NEATH 22 NARBERTH 24
Narberth brought Neath’s five-match winning run to an abrupt halt when they edged a closely-fought encounter at The Gnoll in front of an appreciative audience which outweighed many of those crowds seen at Premiership grounds.
Given that the two sides occupy adjacent League placings at the half-way stage, there is evidently little between them and, while play was sometimes a little untidy, there was plenty of honest effort on show.
Full back Nick Gale gave Narberth the lead with a penalty after Neath full back Aaron Bramwell infringed but Neath sustained possession well with returning lock Matthew Davies, prop Ben Uphill and flanker Tomi Antozzi to the fore, and outside-half Callum Hall darted through a big gap to score the opening try.
Neath were playing some good rugby and the outside breaks of centre Jarrad Rees nearly bore fruit. The Blacks went further ahead when a strong break by centre Matthew Pearce helped set up a third try in as many home games for try-machine prop Liam Tobias and Hall’s conversion made it 12-3 but Neath’s tackling was not up to the mark and Narberth pulled back a score when scrum-half Rhys Lane pirouetted through a dozy Neath defence and touched down for Gale to convert. A Callum Hall penalty nudged Neath further ahead but just before half-time Narberth hit back.
And a somewhat strange score it was. The referee played a lengthy advantage before retreating to midfield then going under the posts to award a penalty try. Normally, such awards are made instantly as there can be no more advantage than 7 points but, for good measure, Neath flanker Tomi Antozzi was despatched to the in-bin too. It was to be a crucial moment and it gave Narberth an unlikely lead of 17-15 to take into half-time.
Midway through the second-half, Neath regained the lead when No.8 David Griggs powered away off Jacob Blackmore’s line-out take to levy his tenth try of the season which Hall converted. A controversial double sin-binning saw Neath defend – and defend well with flanker Scott Malone making a last-gasp try-saving tackle and Griggs making a couple of important interventions.
Narberth edged ahead again with a forward rumble try which Gale converted and, although Neath threw everything at them in a bid to retrieve the game, scum-half Nicky Griffiths’ kick bounced away into touch and narrowly eluded chasing wing James Roberts who would have had a clear run to the line.
In the final analysis, Neath were left to rue the loss of three or four League points and, in particular, that rather odd seven-pointer as it swung the game in Narberth’s favour although vitally the visitors’ better set-piece efficiency just about gave them the edge. Neath now move on to another home game against Trebanos (kick off 2.30pm) while Narberth host Tata Steel – a Neath win is therefore essential if they are to remain ahead of the Pembrokeshire side.
NEATH – A.Bramwell (capt); L.Griffiths (I.Morgan), Jarrad Rees, M.Pearce, J.Roberts; C.Hall, N.Griffiths; B.Uphill (G.W.Lloyd), S.Crocker (A.Nation), L.Tobias; M.Davies, J.Blackmore; T.Antozzi (J.Coxley), D.Griggs, S.Malone
NARBERTH – N.Gale; E.Dawe, J.Davies, J.Hutchings, D.Pritchard; I.Griffiths, R.Lane; B.Davies, R.Owens, T.Slater; J.Baker, A.Jenkins; R.Rees (capt), R.Osborne, T.Powell Repl. J.Rogers, L.Gibby, D.Jacobs, D.Smith, S.Phillips Referee – Mr. S.Edwards (Abercrave)
Neath’s Christmas game is a tough challenge against Narberth at The Gnoll on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm) when the Welsh All Blacks will be seeking to extend their recent winning run.
Narberth come into the game on the back of an impressive 44-nil win over Ystalyfera and are one place behind Neath so the Blacks well have it all to do.
There are four changes in Neath’s starting line up from that which defeated Tata Steel 27-12 last time out. Top points scorer Luke Griffiths is fit to take his place on the wing and Scott Malone returns in the back row.
Nicky Griffiths takes over at scrum-half and, with Jon Barley away on holidays, the Blacks are pleased to welcome back lock Matthew Davies to the engine-room alongside the consistent Jacob Blackmore.
Neath v Narberth (Home) 2.30pm
15 Aaron Bramwell (captain); 14 Luke Griffiths, 13 Jarrad Rees, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 James Roberts; 10 Callum Hall, 9 Nicky Griffiths; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Matthew Davies, 5 Jacob Blackmore, 6 Tomi Antozzi, 8 David Griggs, 7 Scott Malone
Replacements – 16 Gareth Wyn Lloyd, 17 Adam Nation, 18 Jordan Coxley, 19 Macauley Griffiths, 20 Iestyn Morgan
Admission – Adults £8, Under-16’s FREE