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Neath RFC

For the second time in a month, Neath gave Premiership leaders Newport a mighty scare but ultimately fell just short in a cracking match and, such was the quality of play, that all four wing three-quarters scored.

In the 140-odd year history of this fixture, Neath and Newport have served up many a keenly-fought, captivating battle – and this was right up there with them, the result in doubt until the very end.

After an immaculately-observed minute’s silence in memory of former Neath prop Martin Jones who died earlier in the week, Storm Kathleen largely held off in that it did not rain but a strong, warm wind blew from the Town end throughout.

In the event, both sides coped with it rather well; bottom versus top it may have been but Neath tore into the favourites with a relish and the Blacks stunned the leaders by taking the lead on six minutes

Neath have been working hard on their set-piece and all the training paid off when hooker Chris Morris crossed for a try which full back Steff Williams converted.

Newport soon showed their polish and they hit back five minutes later through a try by wing Lloyd Lewis before a Steff Williams penalty made it 10-5 to Neath.

It was a see-saw affair and Newport levelled when captain and No.8 Ben Roach worked his way over after a searing run by wing Iwan Pyrs Jones and outside-half Jacob Lloyd’s conversion made it 10-12 to the visitors.

The Blacks have been playing with more poise of late, their straight-running is producing more opportunities and a well-timed pass by acting-skipper Kristian Jones found Jonny Bayliss on his elbow and the winger crossed for his first try since returning from injury.

Steff Williams goaled to make it 17-12 but the Blacks slipped up when an under-guarded blind-side was exposed and slipped tackles allowed Lewis to scoot away for his second try and it was 17-17.

Half-time – Neath 17 points Newport 17 points

 Newport now had the wind but Neath were well in the battle and the even nature of the contest saw to it that it was not until the hour-mark that the opening score of the second-half was levied.

From an attacking line-out, the Newport forwards drove on and their backs moved up in support illegally only to be waved away by the referee who allowed play to continue and scrum-half Luke Crane nipped in to score and the accomplished Matt O’Brien, summoned from the replacements’ bench to avert a shock result, converted.

Five minutes later Newport struck again when a loose kick out of defence led to Roach sending the speedy Pyrs-Jones in for another which O’Brien goaled.

But Neath refused to lie down and they once again seized the initiative – with the referee playing a good advantage the Blacks carved out a third try for winger Ryan Griffiths and Steff Williams’ magnificent conversion from the left touchline into the wind brought Neath back into bonus point territory with ten minutes remaining.

It was gripping stuff and Neath held firm at a couple of defensive scrums and, no sooner had Louis Rees replaced the limping Steff Williams than he was helped off the field with a leg injury to reduce Neath to 14 men.

Even so, the Blacks were far from done and they made light of their numerical disadvantage to launch waves of attack which had Newport nervously pondering the loss of promotion points.

That would have been catastrophic for their title hopes as they strive to ward off Llandovery … and it very nearly happened !

It was now the Black and Ambers’ turn to defend desperately and Newport conceded a penalty close to their own line, Neath skipper Kristian Jones tapped quickly but Newport clung on for their 13th consecutive win.

A relieved Matt O’Brien hoofed the ball off the field to ensure that the five points went Newport’s way, Neath having to be content with a sole bonus from another vastly improved performance.

Neath will rue a few missed chances – at least two close-in attacks in each half came to nothing;  had they succeeded, Neath may well have taken the honours.

Next Saturday, Neath travel to play Swansea at St. Helen’s (kick off 2.30pm) where it will take another big effort and continued improvement as the Blacks attempt to end the campaign in style.

NEATH – S.Williams (L.Rees); J.Bayliss (L.Hawkes), S.Wilcox, K.Charles, R.Griffiths; K.Jones (capt), G.Williams; J.Powell (M.Morgan), C.Morris (S.Crocker), E.Hopkins (T.Dabeh) ; M.Davies, C.Arnold (I.Jones); J.Blackmore, M.Kneath (J.Clark), G.Tremlett (F.Kneath)

NEWPORT – D.Richards; L.Lewis, I.Galton (T.Hughes), C.Foster-Smith, I. Pyrs Jones; J.Lloyd (M.O’Brien), L.Crane (D.Buckland); T.Workman (T.Davies), T.Olding (T.Adachi), N.Evans (C.Davies); E.Ferriman, J.Skinner; T.Caple (J.Reid), B.Roach (capt), L.Pullen (K.Tayler)

Referee – Mr. M.English (Chepstow)

Images courtesy of Len Kowalski