MATCH REPORT: NEATH 82 PENYBANC 6 – FRIDAY 3rd FEBRUARY 2023
Neath ran in 12 tries in an entertaining eve-of-international encounter at The Gnoll.
Realistically, there was only ever going to be one winner of this one as Neath took on centenary-celebrating Penybanc who ply their trade against local sides Banwen, Cwmgwrach, Rhigos, Seven Sisters and Tonna in Division 5 West Central.
But Penybanc brought an enthusiastic following who were cheered as they kept Neath at bay for the first ten minutes before wing Ryan Griffiths sped away for the opening try.
Griffiths soon added a second after a quickly-taken penalty and two minutes later lively hooker Evan Kneath showed his paces for the third, Rhys Harris converting both.
The young outside-half then shimmied his way through for the fourth and converted it himself before Penybanc, wearing Aberavon colours, raised a cheer with a short-range penalty by outside-half Ceri Jones to bring the score back to 26-3.
A fifth Neath try was registered by scrum-half Luc Jones – a significant one this as it was the Blacks’ 100th this season – and Harris converted and just before half-time Evan Kneath went over for the sixth, Harris again converting to make it 40-6 at the interval.
The Blacks pressed on relentlessly in the second-half and, executing the simple things well, spread the wall wide with good support running and their free-flowing rugby brought three further tries in rapid succession through full back Louis Rees and two by flanker and captain for the night Elis Hopkins.
Rhys Harris converted all three to take his tally to eight in all and a 21-point haul before Neath introduced their quota of replacements.
Neath kept up the pace and centre Sean Wilcox crossed before Ryan Griffiths popped up on the opposite flank to secure his hat-trick and finally fellow wing James Roberts made the most of his opportunity to get the 12th and last.
Replacement Steff Williams converted the three final tries but Penybanc had the last word when replacement Dan Mason slotted a penalty with the last kick of the game before referee Mr. Roberts-Morris drew a premature halt to proceedings.
Penybanc departed with their heads held high – skipper Cellan Harris headed a brave Tigers’ effort with hooker Adrian Pugh and scrum-half Owen Williams in the thick of things and, although heavily outgunned, the visitors were grateful for the experience.
Home flanker Jacob Blackmore picked up the Supporters’ Club man-of-the-match award for Neath who gained much-needed match practice after the postponements of the last two months which have left some players short of match-time.
In this respect, Louis Rees, James Roberts, Sean Wilcox and Rhys Harris (all back after injury) were glad of the action and Luc Jones made his first start.
Young prop Tarik Dabeh left with a leg injury in the first half but it was good to see lock Jon Barley and replacement hooker Chris Morris coming through their comebacks after long lay-offs to increase selection options.
The Blacks now move on to next Thursday’s re-arranged WRU Championship fixture against Ystalyfera at The Gnoll (kick off 7.15pm).
NEATH – L.Rees (J.Bayliss); J.Roberts, B.Atkins, S.Wilcox, R.Griffiths; R.Harris (S.Williams), L.Jones (N.Griffiths); J.Powell (J.Thomas), E.Kneath (C.Morris), T.Dabeh (G.W. Lloyd); I.Jones, J.Barley (M.Davies); J.Blackmore, M.Kneath (D.Griggs), E.Hopkins (capt)
PENYBANC – M.Rees; R.Williams, S.Lewis, T.Gale, G.Jones; C.Jones, O.Williams; C.Ferry, A.Pugh, D.Jones; S.Davies, Steve James; Shaun James, A.Danter, C.Harris (capt)
Referee – Mr. E.Morris-Roberts (Swansea Valley)
Images courtesy of Len Kowalski www.lensworkphotography.co.uk