Neath ended a week when the fates again seemed to conspire against them when they edged Bargoed out of the SWALEC Cup in another exciting Gnoll encounter.
Obliged to play this Cup game on a day when Ospreys Premiership calls reduced an already paper-thin squad to the bare bones, the entire Neath side deserve credit for sticking to their guns and keeping at bay a very proficient Bargoed side who made light of a six-week weather-induced lay-off.
Neath got off to the best of starts five minutes in when winger Alec Jenkins raced clear from 60 metres for an interception try which outside-half Iwan Evans goaled but Bargoed caught Neath napping and hit back with a try by full back Lee Pearson from a quickly-taken penalty.
An Evans penalty nosed Neath ahead at 10-5 and, as the interval neared, the young outside-half was the instigator of a splendid Neath try from their own 22, centre Cameron Morris speeding away before the ball was turned inside for excellent flanker Alun Jones to cross at the posts.
Evans’ second conversion made it 17-5 but there was still time for Bargoed to hit back with a try by winger Ashley Norton which closed an enthralling first-half.
The second-half began much like the first as Neath registered an interception try but this time it was a forward Craig Price, showing the pace one would expect of a Wales Sevens international, who romped away from his own half for Evans to convert.
But Bargoed retaliated almost instantly when the dreaded penalty-lineout-drive formula yielded a try for replacement No.8 Lewis Wayman. A second Iwan Evans penalty pushed Neath 27-15 ahead but on the hour it turned sour when Neath’s star man Alun Jones was yellow-carded and Bargoed’s prop Rhys Morgan was red-carded after a nasty incident.
Bargoed had the better of the half and finished strongly and were awarded a penalty try, the conversion of which by Niall Martin, made it 27-22 and meant a tense last couple of minutes of injury-time. Neath survived but Bargoed can take comfort from a display which augurs well for their promotion hopes.
For the All Blacks, it was a day when the result probably mattered more than the level of performance and Neath now move on to Tuesday’s Foster’s Cup tie against Llanelli (at The Gnoll, kick off 7.30pm), then a League trip to Cardiff before the next round of the Cup against the students of Cardiff Met when they should at least be able to select from far greater strength than they could for this game.