MATCH REPORT: CARDIFF 49 NEATH 28 – SATURDAY 14th October 2023
11 tries – every one inflated – reflects a game which was high on scoring but which was settled early on as a contest; an encounter in which Cardiff’s set-piece dominance was critical against a Neath side who are down on their luck at the moment.
If the Blacks needed any reminding of that fact it came as early as the fifth minute when home wing Dewi Cross took full advantage of an astonishing bounce of the ball on the Arms Park artificial carpet – grass-like it definitely was not and, to rub salt into the wound, outside-half Harry Wilde added the easy conversion.
Neath countered with a couple of threatening breaks by outside-half Steff Williams but Cardiff scored next after Neath broke down in midfield and Cardiff’s response saw No.8 Morgan Allen crash over for Wilde to convert before the latter left the field injured.
The Blacks continued to battle and Williams missed a 12th minute penalty before No.8 Morgan Kneath hacked through but was just beaten to the touch down by a Cardiff defender – no imperfect bounce this time !
Rare line-out possession sent the Blacks away again and good work by the busy Williams gave Llewellyn Hawkes a half-chance and the young winger snatched his 14th try in just 12 appearances.
Ryan Evans and his men just about managed to keep a lid on the returning international Uilisi Halaholo but it was mostly Cardiff and Neath were having to defend for their lives with full back Lewis Evans again up to the task.
Hooker Chris Morris was often prominent in a battling effort and lock Jacob Blackmore’s big boot launched Neath on an infrequent attack but the Blue and Blacks were building up a head of steam through their weightier pack.
It took Cardiff until five minutes before half-time to stretch their lead when Neath kicked open – shades of Bargoed last year – and gifted the home side a run-in try, Ulsterman Luke Pollock was the scorer and replacement Harrison James added the conversion.
And Cardiff bagged the bonus-point on half-time when experienced hooker Alun Rees crossed for James to convert.
Half-time – Cardiff 28 points Neath 7 points
Confident Cardiff were on a roll and the second half score-board soon ticked into action when referee Ben Connor awarded them a penalty try as Neath defended over-zealously and Blackmore was despatched to the detention bench.
And, when Alun Rees crossed for two identical tries – both from the well-rehearsed penalty kick to touch-line-out drive routine – and James converted, Neath were staring into the abyss with twenty minutes remaining.
Despite the menacing score-line, the Blacks showed that they lack nothing in spirit and they staged an improbable late rally – it brought them an air of respectability as they scored the last three tries without reply and also gained themselves an unlikely bonus point.
Flanker Dyfan Ceredig, the smallest forward on the field, turned line-out provider as Neath gave the home forwards a taste of their own medicine marching them back over their line for replacement Thomas John to get the visitors’ second try of the afternoon – his first for the Club – and Steff Williams added the conversion.
Despite injuries which saw replacement prop Morgan Thomas and lock Cai Arnold leave the field, the fresh legs of the replacements added some new zest to the mix – Neath had found their way and, visibly growing in belief, they continued to attack and prop Jack Powell crossed for Williams to convert.
Having been on the receiving end for an hour, the Blacks were finishing in almost rampant fashion. As they surged forward once more in search of the bonus point, Neath’s inter-passing had Cardiff all of a fluster and the homesters infringed as Harrison James’ knock down earned him a yellow card from Mr. Connor.
It also cost Cardiff a penalty try and secured Neath a point – it was too little too late but at least it gave the Blacks, not to say their diehard supporters who had made the morning journey, some reward for their never-say-die spirit.
That spirit will be tested to the full again next Saturday when Neath take on the new league leaders Ebbw Vale at The Gnoll (kick off 2.30pm)
CARDIFF – J.Lloyd; J.Harries, L.Pollock, W.Halaholo (A.Pinches), D.Cross; H.Wilde (H.James), T.Habberfield (J.Williams); O.Evans (B.Toms), A.Rees (E.Drake), A.Williams (C.Brooke); S.Moore, E.Phillips; C.Hudd (J.Hoogendoren), M.Allen (capt), N.Hudd (S.O’Rourke)
NEATH – L.Evans; L.Hawkes, R.Evans (capt), K.Charles (K.Jones), R.Griffiths; S.Williams, M.Griffiths (C.Morgans); J.Powell (M.Thomas), C.Morris (E.Kneath), E.Hopkins (G.W.Lloyd); J.Blackmore (T.John), C.Arnold; M.Kneath, D.Griggs (F.Barry), D.Ceredig (B.Williams)
Referee – Mr. B.Connor (Abertillery)
Images courtesy of Len Kowalski www.lensworkphotography.co.uk