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Neath RFC

If anyone in the Neath camp imagined that the end-of-season charge would be a formality they were given a rude awakening by Maesteg Quins on Saturday.

Only 11 days earlier at The Gnoll, Neath won the return 70-nil and both sides made changes from the game: Quins introduced four familiar faces while Neath brought in eight… such are the delights of a fixture back-log !

The adjustments should have ruled out any complacency on Neath’s part but the Blacks turned in an unconvincing display against a Quins side who were much more like their usual dogged selves this time around.

If Quins were unrecognisable from the earlier game, so too were Neath; there were too many errors and too many penalties – not to be recommended when a goal-kicker of home full back Owen Howe’s quality is on parade.

The former Bridgend and Swansea man needed no encouragement to turn Neath’s slackness into points and his accuracy ensured that Quins were always on Neath’s tail.

The Blacks started strongly, spurning penalty attemps for attacking lineouts in the pursuit of tries. Quins held firm for a while but it was no surprise when scrum-half Macauley Griffiths benefited from the good work of his forwards and Steff Williams converted to give Neath a 7-nil lead.

But then Neath’s generosity took hold as they conceded a penalty for a needless high tackle and Howe kick-started Quins with his first penalty before a Quins attack brought wing Geraint Evans a try and the home team led 8-7.

Neath lost full back Jon Bayliss with a shoulder injury following a collision with a black shirt but the Blacks hit back when Quins went down to 13 men after losing two men to yellow-cards for offside and a deliberate knock-on – both in attempting to halt mauls in the 5-metre zone.

The award of a penalty try was as inevitable as it was correct but Quins were still very much in it and a second penalty by Howe saw to it that Neath went into the break narrowly leading by 14-11.

But it was one of those days when Neath’s indulgence knew no bounds and Howe soon levelled the scores with his third penalty at 14-14 before a superb offload by lock Matthew Davies in midfield sent captain Ryan Evans scooting to the posts for Neath’s third try.

The score marked the centre’s 100th appearance for Neath and Steff Williams’ simple conversion made it 21-14 only for Howe to land his fourth penalty as Neath continued to fuel the Quins’ fire.

Leading 21-17 midway through the half, Neath more or less settled the game with their fourth try of the afternoon.

Quins, coralled by the experienced Dean Ronan and Stephen Williams and a terrier-like back-row, defended stoutly in the face of good, hard driving by the Neath forwards.

Eventually, room was created for outside-half Steff Williams to cross and his conversion made it 28-17. If Neath thought they had done enough, another Howe penalty – his fifth ! – brought it back to 28-20 but Quins did not really look like scoring a try.

Neath looked more likely to score, most notably when Nicky Griffiths made the best break of the day but could not find his support. In a disappointing performance, the Blacks huffed and puffed but could not blow down the Quins house so it stayed 28-20.

Neath supporters were generous in their applause of the Quins as they left the field. Metaphorical hats were tipped and full marks given to the Quins for their unremitting tackling and for responding in such fashion to their Gnoll drubbing 18 days ago.

They had extended Neath for most of the eighty minutes – and they certainly did far more than simply restore battered pride.

As for Neath, suffice to say that they can, they must and they will play better than this.

It is not always a truism that a team can play only as well as their opponents will allow but Quins did not roll over… neither will sides like Glamorgan Wanderers on Saturday, Cross Keys next Wednesday, then Beddau and Ystrad Rhondda in games to come.

The warning is clear as all will seek to make an impression before they break for summer – and while Neath did enough to secure the five points as Bargoed were dropping one against Tata Steel, the Bulls  beat Ystalyfera in midweek to go above Neath so it is action-stations again !

MAESTEG QUINS – O.Howe; B.Huntley (M.Williams), K.Jenkins, L.Ronan (R.George), G.Evans; T.McGuckin, J.Williams (M.Roach); D.Milton-Harris, S.John (E.Cromer), D.Ronan; S.Williams (capt), G.Burridge; A.Evans, A.Healey (R.Shallish), J.Goodridge

NEATH – J.Bayliss (L.Evans); L.Hawkes, R.Evans (capt), A.Bramwell, L.Rees; S.Williams, M.Griffiths (N.Griffiths); J.Powell, C.Morris (J.Clark), G.W.Lloyd (T.Ryan); M.Davies, J.Barley; J.Blackmore (E.Hopkins), M.Kneath, O.Morgan

 Referee – Mr. T.Spurrier (Barry)

Images courtesy of Len Kowalski