NEATH 20 points YSTRAD RHONDDA 10 points
At a misty Gnoll, Neath’s purple patch in the opening 20 minutes effectively had this game sewn up as it left Ystrad Rhondda with too much to do in deteriorating conditions.
The Blacks set off at a tremendous pace and missed an early try opportunity when recalled for a defence-splitting inside pass which was correctly ruled forward but the home side took the lead when the All Black pack, on the Neath put-in, drove back the Ystrad scrum to earn a penalty which outside-half Steff Williams goaled.
He needed no invitation to repeat the trick three minutes later after scrum-half Nicky Griffiths was tripped and Neath’s opening try soon followed. A surging midfield maul was exploited by the backs who spun the ball wide and centre Ryan Evans’ long miss-pass found winger Aaron Grabham who scored on a kick and chase wide on the right.
Steff Williams converted superbly and Neath were 13-nil up after as many minutes. Ystrad were visibly rocked by Neath’s start and it was all too much for prop Tom Foulkes who was sent to the sin-bin after taking out a player off the ball.
The visitors were punished further when centre David Langdon’s clever 50:22 kick gave Neath an attacking lineout which impressive lock Jacob Blackmore won off the top and another strong surge by the forwards ended in No.8 Scott Hicks touching down for Neath’s second try and Steff Williams, immaculate off the tee, again converted with aplomb.
At 20-nil it was all looking good for the Blacks but they did not press home their advantage and, just before the break, a grubber-kick by outside-half Rhys Truelove carved out an opportunity for wing Kurtis Williams who put the visitors on the scoreboard.
Neath led at half-time 20-5 and could reflect that the opening 20 minute salvo was as good as anything produced this season but, in the thickening drizzle, Neath’s direction faltered. In the second-half, Neath did enough to ensure the win but did not do enough to really impose themselves and press on for a bonus-point.
The only score of the second-half came 15 minutes in when Ystrad got their second try of the game by ex-Neath wing Sion Summers who strolled in at the corner on an unguarded blindside. Thereafter, both sides threatened occasionally but the game declined in line with the gathering murk.
Neath’s set-pieces were secure : the scrum maybe lacked its first-half potency but was more than adequate while locks Jacob Blackmore and Ross O’Connor and their supporting cast produced an almost perfect lineout count.
Much credit must go to Ystrad who lost the injured Truelove but, operating to the limit of the off-side line, found a way of stunting Neath’s flow and their back row of hooker Liam Wiggins, Ryan Howells and Jarrad Llewellyn was effective.
But Neath did not help themselves with some poor decision-making, an alarming reluctance to deliver scoring passes and a steady flow of soft penalties. The X-factor was missing and Ystrad gave as good as they got in the second -half.
The referee gamely tried to keep things moving and late on handed early Christmas cards of a yellow hue to visiting hooker Evans and full back Dunning and to Neath’s Williams and captain Bramwell for silliness.
Scrum-half Nicky Griffiths earned the Supporters’ Club “man of the match” before giving way to Swansea University student Iwan Johnes who made a neat, if brief, competitive debut and a big plus was the return of hooker Sion Crocker after a leg injury.
Neath’s first-half cushion saw them claim their 11th consecutive win to retain second spot in the table and the Blacks now move on to Bedwas next Saturday knowing that they will need to raise their game again.
Last Saturday, Bedwas became the latest side to down Maesteg Quins and are always formidable foes on the Bridge Field – a win for Neath would be just the tonic for Christmas !
NEATH – A.Bramwell (capt); A.Grabham, R.Evans, D.Langdon (B.Atkins), J.Roberts; S.Williams, N.Griffiths (I.Johnes); G.W.Lloyd (J.Powell), S.Crocker (M.Thomas), T.Ryan; J.Blackmore, R.O’Connor; A.Jones, S.Hicks (D.Griggs), O.Morgan
YSTRAD RHONDDA – E.Dunning; K.Williams, M.Rowley, C.Morgan, S.Summers; R.Truelove (A.Clarke), J.Foulkes; T.Foulkes (M.Auger), C.Evans, D.Webb; K.Mordecai, N.Hughes (capt); L.Wiggins (M.Al Azzawi), R.Howells, J.Llewellyn
Referee – Mr. T.Spurrier (Barry)