MATCH REPORT: NEATH 58 TATA STEEL 15 – SATURDAY 8th APRIL 2023
NEATH 58 points TATA STEEL 15 points
A game of milestones and millstones ! – milestones in the shape of several landmarks being reached; millstones in the form of some pretty elementary mistakes on times.
Neath eventually prevailed by 10 tries to 2 against bottom club Tata Steel in a care-free, sometimes care-less, Easter Saturday fixture at The Gnoll to remain level at the top of the table with Pontypool who still have two games in hand.
125 years ago to the day, the Welsh All Blacks returned to their Gnoll home after playing “across the road” at the Bird-in-Hand Field and it was appropriate that one of Neath’s most famed captains of yesteryear David Parker was present for the occasion.
If he had his time again, he would have enjoyed himself in an open contest which saw the ball moved not always as accurately as in his day but well enough to keep the crowd entertained.
Given the respective league placings of the two clubs, Neath were firm favourites but the Blacks – showing 11 changes from the side which started against Pontypool in the Cup the week before – made too many early mistakes and a quarter of the game had gone before they scored their first try.
Five minutes earlier, despite playing into a blustery wind, Steel had taken the lead with a neat penalty by Ethan White but the Blacks began to re-cycle possession better and once lock Ioan Jones scored Neath’s opener and outside-half Rhys Harris converted the Blacks held sweigh and built momentum.
From the re-start, great play by lively No.8 Morgan Kneath, supported by flanker Jacob Blackmore, led to a fine try by the following up Neath Athletic Colts winger Llewellyn Hawkes and it was 12-3.
The Blacks soon extended their advantage when a superb kick to the corner by Harris brought a short-range lineout, lock Matthew Davies caught cleanly and the pack drove over for hooker Evan Kneath to claim Neath’s third try – their 100th in the league and the the 145th of the season.
On the half-hour, Neath struck again for their fourth, bonus point try when, from a linout on halfway, a well-worked move saw two Kneaths and two Griffiths link well and Dyfan Ceredig was up in support like the good open-side he is to score and Rhys Harris added the points for 24-3.
As half-time neared, Steel pulled back a score when centre Chris Harris slipped through for a try which was converted by White to make it 24-10 at the interval.
Neath pressed immediately on the resumption but referee Anthony Price (who handled affairs well in a game of only 13 penalties) ruled that they had been held up over the line before, five minutes in, a superb kick and collect by young Hawkes brought him his second try and it was 29-10.
And the lead increased still further to 34-10 when hooker Evan Kneath burst away from a lineout, the Blacks spread play to the left before the forwards took it on and lock Matthew Davies stretched his considerable frame over for Neath’s sixth try.
But there was still error in Neath’s game and a dropped ball led to a hack through, Neath defenders failed to deal with the bouncing ball and Steel wing Michael Baron got in for an opportunist try to bring the score back to 34-15.
This prompted a rash of replacements and Josh Clark soon earned plaudits for racing back in defence to stem a Steel kick and chase, beating two wings in the process.
Steel’s backrow of Ieuan Roberts, Joe Callery and Regan Smith tackled and jackalled themselves to a standstill but, as the game entered its final quarter, Neath stepped on the gas and replacement Nicky Griffiths sportingly sent centre Ben Atkins across for Neath’s seventh and arguably best try from a fine flowing movement through several pairs of hands.
It carried the Blacks past 1,000 points for the season in all games for the first time since Arwel Thomas and his team claimed the Premiership title in 2009/10.
Replacement Steff Williams took over the kicking duties and converted superbly into the wind to make it 41-10 whereupon there was a grand ovation for Tim Ryan when he emerged for his 50th appearance.
The big prop had barely warmed up when Neath did it again from the kick-off – great combined running and passing by Morgan Kneath, replacements David Griggs and Nicky Griffiths, fed the hungry Llewellyn Hawkes who dashed 40-metres for his hat-trick try and it was 46-15.
It was Neath’s 150th try in all games this season – a feat last achieved by Lee Beach’s cup-winners in season 2008/09.
Neath were not done and more good handling led to a ninth try which was nailed by strong-running centre Sean Wilcox who is rapidly growing in stature and Williams’ conversion made it 53-15 as Neath sailed past 700 points in the league.
Again Neath threatened from the kick-off but a flowing move petered out when Morgan Kneath (who had just been named Supporters’ man of the match) was not quite able to grasp what should have been a scoring pass.
The Blacks were not to be denied though and more good hands led to Wilcox sending in Dyfan Ceredig for his second try of the afternoon, Neath’s tenth, to raise the score to 58-15.
In the end, Neath won comfortably but Steel can take encouragement from their contribution as they near the end of what has been a difficult campaign.
* Neath are in action again on Tuesday when Maesteg Quins come to The Gnoll (kick off 7.15pm) and the Blacks will need to go harder if they are to take over the league leadership – even if only on a temporary basis – again.
NEATH – A.Bramwell (capt) (S.Williams); L.Hawkes, S.Wilcox, B.Atkins, R.Griffiths; R.Harris, M.Griffiths (N.Griffiths); J.Powell (T.Ryan), E.Kneath (J.Clark), J.Thomas; I.Jones, M.Davies (D.Griggs); J.Blackmore, M.Kneath, D.Ceredig
TATA STEEL – J.Powell; M.Baron, C.Harris, O.Wong, J.Whitefield; C.Bamford (E.White), T.Jones; D.Kemp (A.Debreu), J.Alexander (A.Jenkins), R.Davies (E.Halliday); J.Clarke, E.Hogan (N.Jones); I.Roberts, J.Callery, R.Smith Referee – Mr. A.Price (Blackwood)
Matchday images courtesy of Jason Clark @jayclark0106