MATCH REPORT: NEATH 22 PONTYPRIDD 23 – SATURDAY 30TH SEPTEMBER 2023
Neath wasted a golden opportunity to register their first Premiership win of the season but had only themselves to blame in an exciting, if scrappy, contest at The Gnoll.
The Blacks are improving – slowly – but they rather let this game slip them by as both sides managed a try and six successful kicks, the difference being one of Neath’s was a conversion and all of Ponty’s were penalties.
A fair sized crowd greeted the teams in an untimely drizzle and three minutes in, playing into the stiff breeze, Neath infringed at a breakdown and Ponty took the lead with the first of six penalties by outside-half Josh Phillips.
The Blacks hit back in style with a fine try by centre Kieran Charles after grand approach work by prop Christian Brooke and flanker Ben Williams who slipped the scoring pass to Charles.
Outside-half Kristian Jones added the conversion points before Phillips’ second penalty and Ponty then took the lead at 7-11 when poor defensive work at a penalty-line-out drive saw hooker Robert Jones respond – Phillips’ conversion miss was to be the only failed kick of the afternoon.
Both sides strove to assert themselves as Neath absorbed what Ponty offered and the visitors used the wind to test Neath full back Lewis Evans who dealt admirably with a series of high kicks.
Acting captain Kristian Jones pulled back a penalty which made it 10-11 at half-time and both sides entered the dressing-room knowing that there would be everything to play for in the second half.
Half-time – Neath 10 points Pontypridd 11 points.
Neath went in front after the interval when Kristian Jones kicked his second penalty before two Phillips kicks matched by two by Jones made it 19-17 to Neath.
Neath had their chances – a lofted free-kick on the wind was not handled by the Ponty defence and a break through the centre promised better.
Ponty’s ex-Neath flanker Aled Ward received the afternoon’s only daffodil-hued award and a 10 minute spell on the naughty chair but Phillips landed his fifth to make it 19-20 and it was evident that Neath were not doing enough to earn victory.
Replacement Steff Williams, back after a minimal coaching spell at Resolven, countered with another before Phillips nudged Ponty ahead at 23-22 with his sixth.
In the closing minutes, Neath threw everything into attack and replacement David Griggs entered the fray for the first time this season. He made an instant impression with his trademark charges and he made good ground off a quick tap.
Unfortunately it resulted in nothing for Neath who might have rued another kickable penalty but it was not to be – and Ponty held on.
Thus ended what was not a vintage clash between these two great clubs and Neath must inject more enthusiasm, life and energy into their play – the inadequacy of their kick, chase, tackle reflective of their malaise.
Ponty were rightly delighted with the win while Neath have to be content with a bonus point and perhaps another small step on the road to salvation.
NEATH – L.Evans; D.Howells, S.Wilcox (S.Williams), K.Charles, L.Rees; K.Jones (capt), C.Morgans (M.Griffiths); J.Powell (E.Hopkins), C.Morris (E.Kneath), C.Brooke (G.W.Lloyd); S.Pailor, J.Blackmore; F.Barry (T.John), M.Kneath, B.Williams (D.Griggs)
PONTYPRIDD – L.Lloyd; M.Rowley, R.Wilkins, W.Keep, D.Stuckey; J.Phillips, H.Nash (J.Raikes); B.Stephens,(K.Mattravers), R.Jones (M.Savage), T.Harper (M.Bosanko); M.Barnard (G.Davies), M. Cook; K.Parker (capt), J.Miles, A.Ward
Referee – Mr. K.David (Bridgend)
Images courtesy of Len Kowalski www.lensworkphotography.co.uk