It was a case of normal service resumed for Neath when they visited Llandovery in the Foster’s Cup – if, that is, ‘normal’ in this season means another single-score loss and a game which might have been won.
This was virtually a dead rubber and both sides made wholesale changes from Friday’s encounter with only a handful of players on view again.
After a bright opening in which both team showed their willingness to move the ball, Neath’s stronger scrummage helped give them the lead when Llandovery, penalised for the fourth time at a series of scrum fives, conceded a penalty try with the conversion taken as read.
Llandovery countered with some fine handling and were rewarded with a try at the posts by centre Craig Woodall, outside-half James Davies levelling the scores with the conversion.
Bang on half-time, excellent work in midfield by back-rowers Steffan Jones and Aled Cockwell set up the position from which hooker Aled Morris crossed wide out to make it 14-8 to the Blacks at halftime.
With wind advantage to come, Neath might have been expected to press on in the second half … but not this year. Llandovery crept in front for the first time when prop Scott Jenkins powered through Dean Howell’s tackle to score at the posts, Davies converting.
But Neath responded with their third try when replacement scrum-half Ryan Jones latched onto a Josh Jones kick ahead to score, his former Ystradgynlais stable-mate Iwan Evans landing the conversion to make it 22-16 to the visitors.
As both teams emptied their replacements’ benches, weak tackling in midfield allowed Llandovery’s Lex Botha to stride through to bag their third try, Davies’ third conversion giving them a two-point lead.
Neath threw everything at the home line but scrum-half Jones was yellow-carded for attempting to dissuade a Drover defender from killing the ball a few metres out. In a grandstand finish, Neath continued to hammer away and the game ended with a home penalty when centre Dean Howell was held up agonisingly close to the line.
Again, it was a question of so near and yet so far for Neath in what was an equally-contested game. They can take solace from a battling performance by a side containing 9 permit players – 9 being a crucial number as it was the 9th time this season that Neath have lost a game by a single score.
With two games having been drawn as well, how different this season could so easily have been !