NEATH 30 PONTYPRIDD 34
Although these two teams are at opposite ends of the table, they served up a classic 8-try thriller which was a credit to the Welsh Premiership and which was settled in favour of the visitors with but five minutes remaining.
The Gnoll was in perfect condition for this eve-of-international tie and the heightened atmosphere created by a good crowd was enhanced by biennial visitors from Clermont-Ferrand (France) and St. James Bay (Canada).
Pontypridd finished stronger to earn their success and they scored 5 tries to 3 but Neath’s inexperienced, still injury-hit, side emerged with huge honour from a rip-roaring affair as for a long time they proved themselves the match of the visitors.
Indeed, in a first-half of almost perpetual motion, Neath were the masters. Playing with rhythm and continuity, the Blacks worked to win plenty of possession and, although the first scrum was not set until the 21st minute, the Blacks stole a head and managed to pinch a couple of opposition line-outs too and it was particularly encouraging to see the younger forwards – Garin Lloyd, Liam Tobias, Ryan Bean, Elis Hopkins and Aled Cockwell – earning their spurs against top opposition in a side well led by Leon Ward.
Neath’s reward came with three tries scored by lock Jon Barley under the posts after great work by a fired-up pack, dazzling centre Keiran Williams and the hard-working flanker Aled Cockwell. With Ed Howley converting and landing two first-half penalties for Ponty ball-killing in the red zone, the visitors were visibly panicked.
Ponty scored a fine try of their own by winger Lewis Williams which was converted by Diggy Bird who also kicked a penalty when Neath lost scrum-half Scott Gibson to a yellow card before the break – the offence merited it but the award was harsh considering Ponty’s defensive indiscretions had seen them penalised but with no cards.
Neath looked to add to their 27-10 lead early in the second-half but the first of two Iwan Evans dropped goal attempts just went wide and, before Gibson returned, Ponty hit back with a try by Huw Dowden, converted by Bird. Ponty’s Daf Lockyer was binned as full back Ed Howley kicked a penalty for Neath to hit the 30-mark but the Blacks lost impressive teenage hooker Lloyd and visiting flanker Morgan Sienawski pounced for a try. Then, as the benches emptied, Ponty pulled back to within three points – uncontested scrums did Neath no favours and scrum-half Joel Raikes strolled over unimpeded.
A visibly tiring Neath side, reduced to 14 men following another card, battled hard to stay in front and did so until but five minutes of normal time remained when centre Lloyd Rowlands went over and Bird converted. Try as they might, Neath could not force a response and the spoils went to Ponty at the end of a game played in the best tradition of the two clubs who have been playing each other for 130 years. Another loss was a disappointment for Neath but there is evidently improvement for all to see – next, it’s on to Rodney Parade for a Sunday engagement (kick off 2.30 pm).
NEATH – E.Howley; J.Roberts (D.Guarneri), M.Evans, K.Williams (R.Pugh), A.Jenkins (C.Morgans); I.Evans, S.Gibson; B.Uphill (H.Wilkes), G.Lloyd (E.Whitson), L.Tobias (C.Jones); R.Bean (M.Davies), J.Barley; E.Hopkins (C.White), L.Ward (capt), A.Cockwell
PONTYPRIDD – D.Stuckey; L.Williams (A.Knott), L.Rowlands, D.Lockyer (capt), A.Webber; D.Bird, J.Raikes (J.Hill); H.Owen (I.George), H.Dowden (J.Page), K.Assirati (W.Davies-King); J.Hawkins (H.Barnes), C.Dicomidis; S.Moore (R.Barnes) J.Thomas, M.Sienawski Referee Mr. I.Davies(P’cawl)
Neath host Pontypridd at The Gnoll in the Welsh Premiership on Friday (kick off 7.30pm).
The starting line-up shows several changes from that which lost 6-22 at Ebbw Vale last week. An already speedy back division is boosted by the return of Keiran Williams and Scott Gibson. Up front, Ben Uphill, Garin Lloyd and Liam Tobias form a fresh front row while Ryan Bean and Aled Cockwell are back in action and Leon Ward continues as captain.
Neath v Pontypridd (Home)
15 Ed Howley; 14 James Roberts, 13 Mike Evans, 12 Keiran Williams, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Iwan Evans, 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Garin Lloyd, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Ryan Bean, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Elis Hopkins, 8 Leon Ward (captain), 7 Aled Cockwell
Replacements – 16 Huw Wilkes, 17 Evan Whitson, 18 Callum Jones, 19 Matthew Davies, 20 Ceri White, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Dan Guarneri, 23 Ryan Pugh