MATCH REPORT: NEATH 31 points CROSS KEYS 14 points – 10th May 2023
NEATH moved within five points of promotion but this was a largely uninspiring win over Cross Keys in perfect conditions at The Gnoll.
The Blacks dominated proceedings throughout but they were limited to five tries by an unyielding Keys defence which scrapped, scrambled and spoiled to telling effect and pointedly held up Neath attackers over the line three times in the first-half alone.
Given the importance of the game, The Gnoll crowd was strangely subdued – perhaps the extended length of the season is having an effect on everyone !
However, they did not have over-much to rouse them as this was what In the old days would have been described as an “end of season affair” as there were too many errors – both of judgement and execution.
Neath were soon on the attack, laying virtual siege in the Keys territory, but it was the visitors (whose back row trio of Will Gregory, Lewis Robey and Gwion Jones scavenged many a Neath ball) who took the lead.
It came when Neath lost possession in the Keys’ 22 and a break-out saw impressive winger Walker Price – no “walker” he – when he brushed aside a couple of defenders on the way to a grand try at the Llantwit end which full back Adam Tetley converted.
Trailing nil-7, the Neath forwards took up the cudgels and were held up over the line but it was not until the 25th minute that Neath opened their account when lock Matthew Davies plunged over for an unconverted try.
Keys, specialising in last-gasp defence, held up Neath attackers over the line twice more but the Blacks were applying the squeeze and they nosed ahead when winger Llewellyn Hawkes showed great determination in beating two defenders to touch down for his ninth try in just 6 appearances.
Steff Williams added the conversion points for 12-7 but, in an action-packed finish to the half, Keys went back in front when, on a rare visit to Neath territory, hooker Connah Vaughan dabbed down and Tetley converted to give Keys a 14-12 advantage.
But Neath were soon on the scoreboard again as full back Lewis Evans gathered a loose kick out of defence by Keys and good work by scrum-half Nicky Griffiths freed captain Ryan Evans who flew across for his tenth try of the season to make it 17-14.
In the second-half, play followed a similar pattern of Neath ascendancy not being translated into points as a lot of good individual work went to waste for want of consistency of effort.
Gareth Lloyd and Jack Powell were a pair of hard-working props and behind centre Sean Wilcox collected the Supporters’ Club man-of-the match award.
Despite losing lock Harvey Reader to a yellow card when Keys tested the leniency of referee Mr. Steff Edwards once too often, the visitors battled grimly to keep Neath at bay.
Midway through the half though, Neath clinched the bonus point when hooker Sion Crocker got his customary try – 21 now this season – and Steff Williams converted to make it 24-14.
And the outside-half completed the scoring when Neath’s almost non-stop attacks were rewarded when he darted through a gap to score and convert himself, bringing his season’s tally to 253 points.
At 31-14 the game was done but Neath flattered to deceive and the game ended when Williams threw a huge forward pass to a handily-placed Llewellyn Hawkes – it rather summed up the Blacks’ lack of precision on the night.
Of Neath’s rivals, Pontypool were made to fight equally as hard for a 33-nil win at Beddau so the Gwent side will probably be crowned champions at Cardiff Metropolitan on Saturday while Bargoed’s being gifted a second game keeps the Blacks focussed.
Neath and Cross Keys do it all again at Pandy Park next Wednesday where Keys will fancy their chances unless Neath can turn in the more complete display of which they are so capable… another five-pointer would spark celebration but it will have to be fought for and Keys will make it tough.
NEATH – L.Evans; L.Hawkes, R.Evans (capt) (A.Bramwell), S.Wilcox, L.Rees; S.Williams, N.Griffiths (M.Griffiths); G.W.Lloyd (T.Ryan), S.Crocker (C.Morris), J.Powell; M.Davies, J.Barley; O.Morgan, D.Griggs, C.Sion (M.Kneath)
CROSS KEYS – A.Tetley; W.Price, C.Davies, T.Sullivan, T.Davies; H.Forde (S.Ireland), Z.Bartlett; J.Lavender (L.Price-Jones), C.Vaughan (L.Tovey), J.Rogers; T.Lampard (capt), H.Reader (M.Hall); W.Gregory, L.Robey (K.Rees), G.Jones
Referee – Mr. S.Edwards (Abercrave)
Images courtesy of Len Kowalski www.lensworkphotography.co.uk