PONTYPRIDD 76 NEATH 38
A crazy 114 points including 17 tries reflects a high octane game but it cannot be allowed to mask a shocking performance by the Welsh All Blacks whose indiscipline and defensive irresolution cost them dear.
It all started well enough for Neath who hit Pontypridd from the start with a fine try by centre Aaron Bramwell who just made the try-line before retiring with an injury recurrence. Full back Callum Hall converted but that was just about as good as it got for the Blacks as Pontypridd, encouraged by an abundance of penalties (mostly justified), took command through tries by prop Gareth Smith and wing Corey Howells.
Neath prop Ryan Thomas marked his 50th appearance with a yellow card and, as the penalty count raced into double-figures, the porous visitors’ defence conceded three more tries in the second quarter to captain Dafydd Lockyer, winger Dale Stuckey and Blues full back Ben Jones, veteran former Wales fly-half Ceri Sweeney converting two. Callum Hall landed a neat 40-metre penalty but at half-time it was 29-10 to Pontypridd.
The start of the second-half was 10 minutes old before Pontypridd scored first when No.8 Morgan Sieniawski crossed and Neath’s No.8 Ieuan Jones was binned. But 14-man Neath silenced the home crowd as they rocked Pontypridd with three tries in quick succession. Lock Ryan Bean regathered the restart to initiate a fine try by flanker Lloyd Evans before wing Ian Ellis quickly grabbed a second. Then Lloyd Evans started and finished a remarkable effort following his airborne re-start collection and a thumping run by Mike Evans. The immaculate Hall converted all three into the wind and suddenly Neath were back in it at 31-36.
5 points in arrears with 20 minutes remaining should have spelled a competitive last quarter finish. But far from it, Neath’s late fade-outs have been a feature of the season – the Blacks cannot be accused of being an 80-minute team this term and, looking increasingly ragged, they collapsed into disgrace. Scrum-half Jamie Hill got a try, Smith and Stuckey both got their second scores before centre Alex Knott, flanker Rhys Shellard and replacement Joe Popple got on the score-sheet, Sweeney converting five of them.
Neath had the last word when, after a couple of good carries by replacement Elis Hopkins, Ian Ellis sped away for their fifth try and Hall converted to bring to an end an entertaining game for those who like that kind of stuff. To go to Pontypridd and score five tries is one thing; but to concede 12 is another – and, if the alarm bells were not already ringing at The Gnoll, they must be now and should send every player running to the analysis-room to examine his part in it.
PONTYPRIDD – B.Jones; C.Howells (A.Webber), A,Knott. D.Lockyer (captain), (T. Riley), D.Stuckey; C.Sweeney, J.Hill (D.Francis); I.George (H.Owen), H.Dowden (J.Page), G.Smith (J.Popple); S.Smallman, C.Dicomidis; L.Evans (R.Jones), M.Sieniawski (S.Jenkins), R.Shellard.
NEATH – C.Hall; I.Ellis, A.Bramwell (J.Roberts, R.Pugh), G.Evans, M.Evans; R.King, C.Morgans (D.Guarneri); L.Garrett (B.Uphill), S.Crocker (D.Hughes), R.Thomas (L.Tobias); R.Jones (E.Hopkins), R.Bean; J.Collier (captain) (C.White), I.Jones, L.Evans
Referee – Mr. Jason Morris (Rhigos)
Winger Mike Evans returns after injury and prop Ryan Thomas plays his 50th game when Neath visit Pontypridd.
The Neath team to play Pontypridd at Sardis Road on Saturday is :-
Neath v Pontypridd (Away)
15 Callum Hall; 14 Mike Evans, 13 Aaron Bramwell, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Ian Ellis; 10 Regan King, 9 Chris Morgans; 1 Luke Garrett, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Ryan Bean; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 7 Lloyd Evans, 8 Ieuan Jones
Replacements : 16 Ben Uphill, 17 Darren Hughes, 18 Liam Tobias, 19 Elis Hopkins, 20 Ceri White, 21 Scott Gibson, 22 Dan Guarneri, 23 Ryan Pugh
Referee – Mr. Jason Morris (Rhigos)