NEATH 12 PONTYPOOL 54
Neath were well beaten at The Gnoll by Championship leaders Pontypool who gained their first win at the ground since 1991 and the Blacks have it all to do now if they are to achieve a top four finish.
Neath attendances are significantly up on last season and a season’s best crowd gathered at an atmospheric Gnoll to witness the battle between these old rivals in bright January sunshine. The Gnoll was, as ever, in splendid condition and Pontypool included three ex-Neath men in Aaron Coundley, Darren Hughes and Ieuan Jones as the game kicked off
As was expected, Pontypool bossed the game from the start and, while Neath contributed much to the flow of an entertaining game, they left too many defensive holes for the confident visitors to exploit. It was 4 tries to 1 in each half with Keiran Meek converting all of Pooler’s scores bar the penultimate one.
Pontypool went ahead with tries by Darren Hughes and Michael Herbert who enjoyed a happier Saturday after being sent off against Ystalyfera last week. Neath hit back, the forwards driving strongly for a very patiently-constructed try at the posts by No.8 David Griggs which outside-half Jordan Rees converted. Pooler restored their lead through a try by full back Geraint Walsh which had home supporters clamouring for a forward pass.
Neath had a chance to cut the deficit when they spurned a simple penalty shot for a kick to touch from which nothing developed and, when play switched to the other end, Pooler were awarded a scrum penalty which they used to set up an efficient line-out drive for No.8 Jones to score and Meek’s fourth conversion made it 28-7 at the break.
The game continued in similar vein in the second half. Neath worked hard and the forwards did well enough at the set-pieces with Tomi Antozzi an energetic emergency lock and flankers Scott Malone and Ben Atkins doing their utmost. But it was to no avail.
Pooler’s fifth try came when Pat Lewis fended off James Roberts before Neath enjoyed a good spell. Griggs powered away on a spectacular 40-metre charge and was hauled down a few metres short of the line and, after a period of sustained pressure, the Blacks carved out a splendid try by winger James Roberts – not many have crossed Pooler’s line twice this season.
But Pooler were too strong and in a final flourish they added tries by Lewis Barnett and Aaron Quick – the second after Roberts got back to make two brilliant tackles. On the last play, with Neath gamely keeping the ball alive, Quick was not slow to pounce for the final score which Meek converted for a personal haul of 14 points.
The gap between the top two and the rest in the Championship has been self-evident all season and serves to emphasise how much Neath need to do to catch up. Next Saturday, the Blacks visit Merthyr in the Cup knowing that greater defensive resolution is demanded but it is a chance to redeem themselves.
NEATH – A.Bramwell (capt); B.Atkins, S.Court (I.Morgan), M.Pearce, J.Roberts; Jordan Rees, N.Griffiths (E.Horgan); B.Uphill (G.W.Lloyd), S.Crocker (Iestyn Jones), S.Jones; R.Morgan (B.Lukes), J.Barley; T.Antozzi, D.Griggs, S.Malone
PONTYPOOL – G.Walsh; L.Lewis, P.Lewis (L.Barnett), K.Meek, J.Thomas; R.Powell, O.Leonard (A.Quick); A.Coundley (capt), D.Hughes (L.Ball), C.Price (S.Evans); R.Clarke (A.Stratton), C.Gregory; M.Herbert, I.Jones, S.Matthews
Referee – Mr. T.Spurrier (Barry)
Neath host Championship leaders Pontypool at The Gnoll on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm) and will need to make the most of any chances which come their way after failing to do so at Ystrad Rhondda last week.
On the face of it, Neath have little to lose against the Gwent side who come into the game averaging over 48 points and 7 tries over their 14 wins to date.
In the back division, Ben Atkins features on the wing after a bout of influenza with skipper Aaron Bramwell back at full back, Sam Court comes in at centre, while Jordan Rees and Nicky Griffiths are re-united at half back. Forward changes see recalls for prop Ben Uphill and flanker Scott Malone.
Neath v Pontypool (Home) 2.30pm
15 Aaron Bramwell (captain); 14 Ben Atkins, 13 Sam Court , 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 James Roberts; 10 Jordan Rees, 9 Nicky Griffiths; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Steffan Jones; 4 Rhys Morgan, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Tomi Antozzi, 8 David Griggs, 7 Scott Malone
Replacements – 16 Gareth Wyn Lloyd, 17 Iestyn Jones, 18 Ben Lukes, 19 Elis Horgan, 20 Iestyn Morgan
Referee – Mr. Tom Spurrier (Cardiff)