NEWPORT 48 NEATH 36
In days of old this 13-try spectacular would have been dubbed an “end of season romp” – but there were league points at stake and Newport deservedly took them if only because their defence was marginally more lock-sure than Neath’s.
On a warm first day of summertime, both sides were guilty of a lack of fortitude in the tackle with too many holes appearing for either coaching team to be satisfied. Mistakes abounded but, with referee Gwyn Morris (Cardiff) at his best, there was plenty of running and handling and what the game lacked in grim resolution was more than made up for by the entertainment it provided.
The pace was set from the opening minute when Newport centre Alex Sabri was properly sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on and Neath scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams, making his belated first appearance of the season, spotted a gap in the Newport ranks and crossed for the game’s first try and Ed Howley converted.
Newport soon levelled with a try by flanker Morgan Burgess which Matt O’Brien converted before Neath bombed two chances as wing Geraint Llewellyn and centre Keiran Williams went close. Instead, it was Newport who went in front when wing Elliot Frewen expertly stood up full back Howley to score and O’Brien converted.
Neath’s response was immediate as good handling by Howley, Aled Cockwell and Llewellyn sent Morgan-Williams over for his second but Newport pulled further ahead with tries by centre Alex Sabri and wing Johnny Morris, O’Brien converting the former. Neath countered briefly with a try by flanker Ryan Bean but Newport ended a breath-taking first-half with their fifth try when scrum-half Owen Davies exploited weak tackling to score and O’Brien’s conversion made it a remarkable 33-17.
Neath started the second-half on the attack and Bean nearly got his second try before Howley crossed for their bonus-point try and converted himself. From the re-start, O’Brien banged over a penalty and Newport pulled clear again when prop Garin Harris crossed and it seemed curtains for Neath when Williams was yellow-carded and home No.8 Alex Everett scored Newport’s seventh try which O’Brien goaled.
But somehow Neath galvanised themselves for an extra effort and dominated the last quarter. The summoning of replacements from the fully-employed bench brought a couple of positional switches which saw Neath finish strongly with much better shape.
Newport lost another man to the bin as they defended desperately and Mike Evans snatched back a try which Howley converted but Evans then threw a scoring pass into the stand. Undaunted, Neath kept up the tempo : Keiran Williams was held up on the line, Iwan Evans and Morgans went close too in opposite corners and Neath signed off with their sixth try when replacement wing Scott Gibson squeezed in at the corner.
That brought to an end what was in many ways a crazy, hazy game of summer and Neath’s last stand saw them take the second-half 19-15. But the damage had been done in a soft first-half when far too many tackles were missed and, it must be said, team-mates were let down.
Neath’s next engagement is against Premiership leaders Merthyr at The Gnoll on Good Friday (kick off 2.30pm) and the Blacks will need to marry up their newly-restored scoring form with greater defensive discipline.
NEWPORT – H.Simons; J.Morris, A.Sabri, C.Smith, E.Frewen (H.Lang); M.O’Brien (capt) (G.O’Driscoll), O.Davies (R.Bates); N.Boyce (J.Lavender), H.Palmer (W.Evans), T.Piper (G.Harris); A.Mann (J.Little), J.Bartlett; M.Burgess, A.Everett, J.Reid
NEATH – E.Howley; A.Jenkins (S.Gibson), M.Evans, K.Williams, G.Llewellyn (I.Evans); L.Price, R.Morgan-Williams (C.Morgans); B.Uphill (N.White, H.Wilkes), G.Lloyd (S.Crocker), L.Tobias; M.Davies (C.White), J.Barley; R.Bean, L.Ward (capt) (J.Parry), A.Cockwell
Referee – Mr. G.Morris (Cardiff)
Neath visit high-riding Newport at Rodney Parade in the Welsh Premiership on Sunday (kick off 2.30pm).
The starting line-up shows only four changes from the that which did so well before going down a little unluckily 30-34 to Pontypridd last week.
Winger Geraint Llewellyn returns while half-backs Luke Price and Reuben Morgan-Williams come in for their first appearances of the season. Up front, the only change sees Matthew Davies return at lock with Ryan Bean taking over from the injured Elis Hopkins in the back row alongside Leon Ward who continues as captain.
Neath v Newport (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Alec Jenkins, 13 Mike Evans, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Geraint Llewellyn; 10 Luke Price, 9 Reuben Morgan-Williams; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Garin Lloyd, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Matthew Davies, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Ryan Bean, 8 Leon Ward (captain), 7 Aled Cockwell
Replacements – 16 Huw Wilkes, 17 Sion Crocker, 18 Neil White, 19 James Parry, 20 Ceri White, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Iwan Evans, 23 Scott Gibson