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Neath RFC

Had he been around and had he been a rugby enthusiast, Robinson Crusoe would not have appreciated Neath’s fourth win of the pre-split Premiership season (eighth win in all) which came against oldest rivals Swansea at The Gnoll.

Defoe’s greatest fictional character might though have had something akin with the first-half which, in terms of tries and attacking intention, was something of a desert island. For there can have been few less appetising halves in all the years that rugby has been played on the classic slopes of The Gnoll.

Phase-play was a rarity, the whistle proliferated – and it was not all referee Wayne Davies’ fault although two lengthy stoppages did little for the crowd’s humour. The first came when four players were lectured separately and lengthily following a minor disagreement in a match which never boiled; the second when “equipment loss” had the officials and others anxiously combing The Gnoll’s admirable midwinter turf for the missing item.

In fact, that latter incident (somewhat reminiscent of the mystery loss of Brian Price’s gold tooth in 1967) provided the high-spot of fervour in a turgid first-half which ended with Swansea 6-3 to the good after two Jac Wilson penalties to one by Ed Howley.

At least the second moiety was better and yielded three tries. Neath took the second-half honours through their superior pack which enjoyed a decided edge at the scrums and took the line-out honours too through some good work by Jon Barley which was supplemented by Lyndon Bateman’s arrival from the replacements’ bench.

Neath’s first try came after speedy, hard-working wing Kristian Corbisiero rattled the home defence and Neath forced a five metre scrum. Advancing steadily towards the Swansea line, No.8 Leon Ward was held up but the ball was re-cycled and replacement scrum-half Chris Morgans’ cut-out pass saw centre Matthew Pearce crash in under the posts for his elusive first try for Neath, Howley adding the simple conversion points.

It was winger Howley who supplied the second score on the end of a driven Morgans kick which had the Swansea defence all in a dither. Howley’s charge-down saw him re-gather to dab down wide out and his conversion made the game safe for Neath and took him to 150 points for the season.

All the excitement was a little too much for some though and the crowd was afforded further amusement when veteran assistant referee Huw F. Lewis became embroiled in an exchange of niceties with one of the Swansea staff.

Just before time, Neath skipper Jordan Collier earned the game’s only yellow card at a quickly-taken penalty and Swansea had the consolation of a late, late try by centre Ryan Evans which Wilson goaled but it was already deep into injury-time, Neath regained possession and Morgans punted the ball into touch to prompt the final whistle of a tie which barely quickened the pulse-rate.

Oh and why wouldn’t Robinson Crusoe have appreciated it ? For a start there was not even a hint of cannibalistic local derby play – and, quite simply, it was far from a classic !

Neath and Swansea complete their “phase one” fixtures in the Principality Premiership when the old rivals clash at The Gnoll on Saturday (kick off 2.30pm).

Both clubs are destined to finish in the lower section of the Division and will be looking for better fortunes in 2017.

Neath make several squad changes with Matthew Pearce moving to centre and Rory Morgan-Williams and Josh Guy teaming up at half-back. Sion Crocker and Ryan Thomas return to the front row and Jon Barley to the second row. Leon Ward has made a remarkable recovery from injury and resumes in the back-row where Aled Morris continues after an outstanding display last week.

Coach Gareth Llewellyn says, “We are looking to finish Phase One with a bang in what is always an important local derby fixture which should attract a good crowd as the weather is set fine.

“Although our record in the League is nothing like we want it to be, we have made big progress this season especially at the set-piece – scrums and lineouts – and with a bit of luck, the odd refereeing decision going for us here and there, it could easily have been better.

”Players are working hard to improve their own and the team’s skills and we want to make an impression during the second half of the season.”

Neath v Swansea (Home)
15 Dan Guarneri; 14 Ed Howley, 13 Gavin Evans, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Aaron Grabham; 10 Rory Morgan-Williams, 9 Josh Guy; 1 Neil White, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Jon Barley, 5 Rhys Jones; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Leon Ward, 7 Aled Morris
Replacements – 16 Ifan Phillips, 17 Ben Uphill, 18 Geraint James, 19 Lyndon Bateman, 20 Tom Hayward, 21 Elis Hopkins, 22 Chris Morgans, 23 Kristian Corbisiero

Referee – Mr. Wayne Davies (Llannon)