MATCH REPORT – NEATH 23 points PONTYPOOL 28 points – SATURDAY 18th FEBRUARY 2023.
NEATH 23 points PONTYPOOL 28 points
In a whirlwind finish, Neath just failed to become the first team this season to overhaul WRU Championship leaders Pontypool who overall made fewer mistakes and took the spoils.
It was almost like the old days at The Gnoll where a boisterous 2,500 crowd put Welsh rugby’s problems behind them to witness a rare tussle between these two old rivals in a match which was well controlled by rising referee Mr. Ben Breakspear.
The weather may have been dry and dull but the rugby certainly was not and the game show-cased the best of the Championship as Neath fought back from a 10-20 half-time deficit to produce a tense finish.
Pontypool deserved their win as they were probably less magnanimous than the home side whose generosity was evident from the start when they conceded two needless penalties which visiting ace Matthew Jarvis goaled.
The first came when winger Ryan Griffiths’ over-enthusiasm got the better of him and he was yellow-carded for a high challenge, the second for a collapsed maul but it was Pontypool’s turn to offend next and Neath outside-half Steff Williams stepped up to land the goal and make it 3-6.
The home forwards were warming to the challenge and the Blacks’ eight got their formidable driving maul into action from a lineout, rolled Pontypool back and prominent No.8 David Griggs got the opening touchdown for Williams to convert and make it 10-6 to Neath.
Five minutes later though Pooler were back in front when hooker Peter Lloyd brushed off a tackle to score a try which Jarvis converted for 10-13 and, stepping up their game, took full advantage of home outside-half Williams being injured and full back Aled Brew being sin-binned and were awarded a penalty try to make it 10-20 at the interval.
Early in the second-half, try-scorer Lloyd was yellow-carded but Neath were blasting Pontypool with their driving forward play and, ten minutes in, the Blacks freed the ball and Brew, who had a very impressive second-half, touched down on the right.
19 year old deputy outside-half Rhys Harris converted calmly and, at 17-20, Pontypool introduced their captain Scott Matthews from the bench – no sooner was he on the pitch than he scored a try after a grand riposte by Pontypool but Jarvis’ conversion failed and it was 17-25.
It was now or never for Neath who threw everything at Pontypool who lost lock Garin Price with a shoulder-injury. A couple of attacking lineouts were wasted but, in a high-octane finish, Neath were in bonus point territory when Rhys Harris slotted a 35-metre penalty only for the Blacks to concede one from the re-start.
By now, Pooler had cast aside all thoughts of their fourth try in the need to secure the win so pragmatically up stepped Jarvis to kick the goal to make it 28-20.
Neath went back onto the attack but young Harris just missed a penalty; the Blacks kept up the pressure, visiting centre Patrick Lewis was sin-binned and, given a second chance, the outside-half revealed nerves of steel to this time land the penalty.
Neath were always threatening but Pontypool held on as time ticked away and, on the final whistle, Pontypool’s relief manifested itself as they jumped for joy to celebrate their success.
Their win more or less guarantees them the Championship title although Neath became the first team to prevent them getting a winning bonus point and got one themselves – something which might yet prove vital.
There was little in it at the end – Neath must overcome their disappointment but know they can do better and will be seeking an early reaction next Saturday for the international day visit to Bedwas (kick off 12.30pm) who had a good last-gasp win at Narberth.
NEATH – A.Brew; R.Griffiths, R.Evans (capt), S.Wilcox, L.Rees; S.Williams (R.Harris), N.Griffiths (L.Jones); J.Powell (G.W.Lloyd), S.Crocker (J.Clark), T.Ryan; M.Davies, J.Barley; E.Hopkins (M.Kneath), D.Griggs, O.Morgan
PONTYPOOL – G.Walsh; D.Smith, P.Lewis, J.Mahoney (D.Langdon), A.Nove; M.Jarvis, D.Jones (O.Leonard); K.Best (S.Cochrane), P.Lloyd, K.Williams (T.Piper); G.Price, A.Sweet; M.Herbert (S.Matthews), I.Jones, C.Davies
Referee – Mr. B.Breakspear (Abercynon)
Images courtesy of Len Kowalski www.lensworkphotography.co.uk