Three-star wing Jared Rosser’s splendid hat-trick of tries frustrated Neath as the Welsh All Blacks again came within an ace of gaining their first League win of the season against Ebbw Vale at The Gnoll.
Once again, Neath were guilty of handing the early initiative – and the lead – to the opposition. Vale took full advantage of a spilled kick off to strike – two scrums, a penalty, a driving lineout (which was held up) and Vale were in front when winger Rosser was allowed to creep over for the game’s opener almost before Neath had touched the ball.
Nil-6 down, Neath were forced onto the defensive but gradually they built their way back into the game with Luke Price gaining territory with some effective kicking and it was the fit-again outside-half who registered Neath’s points with a straightforward penalty midway through the half.
Although Vale enjoyed more of the share of possession, Neath kept up the momentum and they took a surprise lead into the interval when Craig Price won back of the lineout ball and scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams fed centre Kieran Williams whose partner Cameron Morris set up a ruck close to the Vale line. The Neath forwards delivered and Morgan-Williams fed Keiran Williams who got his first touchdown for the Club.
Five minutes into the second-half, the referee sent Neath wing Kristian Phillips to the sin-bin for not rolling away – almost a game-settling decision – for clinical Vale, or rather the impressive Rosser, took advantage of questionable Neath tackling. He struck twice to complete his hat-trick although there appeared to be a knock on in the build-up to the first.
David Langdon converted the former, Ian Smerdon the latter and the sin-binning cost Neath dear as their slender 8-6 advantage had rapidly turned into an 8-22 deficit. Midway through the half, Vale lost replacement prop Ross Jones for a similar sin-binning offence and it was Neath’s turn to strike.
And what a try it was ! Morgan-Williams spotted space around the edge of the tackle area and, with replacement Ieuan Dobbs cast in the role of willing, supporting decoy, he sped away on a slinky run to the Vale line, out-pacing away defenders for a virtuoso try-of-the-afternoon. Price’s conversion brought it back to 16-22.
With only one score in it, Neath, attacking wide on the right, had a chance but it was lost when what might have been the scoring pass was seized by a Vale back-tracker and it was the visitors who battened down the hatches towards the end, only solid Neath tackling denying them the bonus-point they sought.
Again, it was a case of so near and yet so far and, while Neath probably did not play quite as well as in recent games, there was much to be commended. Rosser apart, the Blacks had the edge behind while special praise must be reserved for props Ben Uphill (making only his fourth appearance) and young debutants, Joel Ringer and Gareth Evans. Neath’s propping crisis saw them without their 6 squad props while Aled Humphreys was required by Trebanos. They stuck to their guns admirably, stood up to one of the best packs in Wales and epitomised the never-say-die effort that the squad as a whole is putting in right now.