MATCH REPORT: NEATH 17 EBBW VALE 35 – SATURDAY 21st October 2023
Storm Babet spared South Wales and The Gnoll was in top condition for this Indigo Premiership clash.
Although these two fine clubs entered this game at opposite ends of the table on times there was little to choose between them but Ebbw Vale always had in hand the insurance of a 14-point start – bad beginnings are really costing Neath this season.
Confident Vale made the early running as Neath conceded a stream of penalties and it was no surprise when scrum-half Jonathan Evans took a quick tap and crossed for the opening try which his partner Keiron Meek converted.
Vale doubled their lead as the half approached its mid-point when hooker Ieuan Morris pounced from a forward rumble, Meek again doing the honours.
Neath were battling hard though and, when a lengthy kick by centre Kristian Jones inspired a break out, the Blacks hit back with a try from a scrum as alert young flanker Gethin Tremlett reacted quickly for their opening try and outside-half Steff Williams converted.
Neath attacked again and Williams hit the right upright with a penalty attempt from the Vale 10 metre line before he slotted one from similar range and the Blacks were back in it.
Half Time – Neath 10 points Ebbw Vale 14 points
Vale began the second-half strongly and hit Neath with two quick scores, the first credited to club captain and replacement Rhys Francis, converted by Meek, the second a penalty try.
The Blacks were reduced to 13 men when prop Elis Hopkins and No.8 David Griggs were yellow-carded and despatched to the touchline while Ryan Griffiths pulled a calf muscle and was also a passenger on the wing.
Neath’s reduced ranks nevertheless contrived to play some good rugby and, with a quarter remaining, their brave approach had Vale reeling as Steff Williams ghosted his way through the visitors’ defence for a fine try which he converted himself.
When the replacements returned, Neath almost immediately went back down to 14 men as the referee’s assistant would not allow a head injury replacement for lock Cai Arnold.
Mis-rulings by assistant referees are costing Neath dear this season – “Education, Education, Education,” should be the mantra of the WRU referees department.
It took 12 minutes for the referee’s attention to be brought to the error and Thomas John eventually took his place. However, the damage was done as Neath, pressing hard despite their incorrect numerical deficiency, failed to win two attacking line-outs and botched another and any hopes of a comeback disappeared.
Vale raised the mini-siege with a lengthy touch-finder to the other end where Neath impeded and the visitors registered their fifth try when replacement Rhys Francis danced up the right touchline from close-range and touched down for Evan Lloyd to convert splendidly.
That assured Vale of their fifth win in five while for Neath it was a sixth defeat in six.
It was a repeat case of deja vu for Neath – after handing Vale the comfort of a 14-point cushion, their sheer spirit meant they gave as good as they got for much of the game but currently they lack the set-piece organisation and know-how to take a grip of these games.
Re-building a pack takes time and, against the background of WRU league re-structuring, Neath are taking the opportunity to build again; supporters understand that patience is needed … but so are results !
NEATH – L.Evans; D.Howells (K.Charles), R.Evans (capt), K.Jones, R.Griffiths; S.Williams, C.Morgans (G.Williams); J.Powell (T.Ryan), C.Morris (J.Clark), E.Hopkins (G.W.Lloyd); T.John (J.Blackmore), C.Arnold; G.Tremlett (D.Ceredig), D.Griggs, B.Williams (O.Morgan)
EBBW VALE – C.McDonough; R.Davies, E.Phillips, C.Davies, A.Jiwa Walji (E.Bowden); K.Meek (E.Lloyd), J,Evans (captain) (R.Harries); C.Kearns (L.Garrett), I.Morris (R.Francis), O.Hatherill (A.Court); D.Bartlett, C.Gregory (J.Malecki); C.Regan, C.Thomas (K.Rees), G.Williams
Referee – Mr. J.Bessant (Bridgend)
Images courtesy of Len Kowalski www.lensworkphotography.co.uk