Neath threw away a 20-point lead as Bedwas came back from the dead to win at The Gnoll on Friday evening.
The Welsh All Blacks lost Luke Price early on when the young outside-half was quite deliberately hacked down although the officials somehow missed the incident but the home side started impressively as if they intended to put recent League troubles behind them.
With their forwards seemingly up for the battle, Neath sustained possession and soon took the lead when great inter-passing saw lock Rhys Jones clatter over for the first try of what was to be an eventful evening.
Soon afterwards Neath got another try when centre Keiran Williams ran a great angle and winger Josh Jones crossed for scrum-half and acting captain Rhodri Cole to convert. Neath were then denied what appeared to be a perfectly good try when centre Cameron Morris flew across the line and he appeared to touch-down before being rolled over by a Bedwas defender.
However, the referee ruled no try and instead gave Neath a scrum but Josh Jones soon added his second try when a well-placed kick by outside-half Iwan Evans was not dealt with by the Bedwas defence and the alert Neath wing nipped in to have the score confirmed after the referee consulted his assistant Mr. Chris Williams.
Neath were in command at 20-nil up – although it should have been more – but to their credit Bedwas gradually came to terms with a rampant Neath pack and, after being denied a score in the corner by a last-ditch tackle, deep into stoppage time they finally got their part of the scoreboard moving when wing George Gasson squeezed in for a try to make it 20-6 at the interval.
Neath again started the second-half strongly as their forwards mashed the Bedwas scrum but, after Ed Howley missed a penalty, the Bedwas coaching team replaced their entire front row and they soon had six replacement forwards on the field.
Crucially, this effected a Bedwas reincarnation, a much-needed injection of life just as Neath – who had three forwards back after long injury lay-offs – were going off the boil. With Neath’s forwards fading fast and the backs disrupted by an injury to Keiran Williams and then the justifiable yellow-carding of Iwan Evans, Bedwas took a firm grip on proceedings.
Centre Adam Williams bagged a try and he was followed to the line by replacement hooker Alun Rees. With ten minutes remaining, wing Mathew John then took a hand as he crossed for the visitors’ fourth try, skipper Richard Powell converting. The try gave Bedwas a bonus point and, more importantly, the lead and, as full-time neared, Bedwas extinguished any hopes of a Neath rally when the John-Powell combination struck again to complete a comeback of Lazarus proportions for their side.
To lose another game after being in such control must have been devastating for the Neath youngsters but, if the lessons are heeded, it could turn out to be another invaluable learning experience – although at the moment everyone at The Gnoll would gladly sacrifice a lesson or two for a couple of League wins.
If there is any consolation, it was an excellent game of rugby on the wonderful Gnoll surface and both sides and referee Gareth Newman are to be commended for their approach in a classic “game of two halves” – from Neath’s point of view, another that got away !