MATCH REPORT: NEATH 9 PONTYPOOL 26 – WRU CUP SEMI-FINAL.
NEATH 9 points PONTYPOOL 26 points
Neath gave their all but Pontypool ran out deserved winners in the semi-final of the WRU Championship Cup at what is now the Ciner Glass Community Stadium, Ebbw Vale formerly Eugene Cross Park or the Welfare Ground to older supporters.
Pontypool had narrowly beaten Neath in both league games this season so this was always going to be a tough hurdle for the Welsh All Blacks especially given that Pontypool are unbeaten in the league where they have reeled off 16 straight victories and taken a bonus point from every game – bar the one at Neath.
The Ebbw Vale volunteers had done a magnificent job in getting the game on after a week when the Welsh weather had been wet and very “stormy daniels” as ex-President Trump might say.
So it was that Pontypool kicked off downhill attacking the clubhouse end of the ground with the wind behind them and a grand contest ensued,
The first-half was a very tight affair – Welsh Cup rugby at its captivating, pulsating best in front of a splendid attendance, no doubt the biggest club crowd in Wales on Saturday.
Pooler had the edge at the scrums, Neath pinched a couple of lineouts before Pontypool led through two penalties kicked by the accurate Matthew Jarvis who opened the scoring midway through the half and added his second seven minutes later.
Neath had their chances and if there is a lesson to be heeded it is this – against the top sides clinical efficiency is a must.
The Welsh All Blacks got their driving maul going to good effect, livewire hooker Josh Clark caused problems as did No.8 David Griggs who had a strong game. Behind, Luc Jones was ever-alert, centre Sean Wilcox looked the likeliest to create while Jon Bayliss did well in his emergency role of full back.
Neath supporters appreciated the effort put in by their team and, after a very keenly contested first 40 minutes, it was evident that there was very little to choose between the two sides as Pooler led 6-nil.
At the end of another mad, mad week in Welsh rugby, the half-time consensus among supporters was that at least we can rely upon Neath and Pontypool to provide some rugby sanity and realism.
The re-start brought a crucial moment as Pooler’s venerable lock Ashley Sweet gave way to Garin Price who got the game’s opening try from a penalty-lineout drive, Neath defending too high and loose, and Jarvis’ conversion made it nil-13.
That was a crucial margin in such a tight affair and Neath had a mountain to climb but after ten minutes they chipped away at the deficit with a penalty by outside half Steff Williams after Pooler strayed offside to take the sting out of a Neath attack.
Neath scented a revival and were back on the attack three minutes later; Pontypool were penalised again and Steff Williams added a second penalty for 6-13.
However, Neath failed to clear from the kick off and Jarvis made it 6-16 with his third penalty but the Welsh All Blacks’ doggedness kept them going and, after Williams missed a long-range penalty, he brought it back to 9-16 in the 77th minute after a high tackle.
But then came “Fergie time” …
The 80 minutes were done when Pooler attacked, Neath’s replacement prop Gareth Lloyd was yellow carded and Jarvis restored Pooler’s 10-point advantage with his fourth successful penalty to seal the game at 9-19.
Pooler then added a late, late second try by centre Deon Smith in the 87th minute, Jarvis inevitablty adding the conversion to seal a deserved win which carried them through to their first Cardiff cup final since 1991 – and a cracker it should be against the always enterprising Ystrad Rhondda.
As for Neath, well there is everything to play for in the Championship beginning with the visit to The Gnoll of Tata Steel next Saturday, kick off 2.30pm. – egg-shaped Easter entertainment !
NEATH – J.Bayliss (R.Harris); J.Roberts, S.Wilcox, A.Bramwell, A.Brew; S.Williams, L.Jones (M.Griffiths); J.Powell (G.W.Lloyd) (M.Thomas), J.Clark (E.Kneath), T.Ryan; M.Davies (I.Jones), J.Barley; J.Blackmore (M.Kneath), D.Griggs, O.Morgan (capt) (D.Ceredig)
PONTYPOOL – G.Walsh; M.Powell (H.Anderson), D.Smith, J.Mahoney, A.Nove. M.Jarvis, D.Jones (O.Leonard); S.Cochrane (D.Kelleher-Griffiths), P.Lloyd (D.Hughes), K.Williams (K.Best); A.Brown, A,Sweet (G.Price) S.Matthews (capt), I.Jones (S.Scarfe), C.Davies (M.Herbert)
Referee – Mr. J.Darcy (Vale of Glamorgan)
Images courtesy of Len Kowalski www.lensworkphotography.co.uk