NEATH 10 points NEWPORT 12 points
A dramatic finish which saw Neath full back Ed Howley’s 48-metre penalty strike an upright could not disguise Neath’s disappointment at losing this game.
This Gnoll encounter never reached the heights of the festival of rugby served up at Sardis Road the previous Saturday but there was excitement as Neath attempted to overhaul a half-time deficit against a defensively-determined Newport team who just held on to win.
The first-half was an attritional affair with Neath, despite their new-found set-piece solidity, unable to sustain possession or discipline for long enough to get into the right areas.
As a result, Newport managed the territory and, while the visitors never threatened the home try-line, they were delighted to head into the interval with a 12-3 lead courtesy of four penalties by outside-half Matthew O’Brien to one monster effort from near half-way by Neath’s Ed Howley.
From the re-start, Neath showed more intent and the only try of the game came after great work by Neath’s impressive back-rowers Leon Ward and Calum Davies. The ball was switched right where Howley sent in winger Aaron Grabham for his 11th try of the season – 7 in the last 5 games.
Howley’s conversion meant there was only one score in it and Neath, seeking to create, looked far the more likely side. Newport’s only real chance came when wing Wesley Cunliffe split the defence but was halted metres out.
When Neath prop Ryan Thomas was yellow-carded, surprisingly Newport opted for a scrum but the Neath forwards were equal to it and when Newport ventured wide once the defence held firm.
Neath were soon back on the offensive with centre Matthew Pearce regularly getting across the gain-line as they sought the vital score but Newport’s advanced defensive line proved impregnable.
Neath lost two back-row forwards with serious-looking injuries – Leon Ward’s suspected break turned out to be soft-tissue damage while replacement Sam Montieri suffered a chest injury which necessitated an overnight stay in hospital.
Despite being permanently reduced to 14 men with the bench already emtpied, Neath kept up the pressure. Skipper Jordan Collier led a forward charge into the shadow of the posts but the referee gave a penalty to the defensive team.
Neath’s scrum had Newport in all kinds of trouble but strangely another penalty award went against Neath – pushing at a scrum is obviously an offence these days ! Eventually, right on time, Neath were at last awarded the chance of a kick.
It was a long way out but up stepped Howley who struck it well only for the ball to glance off an upright for a grateful Newport defender to blast the ball in the direction of Llantwit Cemetery – and with it he consigned Neath’s hopes to the graveyard.
Thus ended an undistinguished game. Maybe the arrival of rain after a long dry-spell inhibited play between two well-matched sides not used to winning this year. Next stop for Neath is a trip to Merthyr and an early kick-off (1.30pm) while Newport host Llandovery.
Thursday evening sees Neath entertain Newport at The Gnoll (kick off 7.30pm) in the Principality Premiership with the Blacks looking to get a result after taking Pontypridd so close on their own patch last Saturday.
Neath were the better side for most of the game at Sardis Road and coach Gareth Llewellyn shows confidence in naming much the same side but he has directed his charges to “toughen up” mentally to nail down games when in winning positions.
Llewellyn said, “We really should have come away with something from Pontypridd. Luckily we have an early chance to put things right against Newport who will be smarting themselves after losing at home to Bridgend.
“We are playing well and not getting the win. We have worked hard to put things right – our scrum is strong, our line-out is efficient and Ponty were shocked by our pace behind.
“But we need to win – one more win will shift us up towards the middle of the table.”
There is one other game on Thursday evening, bottom of the table Swansea hosting Ebbw Vale.
Neath v Newport (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Matthew Pearce, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Kristian Corbisiero; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Josh Guy; 1 Neil White, 2 Aled Morris, 3 Geraint James; 4 Jon Barley, 5 Jonny Griffiths; 6 Leon Ward, 8 Calum Davies, 7 Jordan Collier (captain)
Replacements – 16 Sion Crocker, 17 Ben Uphill, 18 Ryan Thomas, 19 Lyndon Bateman , 20 Sam Montieri, 21 Chris Morgans/Ben Davies, 22 Dan Guarneri, 23 Rory Morgan-Williams