PONTYPOOL 59 points NEATH 5 points
Neath were soundly thumped on their visit to Pontypool Park where a series of elementary and calamitous errors – individual and collective – made an already difficult task impossible.
The score-line says it all : Neath were totally outplayed and the side must now show its character and pride by bouncing back from this pummelling when Bedwas come to The Gnoll on Saturday.
After Luke Griffiths missed an early penalty attempt, the Blacks were never in it as two terrible mistakes saw Neath 12-nil down inside five minutes to tries by winger Lloyd Lewis and full back Geraint Walsh, centre Keiran Meek converting the latter.
Over the rest of the half, Neath played very poorly – by far their worst display this season – and the error count mounted not so much steadily as exponentially. Mistake upon mistake saw Pooler, despite having Scott Matthews yellow-carded, help themselves to two more tries before half-time by Lloyd Lewis and hooker Darren Hughes, Meek converting both to make it 26-nil at half-time.
At the start of the second-half, Pooler scored again through flanker Adam Stratton, Meek converting. The game was up for Neath but they rallied for a while and a prolonged forward assault on the Pontypool line eventually yielded a try for lock Rhys Morgan.
But Pooler soon took charge again through a try by inspirational captain Scott Matthews which Meek converted. Home prop Aaron Coundley and Neath replacement Leon Ward were yellow-carded prompting Pooler to opt for uncontested scrums.
It was scant consolation perhaps for the Neath eight whose other crumb of comfort came at the line-out which functioned well enough. No.8 Tomi Antozzi led a few forlorn charges but beyond that is probably best left unsaid.
Thereafter it was all Pooler as they stacked up tries by Stratton and replacements Clayton Gullis and Martin Luckwell, Meek converting two of them to complete Neath’s embarrassment.
Pontypool will probably go on to win the Championship – again ! – this season and thereby claim the Premiership status they have craved for so long. They are a good, well-organised team who know each other’s strengths and play to them – but that is no excuse for Neath’s collapse.
A dramatic and immediate improvement is called for – and quickly !
NEATH – A.Bramwell (capt) (M.Pearce); L.Griffiths, B.Atkins, Jarrad Rees, W.Holley; Jordan Rees (D.Guarneri), M.Griffiths; I.James (S.Jones), S.Crocker (Iestyn Jones), L.Tobias; R.Morgan, J.Barley; D.Griggs, T.Antozzi, S.Malone (L.Ward)
PONTYPOOL – G.Walsh; L.Lewis, D.Robinson (C.Gullis), K.Meek, P.Lewis; R.Powell, O.Leonard (M.Luckwell); A.Coundley, D.Hughes (L.Ball), C.Price (S.Evans); C.Gregory (D.Hodge), R.Clarke; S.Matthews, I.Jones, A.Stratton
Referee – Mr. J.Darcy (Cardiff
After six consecutive wins, unbeaten Neath face their sternest challenge yet when they visit Championship leaders Pontypool at Pontypool Park on Saturday (kick off – 2.30pm).
Last week, Neath enjoyed a rip-roaring 29-19 success over Ystrad Rhondda who finished second to Pontypool last season so the Blacks know that they need to step up another level.
The feeling around The Gnoll is that, despite those six wins, Neath have yet to hit their best form and that there is a lot more to come from this squad.
Backs coach Matthew Jones who was with the Gwent club last year says, “We have made a good start. But we enter the game as very much underdogs with everything to gain.
“Pontypool have a long-standing ground record with many Premiership clubs falling there including Swansea just a fortnight ago in the Cup. But, having played there last season, I know that brings its own pressure for them.
“Neath and Pontypool have a lot going for each other and are very similar in outlook. It should be a good contest.”
The Neath starting line-up shows just three changes from the team which beat Ystrad Rhondda with Will Holley on the wing and Jon Barley and Tomi Antozzi returning up front.
Neath v Pontypool (Away) 2.30pm
15 Aaron Bramwell (captain); 14 Luke Griffiths, 13 Ben Atkins, 12 Jarrad Rees, 11 Will Holley; 10 Jordan Rees, 9 Macauley Griffiths; 1 Ifan James, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Rhys Morgan, 5 Jon Barley; 6 David Griggs, 8 Scott Malone, 7 Tomi Antozzi
Replacements – 16 Steffan Jones, 17 Iestyn Jones, 18 Leon Ward, 19 Dan Guarneri, 20 Matthew Pearce