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Neath RFC

No end of season wind down this !

Newly-promoted Neath showed their resolution in gaining their 22nd bonus-point victory of the League campaign at battling Beddau who fought (literally) to the end when they had two men sent off in a last minute dust-up.

The Blacks made 12 changes from the side which started at Cross Keys in midweek while one of the three survivors – Lewis Evans – switched from full back to outside-half in place of damaged 255-points man Steff Williams.

But the depth of Neath’s squad rotations of late meant that it was anything but a shadow XV which took the field on a landmark day when Lloyd Evans (100), Lewis James (50) and Mason Morgan (50) for Beddau amd Aled Brew (50) for Neath reached significant appearance marks.

The glorious weather conditions – sunny and breezy – were matched by a really good game with no quarter given, tackles thudded in and both sides contested the turnovers on the hard, dusty surface.

Well-drilled Beddau showed the influence of coach ex-Wales forward Matthew Rees – solid at the scrum and competitive at the tackle area, they made life difficult for the Blacks who had the edge at the lineout and in the passing and handling aspects.

The first half produced a rare battle as both sides schemed to find the breakthrough in the face of two determined and well-organised defences.

The only score of the first-half came when a fine break by centre Ryan Evans (who set a captain’s example as he ran and tackled himself to a standstill) found the irrepresible Josh Clark up in support and he dashed through for a try under the posts

It was the non-stop hooker’s tenth try of the season – he is one of the quickest players in the squad and, had he not been out of action through injuries, he might well have pushed try-master Sion Crocker for touchdowns.

Both sides came close but Neath led 7-nil at half-time as the conversion points were added by Lewis Evans who again looked comfortable at outside-half and regularly brought his centres into play.

Neath had the advantage of a blustery wind in the second-half and enjoyed the territorial advantage as Beddau found it difficult to make much upfield headway although there were strong performances by several of the homesters none more so than No.8 Dylan Williams.

Five minutes into the half, Neath doubled their lead – lock Jacob Blackmore provided the impetus, a miss pass by scrum-half Luc Jones gave width to flanker Fergus Kneath, and the ball was re-cycled quickly for prop Gareth Lloyd who made ground before a good pass by No.8 David Griggs saw centre and captain Ryan Evans clatter over between the posts for his 11th try of the campaign and Lewis Evans converted to make it 14-nil.

Neath continued to press and, midway through the half, they scored a third try when Josh Clark, now operating at flanker, burst away from a lineout  and, with centre Ben Atkins on his inside, passed instead outside to replacement Evan Kneath who shot over in the corner for his fifth try of the season

The Blacks were on top now as they pushed for a bonus-point and when replacement scrum-half Nicky Griffiths burgled scrum-ball, the Blacks took a quick penalty and, after the forwards did the softening up by pummeling the home line, prop Tim Ryan slipped a pass to full back Aled Brew who powered over for his 20th try on his 50th appearance with outside-half Lewis Evans converting again.

Bedwas had put up great resistance and deserved better from the game but, with the clock running down on a hot afternoon, tempers became frayed as their frustration boiled over in two mighty dust-ups, the second of which ended in both flankers Lewis James and captain Jordan Goodwin blotting their copybook by being sent-off.

It rather took the shine off a strong effort by the home side in what had been a hard but largely clean affair until the last few minutes – and a bit daft really as there was only one play remaining.

That brought to a close another hard-earned for Neath who overcame the mental challenge of competing hard after the promotion race is done – and the Blacks will need to do it once more.

** The Town will have its chance to salute the Blacks’ return to the Premiership on Wednesday when Neath play their final game of a long, demanding but very enjoyable and successful season at The Gnoll when Ystrad Rhondda visit (kick off 7.15pm)

BEDDAU – C.Baker; E.Roberts, F.Baker, S.Edwards, C.Ellis; H.Chatham, C.Evans; B.Lee, E.Coombes G.Powell; S.Tiley, L.Evans; Lewis James, D.I.Williams, J.Goodwin (capt) Repl. (all used) – J.Davies, B.Griffiths, M.Morgan, Lloyd James, J.Thomas

NEATH – A.Brew; J.Roberts, R.Evans (capt) (A.Bramwell), B.Atkins, L.Rees; L.Evans, L.Jones (N.Griffiths) ; M.Thomas (T.Ryan), J.Clark (E.Kneath), G.W.Lloyd; J.Blackmore, M.Davies; E.Hopkins, D.Griggs, F.Kneath

Referee – Mr. S.Mills (Llanelli)

Images courtesy of Len Kowalski