MATCH REPORT: PONTYPOOL 24 NEATH 12 – SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 18TH, 2023.
Neath fought hard in the rains and winds of Pontypool Park but conceded second best to the home team on a day of many line-outs, scrums and gain-line battles – and a little controversy.
The home side are riding high in third place in the Premiership this season but it rarely looked as if there were ten places between the teams.
These two grand old clubs were promoted together from the Championship last season and Pooler have made the bigger impression in the Premiership although there are signs that Neath are gradually re-grouping.
Having lost the bulk of their promotion pack – through injury and other reasons – it was the Blacks’ commitment and defensive resolve which kept them in this contest as they get to grips with the demands of the Premiership.
That defensive grit was much in evidence from the start as the Pontypudlians (like Liverpudlians but a different ‘pool’) had the better of things early on but could not break Neath’s disciplined and resolute lines
In fact, it took the home side all of 25 minutes to register the first points and then only through a penalty from outside-half Matthew Jarvis.
In the days when Wales had credible newspaper coverage of club rugby, the late John Billot would undoubtedly have dubbed him “Jarvis the Boot” as he was first to pass 100 points in the Premiership this term but Neath’s discipline largely restricted his impact this time.
With the game still on a knife edge, ten minutes later there was a controversial incident when Neath winger Louis Rees appeared to be taken out in mid-air only for the referee to wave play on.
It could well have resulted in a red card for Pontypool but such is Neath’s ill-luck at the moment that Pontypool kept the ball and Neath, though defending grimly, did not touch it again until after home prop Kelvyn Williams surged over for a try which Jarvis converted.
Credit to Pontypool for that but it could have been different …
Half-time – Pontypool 10 points Neath nil
Neath replaced rib-injury victim Gruff Williams with the veteran Chris Morgans at the interval and Pontypool now had the advantage of the slope.
Three minutes into the second period they extended their lead when a driving maul took them to the Neath line and, when it collapsed, the referee scampered between the posts and awarded Pontypool a penalty try which made it 17-nil.
He also yellow-carded Neath No.8 David Griggs in the process. Game over ?
Not a bit of it. For Neath’s 7-man pack powered back onto the attack; suddenly, Pooler were all at sixes and sevens as the Neath forwards laid siege in the home 22.
Conceding repeated penalties, Pontypool had hooker Sam Scarfe sin-binned and Neath attacked again for flanker Morgan Kneath to nip up the blind-side and cross for a try in the left corner.
In the 65th minute, Neath were at it again and, spreading the ball through several phases of a patient build-up, the best combined play of the afternoon resulted in the Blacks creating the extra man for on-song winger Ryan Griffiths to score in the right corner and outside half Kristian Jones converted to bring it back to 12-17.
The respective benches were emptied, Neath losing Sion Crocker (cut head) and Cai Arnold (leg) to injury, and with just five minutes remaining the Blacks were rather unluckily denied a bonus point when Pontypool worked their own right wing Marcus Jones across and the immaculate Jarvis converted from wide out.
Neath launched a late sortie to try to restore their bonus point but it was not to be as Pooler cleared to touch to bring to an end 80 minutes of intriguing Welsh club rugby and a compelling contest in difficult conditions.
These two old foes both deserve credit for a hard, uncompromising battle – which is only to be expected for it is what they have been doing for over 150 years !
PONTYPOOL – M.Bancroft; M.Jones, J.Mahoney, A.Nove (J.Malson), P.Lewis; M.Jarvis, M.Flanagan (O.Leonard); D.Kelleher-Griffiths (S.Cochrane), S.Scarfe (P.Lloyd), K.Williams (O.Drake); L.Johnson (A.Brown), A.Sweet; S.Matthews (capt), B.Moa (A.Stratton), C.Davies (M.Herbert)
NEATH – L.Evans; L.Rees, R.Evans (capt), S.Wilcox (K.Charles), R.Griffiths; K.Jones (S.Williams), G.Williams (C.Morgans); J.Powell (G.W. Lloyd), S.Crocker (J.Clark), T.Ryan (T.Dabeh); J.Blackmore, C.Arnold (I.Jones); M.Kneath, D.Griggs, B.Williams (D.Ceredig)
Referee – Mr. S.Edwards (Abercrave)
Images courtesy of Len Kowalski www.lensworkphotography.co.uk