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Neath RFC

At the end of a traumatic week, probably the last thing Neath needed was one of their toughest challenges of the season at high-riding Newport.

However, the Welsh All Blacks came through it all with honour after a thrilling second-half rally which earned them the generous acclaim of supporters – both home and away.

Neath were paying their first visit to the Newport Stadium as all previous encounters at the home of the Black and Ambers had been played at Rodney Parade and they found the pitch in excellent shape after the recent rains.

With several players already absent fore and aft, a bold team selection saw Steff Williams move to full back with fit-again Jonny Bayliss and 18 year old Bryncoch prospect Kalifa Al Maflahi on the wings in a revamped back three – all emerged with credit.

Newport were forced into changes too but they have enviable depth, are in a rich vein of form at the moment and in the first-half the homesters looked every inch Premiership champions-in-waiting with their big, heavy pack supplying an abundance of possession for their inventive back division.

Newport kicked off and for most of the half it was one-way traffic as error-free Newport piled on the pressure and it was no surprise when excellent No.8 and skipper Brendan Roach powered over for the opening try from a scrum and Jac Lloyd converted.

Neath were forced onto the defensive by almost constant Newport enforcement yet the visitors held firm until midway through the half when left wing Elliot Frewen created space for full back Lewis Bates to cross and Lloyd converted to make it 14-nil.

Neath were hit by injuries to key men in skipper Ryan Evans and Morgan Kneath which necessitated the emergence of two very good replacements in Kieran Charles and Cai Arnold from the bench and they soon added their weight to the resistance.

As the half-hour approached, Newport added to their score through the trusty modern-day penalty-lineout-drive routine – hooker Tyler Olding was the beneficiary and outside-half Lloyd converted for 21-nil before a break by scrum-half Gruff Williams gave Neath the semblance of a first real chance.

Things got worse for the Blacks when scrum-half Luke Crane robbed ball at a Neath scrum 35 metres out and flanker Kyle Tayler was on hand to secure Newport’s bonus with a try at the posts which dead-eye Lloyd converted; the ex-Neath man was later voted the home side’s man of the match and he had an intriguing encounter with Neath’s splendid No.7 Ben Williams who was as combative as ever.

Neath stirred themselves to enjoy a good spell in the run-up to half-time, shunning four very kickable penalties in pursuit of a first try, but their best efforts came to nothing.


Half time – Newport 28 pts Neath nil

At the start of the second-half, it took Newport barely five minutes to extend their lead when the trusty penalty-lineout-drive drill saw prop Thomas Workman cross and there seemed no way back for Neath.

But, whatever the coaches told Neath at half-time, it produced a response and the Blacks showed their own expertise at the penalty-lineout-drive discipline too – they had Newport back-pedalling and referee Jason Bessant (Bridgend) awarded Neath a penalty try so it was 7-33 and Newport lock Elliot Ferriman was sin-binned into the bargain.

The score seemed to inspire the Blacks who suddenly came out of their shell. Showing positive intent, several attacking line-outs came to nothing, winger Jon Bayliss was denied a try only by the extremely short dead-ball area and outside-half Kristian Jones was tackled and stopped from scoring at the posts.

Restored to their full complement, Newport were always dangerous with Lloyd and wing Iwan Pyrs-Jones threatening runners but persevering Neath stepped up the pace too and, on the half-hour, another penalty-lineout-drive brought success as the forwards surged onwards for replacement prop Jack Powell to score, full back Steff Williams converting to bring it back to 14-33.

Both sides brought on their remaining replacements, Newport throwing on first-choice halves O’Brien and Buckland and Neath unveiling three more teenagers in scrum-half Ellis Lewis, prop Tarik Dabeh and flanker Gethin Tremlett, and the game took on an end-to-end aspect with Neath giving it a real crack and suddenly Newport lost their way.

A neat grubber kick sent replacement wing and birthday boy Louis Rees speeding in for Neath’s third try and the conversion points were added by Steff Williams whose adaptability gave Neath a more incisive attacking threat from full back.

At 21-33, Neath scented a bonus point or two and in injury time another slashing attack out-flanked Newport and the looping Kristian Jones claimed Neath’s fourth try but the conversion was missed.

It was not so much a case of Newport holding on as their remarkable 10th consecutive bonus-point win was firmly in the bag but Neath’s spirit was well worth their two losing points. Another five minutes and who knows ?

As it was, Neath left South Wales’ newest city regretting those missed chances in that second-half blitz but new coaches Tim Ryan and Ryan Evans and the team left with their heads held high and greatly encouraged by that positive fightback.

Neath now prepare for next Saturday’s visit of Pontypool to The Gnoll (2.30pm). Even if Pooler look destined to finish outside the play-off spots this year, the fixture is always one of the most keenly anticipated on the list and the Blacks will need to show the same fighting spirit over the full 80 minutes if they are to succeed.

NEWPORT – L.Bates (A.Webber); I.Pyrs-Jones, C.Foster-Smith, I.Galton (M.O’Brien), E.Frewen; J.Lloyd, L.Crane (D.Buckland); T.Workman (T.Davies), T.Olding (T.Adachi), G.Harris (C.Gibbons); E.Ferriman, J.Skinner (T.Chapman); L.David, B.Roach (capt) (L.Pullen), K.Tayler

NEATH – S.Williams; J.Bayliss, R.Evans (capt) (K.Charles), S.Wilcox, K.Al Maflahi (L.Rees); K.Jones, G.Williams (E.Lewis); M.Morgan (J.Powell), C.Morris (E.Kneath), E.Hopkins (T.Dabeh); M.Davies, J.Blackmore; T.Morgan, M.Kneath (C.Arnold), B.Williams (G.Tremlett)

Referee – Mr. J.Bessant (Bridgend)


Images courtesy of Len Kowalski