on the fourth though, with Neath’s eight again advancing towards the try-line, the referee unaccountably penalised Neath when common-sense suggested otherwise.

Neath took a deserved lead when full back Ed Howley banged over a long-range penalty but Merthyr levelled through an equally as well-struck effort by Matthew Jarvis who, like Ceri Sweeney at Pontypridd a fortnight ago, produced a 100{2b3e04ec0b6eb92b9cdf5819b8d96bd58008016c6476931d41c44421e1531fdb} goal-kicking master-class.

The referee was having trouble interpreting the scrums so two yellow-cards duly followed but Neath took the lead when returning wing Alec Jenkins, with the assistance of the dead-ball flag, was rewarded for his perseverance with a try which Howley goaled splendidly from the touchline.

Merthyr’s response was immediate – a try by skipper James Howe which Jarvis converted – but as the interval approached Neath nudged ahead again when Howley gathered his own kick to touch down and make it 15-10.

The Merthyr coaching team’s frustration was audible from the stand at half-time and the home side responded after the break with a try by winger Kyle Evans, Jarvis adding the extras but Neath stuck in there and Howley restored their lead at 19-17 with a penalty.

But that was as good as it got for the Blacks as a 56th minute try by scrum-half Rhys Downes, converted by Jarvis, edged Merthyr ahead at 24-18 for a lead they would not lose.

A flurry of replacements saw Neath lose their pattern as the home side stepped on the gas. Neath defended bravely enough but with 66 minutes on the clock the home side were awarded a penalty try, the conversion being a formality for Jarvis who raised his tally to 15 points by converting two injury-time tries by lock Tom Daly.

This was nothing like Neath’s best performance of late but disappointed coach Gareth Llewellyn said: “I thought we dominated at the set-pieces – the scrums – but the referee, in my opinion, penalised us harshly on a couple of occasions. Merthyr came back at us strongly and they played very well in the second half like the quality side they are. Regrettably, once again, it was not an 80-minute performance – and that is what we will need when we host Bridgend on Friday.”

Neath visit Merthyr on Saturday (kick off 1.30pm) in the Principality Premiership with the Blacks looking to get the frustration of a last-gasp denial by Newport out of their system.

Coach Gareth Llewellyn has named a side which shows a number of squad changes and says, “Newport was another one that got away. In the last five minutes alone, two dropped goal attempts went just wide and Ed Howley’s last-kick penalty hit the upright. But it’s no good looking at what might have been – we need to make the most of our opportunities and Merthyr, following their shock defeat at Bridgend, will be doubly tough.”

“We are concentrating on ourselves, our scrum and line-out are going well and our pace behind is frightening sides. We are not operating a strict rota system but this Division requires more than 15 players and regular changes allow rest and recuperation and help to keep players fresh for new challenges.

“Brian Thomas’ ideal scenario was a squad of players of more or less equal ability with inter-changeable skills and we are getting close to that – even with a few Ospreys calls we still have a very strong bench.

Neath v Merthyr (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Alec Jenkins, 13 Matthew Pearce, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Kristian Corbisiero; 10 Dan Guarneri, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Jon Barley, 5 Lyndon Bateman; 6 Charlie Davies, 8 Leon Ward, 7 Jordan Collier (captain)

Replacements – 16 Aled Morris, 17 Neil White, 18 Geraint James, 19 Jonny Griffiths, 20 Calum Davies, 21 Josh Guy, 22 Iwan Evans, 23 Aaron Grabham