MATCH REPORT: NEATH 19 EBBW VALE 40 – SATURDAY 23rd SEPTEMBER 2023.
There will be no Cup glory for Neath this year but the Blacks were right in this game for a long time although a last move interception try gave the scoreboard an inflated edge.
Ebbw Vale are riding high and they pulled off an outstanding 36-21 win at Cardiff to go second in the league last week. Meanwhile, Neath have been finding life hard and made several changes from the side which lost nil-31 at Merthyr.
The game kicked off in bright conditions and, again Neath started slowly as Vale established a lead through an early penalty try and they doubled their advantage on 20 minutes – a series of close drives was held up before No.8 Chad Thomas forced his way over and outside-half Kieran Meek converted.
Vale were winning the kicking “ping-pong” and on the half hour, scrum-half Rory Harries darted over from a scrum, Meek again converting, and the Blacks seemed dead and buried.
But somehow the next 10 minutes saw the Blacks stage a remarkable comeback of Lazarus proportions which brought them 19 points and had the team and their hard-pressed supporters suddenly believing.
The forwards started it when, offered the chance of an attacking line-out, the home eight retained possession before freeing the backs and fittingly it was captain Ryan Evans who applied the touchdown, outside-half Kristian Jones adding the extras.
Neath kept at it and the forwards now had the edge. A penalty to the corner and a towering line-out take saw the pack gather and maintain the drive. Stoutly as Vale tried to defend, Neath’s tight mauling ended in a pile of players over the line.
The referee peeled away the bodies and Neath’s second try was awarded with hard-working lock Ioan Jones beneath them all with the ball. It spelt confusion for the announcer and Kristian Jones’ conversion unluckily hit an upright but Neath were right in the battle at 12-21.
It got even closer two minutes later when the Blacks launched a superb move from deep in their half. The roving Powell came away with the ball and a superb break by centre Sean Wilcox ended in full back Dafydd Howells, relishing the wide open spaces, to speed away for Neath’s third try which Jones converted. The try of the day !
At 19-21 there was everything to play for in the second-half but Vale showed greater composure and they re-established command through a try by flanker Gethin Williams, replacement Evan Lloyd converting.
Neath squandered a couple of kickable penalty shots which in the context of a Cup tie might have made for a different outcome; points on the board matter and, as if to prove the point, on 70 minutes, Vale struck again for a line-out drive try by hooker Ieuan Morris and it was 19-33.
Bravely Neath refused to yield though : Howells burst away following a scrum but the move faltered and, mauling away on the Vale 22, the home side were awarded a straightforward penalty but opted for a scrum which came to nothing.
Vale’s defence held firm and they needed all the resourcefulness of replacement halves Evans and Lloyd to steer them home. Right on the stroke of time Vale right wing Callum McDonough nipped in for an interception try which Lloyd converted – sharp work by the youngster on his comeback but a cruel ending which Neath ill-deserved.
Ebbw Vale were worthy winners but Neath can take some consolation from this effort – there was improvement in many areas of their game up front and behind Chris Morgans did well, Sion Wilcox impressed and Dafydd Howells was always dangerous.
So, it is on to Pontypridd next Saturday (2.30pm) – a second home league match for the Blacks who must keep chipping away in pursuit of that first league win.
NEATH – D.Howells; L.Hawkes, R.Evans (capt) (K.Charles), S.Wilcox, L.Rees; K.Jones, C.Morgans (M.Griffiths); J.Powell (M.Thomas), C.Morris (E.Kneath), C.Brooke (G.W.Lloyd); I.Jones (S.Langford), J.Blackmore; B.Williams (F.Barry), M.Kneath (G.Tremlett), D.Ceredig
EBBW VALE – M.Richards; C.McDonaugh, E.Phillips, D.Franchi (C.Davies), R.Davies; K.Meek (E.Lloyd), R.Harries (J.Evans); M.Davies (C.Kearns), R.Francis (capt) (I.Morris), A.Court (O.Hatherill); J.Maleki, C.Gregory; G.Williams, C.Thomas (O.Conquer), L.Young
Referee – Mr. E.Mayor (Cardiff)
Images courtesy of Len Kowalski www.lensworkphotography.co.uk