Following last week’s defeat away to Bridgend, there was a fast and furious start, with both sides looking to throw the ball around but being met by equally stern defences. Twice the ball was held up in the contact area as players flooded the tackle zone, looking to get underneath the ball carrier and force the turnover. It was from one such turnover that Llandovery struck for their first try. A well set driving maul from the visitors, sucked in the Neath pack before scrum half, Rhodri Davies broke into space down the blindside. His pace and a nice left foot step were enough for the No.9 to dive in for the first points of the night. An easy first conversion for fly half Jack Maynard and the drovers out to an 0-8 lead.
The home side looked to strike back immediately and a penalty gave outside half Luke Price the opportunity to send a superb kick 5 metres from the Llandovery try line. The ball was slung wide and Ed Howley almost managed to tiptoe around the onrushing defence, just being beaten by the touchline and the visitors were able to clear their lines. The next try of the match for the visitors followed five minutes later. Full Back Will Thomas, slicing through some very suspect midfield defence, before slipping the pass infield for scrum half Davies who cantered in for his second. Maynard added the extras and extended their lead to 16 points.
Neath were immediately caught offside at the restart, giving the Drovers another chance to attack. Lex Botha on the Llandovery wing found himself in some space in the wide channel and he powered into the Neath 22. A series of sloppy penalties from the home team kept the pressure on and the ball in Llandovery hands; it didn’t take long for them to make the most of it. Again the space was found in the Blacks midfield and a good pop pass off the floor found the welcome arms of centre Matthew Jacobs and he forced his way over the line.
The home side were struggling to keep ball in hand, and some careless play handed possession back to a Llandovery team who looked like they were hitting top gear. Again the midfield defence from Neath was found wanting and fly half Maynard was easily able to carve his way through before finding his winger Sam Soul to dive in at the corner. With only half an hour played and Llandovery 28 points up, the Welsh All Blacks desperately needed to consolidate and try to create some pressure in the visitor’s half. As the break drew closer that’s exactly what they did. Keeping the ball tight Neath began to force penalties and eventually the referee lost his patience sending Llandovery openside Shaun Miles into the sinbin. It came to full back Bramwell to take the initiative, taking a quick tap from yet another Llandovery penalty he burrowed under the posts to get the home team off the mark and with fly half Price adding the extras the score at half time was 8-28, with Neath showing some fight to get back into the contest.
After the break, both sides came out looking to reassert some dominance on the match. A penalty against Neath replacement hooker Keiren Mattocks for not using his arms in the tackle, gave the Drovers an opportunity to push the home side back. After a series of pick and go’s second row Matthew Harbut drove his way over from short range to extend the Llandovery advantage. The Blacks were fighting hard to try and gain an edge in the match but the Llandovery defence remained solid and their sixth try came as the ball was stripped from the Neath attacker and fell into the appreciative arms of flyer Lex Botha who had the gas to make it to the try line from inside his own half. The disgruntlement both on and off the field was palpable as Maynard added the extras to take the lead out to 44 points.
Five minutes later and Neath were once again buried deep in their own 22 with frustrations beginning to mount. Leon Ward, Neath replacement flanker was dismissed to the sin bin, compounding their situation and in his absence Llandovery once more crossed the try line. From the back of an advancing scrum, Rhodri Davies darted down the blindside into acres of space to touch down for a well deserved hat trick and cap an excellent display from the speedy half back.
Gareth Llewelyn threw his bench into the fray, with club captain Nicky Downs coming into the front row for the industrious Coundley in the hope that they could sure up a leaky defence but once more it was the visitors who picked up the points. The Neath covering defence had to scramble across field as repeatedly Llandovery were easily able to break out wide, before another simple offload in the middle of the pitch sent Drover replacement Mike Evans in to bring up 58 points. Full back Aaron Bramwell took a blow to the neck in the process and was forced to leave the field amid some concern as the night went from bad to worse for the Blacks.
Llandovery piled on the misery with three more tries in the final four minutes, including a spectacular end to end effort finished off by replacement Richard Rees to cap off a wretched evening for the home side and bring the final score 8-80. There was little commitment on show from a team who were played off the park, by a Llandovery side looking to push on for the league title. It will take a serious step up from everyone involved if Neath are to challenge Cross Keys in the cup next weekend after another Llandovery game on Wednesday in the Foster’s Cup – a game for which the bookies have already presumably suspended all betting !