NEATH 68 points BEDDAU 14 points
James Roberts bagged 5 tries out of 10 and Steff Williams converted 9 to sail over the 200 points mark as try-hungry Neath blazed past brave Beddau at a sunny Gnoll.
On a day made for running rugby, both sides did just that – Neath were clear winners but Beddau had a greater share of the game than the score-line suggests.
Neath wasted little time in getting the score-board moving – after James Roberts should have scored on the right, Josh Clark was freed by debutant Matthew Jenkins’ pass and the hooker showed tremendous acceleration on the left as he burst down the touchline to score in the corner and Steff Williams’ conversion was sublime in the swirling wind.
Beddau then enjoyed a good spell and were attacking on the Neath 22 when disaster struck for them and home No.8 David Griggs intercepted and embarked on a 65-metre run to find right wing James Roberts arriving in support to cross for Neath’s second try, Steff Williams adding the extras and Neath were 14 points up in as many minutes.
But midway through the half, an over-weighted kick to touch gifted Beddau a lineout and possession which they used very cleverly to carve out a try for centre Adam Ashford, experienced outside-half Hywel Chatham converting to bring them back to 14-7.
Neath responded almost immediately with lock Ross O’Connor winning lineout ball for the forwards to launch an immense, surging maul and, moving right, centre Ryan Evans crossed for Neath’s third try and Steff Williams’ conversion made it 21-7.
Then came the day’s “magic moment” when Josh Clark expertly placed a huge 50-metre touch-finder which took Neath to the brink of the try-line – it was a moment of skill from the Neath hooker which was fully reminiscent of World Darts champion Gerwyn Price.
Beddau’s Chatham was yellow-carded for obstruction and, from a scrum 20 metres out, scrum-half Macauley Griffiths freed James Roberts for his second try – Neath’s fourth – and the maestro Williams again converted for 28-7.
In the lead-up to halftime, Neath struck for a fifth time as, building nicely, Steff Williams broke and sent winger James Roberts in for his hat-trick try to make it 33-7 and then Matthew Jenkins raced in for his first try for Neath, Steff Williams ending a breathless half with the conversion to give Neath a 6-try 40-7 interval lead.
A knee injury meant that Macauley Griffiths did not re-appear for the second-half prompting a backline re-shuffle with Iestyn Morgan appearing as replacement and the Blacks lost David Langdon and Ross O’Connor to the sin-bin for silly obstructions.
But it did not prevent Neath from increasing their lead as David Griggs burst away on another long-range run and somehow outpaced the defence who did not look that keen to catch him. It was Neath’s seventh try and Steff Williams converted to make it 47-7.
Neath raised the half-century when lock Jacob Blackmore’s lineout take sent them on the attack again and some of the sweetest passing produced by the back-line this season freed Matthew Jenkins for his second try, the team’s eighth, and Steff Williams converted to boost the score to 54-7.
He was given a generous reception by the crowd as it also hoisted his own tally for the season to 200 points in 20 appearances – a record that compares most favourably with Paul Thorburn’s fastest-ever double century which was achieved in 16 appearances in November, 1984 on his way to setting the then club record of 438 points in 1984/85.
Beddau (“graves” in Welsh) must regard The Gnoll itself as a bit of a “bedd” as on their previous visit they had two players hospitalised and this time a lengthy delay saw Beddau wing Mitchell Jones stretchered off.
But, to their credit, the Green and Golds kept trying to play and centre Sam Edwards and scrum-half David Francis both shone. Despite the efforts of flanker Jordan Goodwin though their forwards took second best but they took full advantage of a worrying streak of penalties awarded against Neath to carve out a try for replacement winger Cory Baker and Chatham added the points at 54-14.
Jacob Blackmore snaffled the restart and a straight run by skipper Aaron Bramwell, now operating at centre, carved out the space for James Roberts to cross for his fourth try and Steff Williams converted as the score hit 61-14.
There was still time for Neath’s 10th try : Blackmore’s lineout work prompted a bout of Fijian-type handling from a now rampant Neath and it culminated in James Roberts collecting his fifth try to equal Kevin James’ record for a league encounter – although he was still two short of Richard Smith’s all-time record of seven – and he did it in front of an appreciative Shane Williams who was watching too.
Steff Williams’ ninth conversion out of ten made it 68-14 and, with referee Mr. John D’Arcy (Barry) enjoying himself in the sun, play continued long enough for replacement hooker Sion Crocker to earn a yellow card.
It was Neath’s biggest league win for 10 years and, even if the display was uneven on times, the team will take confidence from the try-glut. On the individual front, Matthew Jenkins made a useful debut, young flanker Carwyn Sion did well on his league debut and Josh Clark signalled his star quality – pace and oh, that touchfinder !
Above all though, it was an unforgettable day for James Roberts and for Steff Williams – and a less stressful one for coaches Pat Horgan, Andrew Howell and Tim Ryan who rightly set exacting standards.
* Neath’s intended game at Kenfig Hill next Saturday has been postponed as the latter now have a League commitment but The Gnoll will stage the semi-final of the Welsh Plate between Penallta and Newcastle Emlyn (2.30pm)
NEATH – A.Bramwell (capt); J.Roberts, R.Evans (J.Bayliss), D.Langdon, M.Jenkins; S.Williams, M.Griffiths (I.Morgan); J.Powell (G.W.Lloyd), J.Clark (S.Crocker), T.Ryan; R.O’Connor, J.Blackmore; A.Jones (C.Comerford), D.Griggs, C.Sion
BEDDAU – O.Cotter; M.Jones (C.Baker), A.Ashford, S.Edwards, D.Rees (T.Marley); H.Chatham, D.Francis ; M.Morgan (Lloyd James), E.Coombs (G.Powell), B.Lee; L.Jones, J.Thomas (J.Perkins); Lewis James, S.Tiley, J.Goodwin (capt)
Referee – Mr. J.D’Arcy (Barry)
* Another Neath record or feat was equalled on Saturday when Newport beat Cardiff 34-28 in the Cup. The Black & Ambers had been trying for around 140 years to beat Cardiff 4 times in a season – something Neath accomplished in 2016/17 under Jordan Collier’s captaincy !