NEATH 9 points NEWPORT 25 points
What a difference a week makes !
After scaling the heights in the second-half against Aberavon in a cry-less try-fest, Neath plumbed the depths against Newport in a try-less cry-fest.
Maybe the unusual midday kick-off was to blame but Meath gave an unusually subdued performance and there was little of the attacking verve and the thrill-a-minute of the previous week – and, remember, the kick-off time was the same for both sides.
After starting brightly, Neath were soon 6-nil up before their behind-the scrum intentions were dented by a series of unfortunate injuries which ultimately saw four men replaced and hooker Aled Morris pressed into action as a makeshift wing.
Two of those injuries came in the first 25 minutes and they took the edge off Neath and deprived them of on-song wing Alec Jenkins and experienced centre Gavin Evans. Neath lost some of their early thrust and moving their best attacker Ed Howley to the wing did not help – although this was later rectified.
Apart from gaining the scrummage edge from an early stage, the Neath forwards were strangely muted in other phases. Prop Ben Uphill and lock Rhys Jones made early charges but all too rarely did Neath take the game to Newport, hard as scrum-half Chris Morgans tried to prompt some positive action – and half-time was reached with Neath trailing 9-13.
Ed Howley was responsible for all Neath’s points as he landed three well-struck penalties. But crucially Newport got the only try of the half when Wales Sevens star Elliot Frewen went in under the posts for outside-half Geraint O’Driscoll to convert and he kicked two penalties to nudge the visitors ahead.
Newport continued to get the better of things in the second-half and it was only stout defence over long periods that kept them out with home back-rowers Charlie Davies, Leon Ward and Jordan Collier working overtime.
The home side lacked nothing when it came to defensive will but the visitors added two second-half tries.
The first came when full back Llywarch ap Myrddin was allowed to run too far before wrong-footing Dan Guarneri. O’Driscoll converted and, try as they might, Neath simply could not get going and their scrum advantage whittled – or was whistled ? – away.
When Newport added a third try by flanker Rhodri Jones, it was all over for Neath whose low-key performance is a concern ahead of remaining League games against Cross Keys, Bargoed and Bridgend at home and the away game at Swansea.
Still, on a day of scrummaging controversy and mayhem in Paris, at least spectators were not subjected to 20 minutes of extra time at The Gnoll !
It is high noon at The Gnoll on Saturday when Neath host Newport in a key Premiership T2 fixture with the kick off timed for midday.
Last week Neath enjoyed a superbly entertaining 41-36 victory over Aberavon and the whole XV put themselves firmly in the selection frame but the Welsh All Blacks’ side shows five changes with several key men returning including top points scorer Ed Howley who has amassed 217 points already this season.
Also back are ex-Wales centre Gavin Evans, hooker Sion Crocker, lock Jonny Griffiths and back-rower Leon Ward whose arrival as a replacement sparked last week’s revival.
On top of a hefty injury-list, the home side will again be without centre Keiran Williams, the new Wales Under-20’s captain, and scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams who are on international duty against France.
“Newport are always a formidable side and a win will put the winners firmly in the frame for a play-off place,” says skipper Jordan Collier, “and we want to give our loyal supporters that reward. Our squad is stretched with just the 23 available but, as we showed against Aberavon last week, we’ve got some good players to come off the bench when necessary and, if we all play well enough, we can do it.”
Neath v Newport (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Max Llewellyn, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Dan Guarneri, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Jonny Griffiths; 6 Charlie Davies, 8 Leon Ward, 7 Jordan Collier (captain)
Replacements – 16 Ifan Phillips, 17 Neil White, 18 Callum Jones, 19 Lyndon Bateman, 20 Aled Morris, 21 Josh Guy, 22 Iwan Evans, 23 Rory Morgan-Williams
Referee – Mr. Mike English (Caldicot)