MOUNTAIN ASH 20 points NEATH 21 points
A unique try hat-trick by, of all characters, their three replacement front rowers saw Neath extend their winning run to six games – but only by the slenderest of margins.
After an hour in which Neath hardly imposed themselves, it took a strong finish to see the Blacks home at Duffryn Pennar Park against an enterprising Mountain Ash side who had won 9 of their previous 10 games.
Two late changes saw David Langdon and Gareth Jones come into the Neath side which never got going in a poor first-half which was contested mainly between the two 22’s.
The Old Firm provided the only score of the first-half and that came off a Neath midfield fumble when ex-Neath outside-half Callum Hall latched on to the loose ball, raced 45 metres between the posts and converted himself.
Neath bombed such chances as they created and the home side showed plenty of initiative with forwards Jordan Burke, David Richards, James Cowdry and skipper Jarrad Parfitt eager operators as Neath mistakes abounded.
After the interval, Neath soon found themselves further behind when a Langdon grubber kick rebounded and home centre James Long reacted quickest to send wing Rhys Davies speeding from his own half to score, Hall converting and then adding a penalty.
Neath were 17 points adrift on a sea of despair but they had power on the bench and, with lock Sam Langford and No.8 David Griggs introduced and hitting hard, Neath’s new-found vim saw them turn the game on its head.
The recently-departed Jimmy Greaves used to say that soccer is “a funny old game” – he should have tried this game of rugby football ! Because Neath levied three converted tries; and remarkably each was scored by a replacement front row forward… verily, those who denigrate the “coal-face” operators do so at their peril !
Midway through the half, loose-head Jack Powell ploughed over for Neath’s opening score and Langdon added the conversion only for Hall to respond with his second penalty.
But their first score had shown Neath the simple but effective path to victory and, as the Blacks stepped up the pressure, Mountain Ash defended bravely and transgressed allowing visiting tight-head Tim Ryan to smash over from a tapped penalty and this time full back Iestyn Morgan added the points to make it 14-20.
The benches had been emptied, Neath also bringing on Aberdare scrum-half Ellis Stephens who last played at Bridgend three years ago and two debutants in ex-Clifton back rower Matthew Hall and centre Shane Williams – no, not that one ! This Shane is outside-half Steff’s brother and plays for Cwmgwrach.
The momentum had now swung Neath’s way and when Langdon planted a penalty-award to the corner, lock Jon Barley won the lineout and hooker Morgan Thomas was the happy beneficiary of a strong forward drive for Neath’s third try.
Nerves of steel were called for, David Langdon has always had them and his conversion split the posts to give Neath the lead for the first time.
There was still time for Neath to catch the re-start and give away a penalty but Hall saved his old team-mates’ blushes by missing the kick and thereafter in an exciting second-half, Neath kept control of the ball as referee Chris Williams’ watch ticked down to full time.
The Old Firm had given as good as they got and Gnoll supporters will warm to them in the return on March 18.
It was to Neath’s credit that they had the strength of spirit to come back and secure a sixth consecutive win but it was one which over 80 minutes they barely deserved – and the Blacks will have to go a whole lot harder if they are to repeat their Cup win when they visit Narberth in the League opener next week.
MOUNTAIN ASH – J.Cushion; C.Williams, J.Long, A.Hughes, Rhys Davies; C.Hall, Ross Davies; J.Cowdry, J.Parfitt (capt), K.Coomer; M.Barnard, D.Phillips; D.Richards, K.Sanders, J.Burke
NEATH – I.Morgan; J.Bayliss, R.Evans (capt), B.Atkins (Shane Williams), J.Roberts; D.Langdon, M.Griffiths (E.Stephens); S.Martin (J.Powell), C.Morris (M.Thomas), K.Ashby (T.Ryan); R.O’Connor (S.Langford) J.Barley; J.Blackmore, G.Jones (D.Griggs), C.Comerford (M.Hall)
Referee- Mr. C.Williams (Port Talbot)