NEATH 17 NEWPORT 20
Close but not close enough for Neath who probably had the better part of this game and were leading going into the final minutes but had their hopes of a first Premiership win dashed by a late Newport score.
Despite playing into a strong wind, Neath opened purposefully and their scrummage strength was evident as they enjoyed the better of the opening quarter and it was rather against the run of play that midway through the half Newport outside-half Matthew O’Brien gave the visitors the lead with a penalty for a wheeled scrum – typical of Neath’s luck this season as Newport resorted to this several times but escaped scot-free.
But Neath responded magnificently and, after some good work by hooker Sion Crocker, scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams was taken out by a nasty high tackle. After playing advantage, the referee came back and awarded Neath a penalty which was relatively light punishment for the offence.
Still, Neath kicked to touch and from the resultant line-out, lock Rhys Jones leapt highest and the Black forwards drove on for No.8 Ieuan Jones to touch down and full back Ed Howley’s superbly judged conversion gave the Blacks a lead they richly deserved. Newport’s Andrew Mann was harshly yellow-carded for apparently tipping Rhys Jones at the line-out and many a Neath man felt he had paid the penalty for the perpetrator of the earlier high tackle.
Neath’s lead did not last long though because, when home lock Scott Andrews drove strongly to the Newport 22 and was dispossessed, Newport flipped the ball wide and, with Neath’s defence organising too slowly, the end product was a try at the town end by full back David Richards, O’Brien’s easy conversion making it 10-7 to the visitors.
Neath were playing much better stuff than of late however and good build up play was rewarded when Crocker sent wing Mike Evans crashing over for their second try to make it 12-10 but, as is Neath’s unfortunate habit this season, they conceded a soft penalty bang on the whistle and O’Brien’s kick made it 13-12 at half-time.
The second-half started like the first. Scoring opportunities were few but Howley should probably made more of a chance on the left before confusion ensued as referee Mr. Wayne Davies (Llanelli) departed the field following a collision with a Newport player, continued, then departed and assistant Mr. Richard Brace (Maesteg) took over.
Neath were still looking good though and after a period of sustained movement and passing Howley went over to make it 17-13 to Neath. But back came Newport and after a yellow-card for replacement prop Luke Garrett the visitors struck with a late try which O’brien goaled to make it 17-20.
Neath could see the game disappearing from their grasp but had one final chance to redeem themselves. Spurning the chance of a penalty kick at goal which might have earned them another point, the Blacks kicked to the corner for a line-out. But Newport stole the ball, banged the ball out of play and, not for the first time, Neath were left to rue vital mistakes at key times.
In fairness, many Newport supporters felt that they were lucky to get away with this one but for Neath, it was a case of another winnable game that got away.
© 2018 Neath Rugby – Images courtesy of Len Kowalski @neathtog www.lensworkphotography.co.uk
Neath v Newport (Home)
15 Edd Howley 14 Ian Eillis 13 Regan King 12 Gavin Evans 11 Mike Evans 10 Ceiron Thomas 9 Ruben Morgan- Williams 1 Ben Uphill 2 Sion Crocker 3 Liam Tobias 4 Rhys Jones 5 Scott Andrews 6 Jordan Collier 7 Lloyd Evans 8 Ieuan Jones
Replacements: 16 Luke Garrett 17 Garin Lloyd 18 Tyla Murvai 19 Ryan Bean 20 Leon Ward 21 Ellis Hopkins 22 Chris Morgans 23 Calum Hall
Referee – Mr. Wayne Davies (Llanelli)