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Neath RFC

PONTYPRIDD 45 points NEATH 30 points

One of sport’s foibles is that you don’t always get what you deserve – and there can be no doubt that Neath merited at least a League point or two from their visit to Sardis Road where a 20-point haul from brilliant full back Ed Howley and two tries from winger Aaron Grabham gave the All Blacks genuine expectations of better.

Really things should have been a whole lot better for Neath as centre Keiran Williams twice lost the ball in the act of crossing the try-line; then outside-half Iwan Evans had a further score ruled out for a forward pass as Neath threw everything at Ponty in a game high on thrills, entertainment and wonderful tries although “Scrum V” only showed one of them.

It has been a long time since Neath saw running from the full back position as supplied by Howley and it was he who gave the Blacks the lead with a monster second minute penalty from halfway. Ponty were soon into their stride though and tries by ex-international Ceri Sweeney and flanker Rhys Shellard, both converted by the former, gave them a 14-3 lead.

Neath opened their try-count when Howley, running back a loose kick, set up the position which scrum-half Chris Morgans exploited and alert winger Grabham was onto it in a flash, Howley’s touch-line conversion quietening the home crowd. Two more lengthy penalties from the full back hushed them even more as Neath went ahead at 16-14 only for Ponty to sneak ahead at half-time through a Sweeney penalty after the referee, on his assistant’s advice, decided to yellow-card Sion Crocker with players of both teams already en route to the dressing-rooms and their half-time break.

Despite being a man down, Neath opened the second-half in fine style as Howley pounced for a try which he converted himself but Ponty soon regained their lead with a corner flag-uprooting try by winger Dale Stuckey which Sweeney goaled. But back came Neath and impressive centre Keiran Williams twice and Iwan Evans were thwarted with the line beckoning; the visitors were looking much the better side and it came as no surprise when Howley found Grabham on his inside to claim his second try which the full back converted to cap his best game yet for Neath in a virtuoso performance of all-round skill.

As the battle entered its last 10 minutes, Neath looked poised to take the spoils which few of the Ponty regulars could have begrudged them at that stage but Neath tired and Ponty hit back with a well-worked try by Gary Williams from a line-out ploy, Sweeney converting again to give them the lead at 31-30. Worse followed when the home side put the game out of sight directly from the kick-off as poor Neath tackling and great Ponty support-play let in Stuckey for his second try which Sweeney converted and the ex-Wales pivot kicked his sixth conversion of an even later home try by Blues hooker Liam Belcher.

Their grandstand finish left Neath with nothing to show for their endeavours. Neath’s scrum was again strong, the line-out was efficient and every ball was scrapped for but Ponty levied maximum punishment for missed tackles. Neath got little help from the officials assisted as ever by the home crowd, but they gave as good as they got and both teams deserve credit for playing the kind of rugby that will bring back the crowds.

Neath can console themselves with the knowledge that their improvement continues as the job was 90{2b3e04ec0b6eb92b9cdf5819b8d96bd58008016c6476931d41c44421e1531fdb} done. The wins are getting closer – maybe that extra 10{2b3e04ec0b6eb92b9cdf5819b8d96bd58008016c6476931d41c44421e1531fdb} can be found against Newport at The Gnoll on Thursday (7.30pm) !

A visit to atmospheric Sardis Road is always a challenge to be relished and Neath are looking forward to visiting Pontypridd on their new fast-track 3G pitch at Sardis Road on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm) in the Principality Premiership.

After the distractions of the midweek Foster’s Cup interlude, Neath make wholesale changes and are back to something like their normal strength.

Coach Gareth Llewellyn said, “After beating Cardiff last time out, we need to re-focus on the Premiership quickly. Our scrum and line-out have come on great guns recently and we have pace to burn behind so we are looking forward to playing on the new surface at Sardis Road. Ponty have slipped a bit of late but it is always a challenge.”

Neath v Pontypridd (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Gavin Evans, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Kristian Corbisiero; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Neil White, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Jonny Griffiths, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Leon Ward, 8 Calum Davies, 7 Jordan Collier (captain)

Replacements – 16 Aled Morris, 17 Callum Jones, 18 Geraint James, 19 Lyndon Bateman, 20 Sam Montieri, 21 Dan Guarneri, 22 Matthew Pearce, 23 Rory Morgan-Williams