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Neath RFC

Going into injury-time, Neath were right in this game but Cardiff killed off the home team’s determined challenge with two late tries which gave the score-line a slightly lop-sided look.

Cardiff brought a strong side to The Gnoll which, sandwiched between the midweek freeze and the arrival of Storm Isha, was murky although the rains more or less held off.

The hospitality suites were full and a gathering of former players were present in another healthy crowd and Neath had the advantage of a strong breeze in what turned out to be a tightly-fought first-half in which both sides’ defences were on top.

In fact, the only score of the half came as early as the sixth minute when Cardiff wing Joe Goodchild squeezed in for a try via the corner-flag after full back Jacob Lloyd’s ornate  between his legs.

Outside-half Arwel Robson converted superbly from the touchline and thereafter, while both sides put together some good attacking phases, the defences did their job.

The closest either side came to scoring was when Neath outside-half Kristian Jones’ penalty attempt struck an upright – something Neath rather specialise in this season – so there was no further first-half score.

Half Time – Neath nil Cardiff 7 points

Heading into the wind, Neath came out firing after half-time and they soon registered their first points when Kristian Jones landed a penalty after a high tackle. But Cardiff hit back and worked prop Cameron Tyler-Grocutt through a gap for their second try which Robson converted.

Neath stepped up their effort and clawed back a score when a penalty-line-out drive combo saw hooker Sion Crocker touch down for his first try of the season. Kristian Jones converted and Neath were back in the hunt at 10-14.

However, Cardiff soon cancelled it out when former Ospreys and Blues scrum-half Tom Habberfield – a handy replacement – dived over for Cardiff’s third and Robson converted.

As the game entered its last ten minutes, there was still everything to play for.

Neath continued to hammer away, driving with powerful intent at the Cardiff line where referee Mr. Steff Edwards (Abercrave) gave a penalty try as Cardiff deliberately brought down the maul and, with visitors’ flanker Craig Hudd despatched to the sin-bin, it was 17-21.

As the game entered injury-time, Cardiff were not done though and they were awarded a penalty try of their own as the referee adjudged that home full back Lewis Evans had deliberately knocked on and levelled out the numbers.

Desperate to reclaim at least a bonus point, Neath continued to play but their efforts went unrewarded and instead Cardiff bagged a try on the whistle by Robson who converted.

That gave Cardiff a flattering edge although they always looked the likelier side. Neath can take consolation in that they re-discovered their resolve after going missing at Pontypridd and their collective effort was appreciated by the growing home support.

Next Saturday, Neath travel to Ebbw Vale where Cardiff won 23-9 last time out. The Steelmen were edged out 15-17 at  Llandovery on Saturday. Although Ebbw Vale remain in second place, their title hopes have more or less disappeared as they now trail the Drovers by five points having played two more games.

NEATH – L.Evans; L.Rees, R.Evans (capt) (S.Wilcox), K.Charles, R.Griffiths; K.Jones (S.Williams), G.Williams (C.Morgans); M.Morgan (J.Powell), S.Crocker (C.Morris), T.Ryan (G.W.Lloyd); M.Davies, E.Hopkins (I.Jones); J.Blackmore, M.Kneath, D.Ceredig (F.Kneath)

CARDIFF – J.Lloyd; J.Beal (J.Davies), L.Pollock, J.Harries, J.Goodchild (H.James); A.Robson, J.Hill (T.Habberfield); C.Tyler-Grocott (E.Drake), J.Tomlinson (capt) (A.Rees), C.Brooke (F.Barnes); S.Moore (J.Hoogendoorn), E.Phillips; C.Hudd, T.Rice (I.Pascoe), N.Hudd

Referee – Mr. S.Edwards (Abercrave)