NEATH 36 points NARBERTH 21 points
Neath’s rising full back star Ed Howley celebrated extending his contract with the club with a best-ever 26-point haul including a try hat-trick as the Welsh All Blacks eventually subdued the determined resistance provided by a game Narberth side.
In perfect conditions at The Gnoll, Neath started strongly with skipper Jordan Collier and lock Lyndon Bateman always to the fore and the home team dominated the first quarter but straightforward tries were missed when winger Aaron Grabham lost the ball at the corner flag and scrum-half Chris Morgans dropped a scoring pass from Gavin Evans.
Consequently, Neath had nothing to show for their efforts but Narberth were nothing like as wasteful and, when play switched to the other end, prop Liam Tobias crossed for the opening try which outside-half Jonathan Rogers converted.
Grabham then missed another golden opportunity when he lost the ball over the line but Neath got on level terms when Howley darted through a gap to score at the posts and convert. Two minutes later, Grabham made partial amends when he linked with Gavin Evans to set up a try at the posts for centre Rory Morgan-Williams, Howley adding the conversion points to make it 14-7 at the interval.
Just two minutes into the second-half, Narberth squared it when wing Gethin Gibby scored near the posts for replacement Ianto Griffiths to convert.Neath countered with some good driving play with prop Geraint James and hooker Sion Crocker frequently involved and a surging touchline run by lock Rhys Jones should have been the prelude to a third Neath try only for Grabham to blow a third touchdown chance.
In contrast, when it came to finishing, Narberth needed no encouragement and Tobias took advantage of a Neath line-out malfunction to dab down for his second try which Griffiths converted.
Suddenly finding themselves trailing, Neath were stung into action and after centre Matthew Pearce had slipped on his way to the line, another attack- this time with an effective intervention by Collier – led to a second try for Howley which the full back converted himself. Then, it was fourth time lucky for the villain of the peace Grabham as he at last held a scoring pass to dab down and give Neath the advantage.
As Narberth tired, Neath’s powerful scrummage began to take control and Calum Davies was an increasingly imposing figure at the base of it. It was a scrum penalty which gave Howley the chance to make it 29-21 and the full back sealed Neath’s victory when he initiated and finished a wonderful movement from 70 metres to complete his try hat-trick, his conversion raising his tally to 26 points for the day.
8 tries was reasonable entertainment for the sparse crowd and Neath probably deserved their wining margin – but it would have been a whole lot better had they taken those chances… one thing is certain, Neath must nail down their opportunities in the tougher tasks which lie ahead as sides like Cardiff and Llanelli will not be anything like as forgiving !
Neath have a home friendly fixture against Narberth at The Gnoll on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm) as both sides have a bye in the WRU Cup.
Ed Howley, recently named the Principality Premiership Player of the Month for December, returns at full back after duty with the Ospreys Select XV. Former Wales centre Gavin Evans switches to outside-half while Calum Davies returns after concussion.
Neath v Narberth (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Rory Morgan-Williams, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Kristian Corbisiero; 10 Gavin Evans, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Neil White, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Lyndon Bateman; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Leon Ward, 7 Calum Davies
Replacements –16 Aled Morris, 17 Ben Uphill, 18 Callum Jones, 19 A. N. Other, 20 Elis Hopkins, 21 Josh Guy, 22 Tom Sadler, 23 Geraint Llewellyn
Referee – Mr. Simon Mills (Llanelli)