NEATH 39 pts SWANSEA 16 pts
Slick Neath got the new Premiership season off to a promising high-speed, all-action start with a 5-try victory over Swansea, sewing up a bonus point in the process.
Neath had won all three warm-up games and a four-figure crowd greeted the teams in perfect conditions. Neath started brightly but Swansea took an early lead when centre Owen Howe placed a penalty. Neath were looking dangerous every time they had the ball and it was no surprise when centre Richard Smith put them in front with a try which full back Ed Howley converted.
Swansea struck back from the restart when Neath spilled then played the ball from an off-side position giving Howe the chance to land his second kick but this was soon wiped out by a Howley penalty.
Inventive Neath continued to re-cycle possession at pace and a Howley break led to the second try, winger Mike Evans powering over on the right to make it 15-6. But Neath’s kick-off receipt again got them into trouble when they conceded another penalty, Swansea kicked to the corner and a line-out drive ended in hooker Paul John crossing for a try which Howe converted.
That made it an unlikely 15-13 with Neath playing much the brighter rugby. The Blacks lost lock Ryan Bean who had made an impressive start but, with scrum-half Scott Gibson eagerly bringing his back-line into play, they looked much the better side and before the interval the forwards took over with a series of strong drives to the posts which saw skipper Jordan Collier go close before co-flanker Aled Morris drove across for the third try which Howley converted to make it 22-13 at half-time.
Howe got Swansea’s second-half off to a good start with his third penalty as the match entered an even phase but Neath’s impressive free-flowing style was always evident. An energetic forward effort paved the way, the front-row solid and locks Rhys Jones, Matthew Davies and No.8 Scott Hicks repeatedly making inroads into the Swansea ranks.
Wales Under-20’s captain Keiran Williams emerged from a strong bench for his first action since damaging his shoulder at the end of last season. He made an almost immediate impact as he struck for Neath’s fourth try, stepping in from the right and arrowing in to score at the posts at the Union end. Neath’s bonus point was safe and Howley converted before landing a penalty to make it a comfortable 32-13.
Swansea tested the Neath defence and nearly squeezed in at the left corner and Neath might have scored when Mike Evans blazed away at the other end but could not find his support. It mattered not as Swansea messed up a scrum on their own try-line and Neath struck when Hicks fed replacement back-rower Leon Ward who scored the fifth try, Howley converting.
Coach Gareth Llewellyn was quietly satisfied with the first outing saying, “We played a lot of good stuff out there and should have added to the score. We still have a lot of work to do but it was vital to get that first win and now we can prepare for tougher tasks that lie ahead starting at Carmarthen on Saturday. I was pleased with our fitness and energy-levels which gave us an edge in a convincing win which is what we set ourselves to do.”
NEATH – E.Howley; M.Evans, R.Smith, M.Pearce, G.Llewellyn (K.Williams); G.Evans (I.Evans), S.Gibson (C.Morgans); B.Uphill (D.Edwards), S.Crocker (J.Davies), G.James (R.Thomas); R.Jones, R.Bean (M.Davies); J.Collier (capt), S.Hicks, A.Morris (L.Ward)
SWANSEA – R.Williams (P.Jones); A.Claypole, O.Howe, J.Evans, J.Randall (D.Callaghan); J.G.Davies, R.Wells; T.Sloane (J.Powell), P.John (T.Ball), R.Murphy (C.Thomas); J.Williams (A.Thresher), T.Hughes; R.Gallagher (E.Williams), J.Fox (capt), B.Davies
Referee – Mr. W. Davies (Llanon)
Neath open their Premiership season against Swansea slightly later than most on Saturday with an evening kick off (7.30pm) due to cricket on the adjacent field.
Three wins out of three against Ystalyfera (38-17), Moseley (14-12) and Narberth (38-7) spelled a decent warm-up programme for the Welsh All Blacks as they look to improve again on last season’s showing when they fought through to the Tier 2 play-offs.
There is a familiar look about the Neath starting side which features four newcomers in winger Mike Evans, centre Richard Smith, scrum-half Scott Gibson and lock Ryan Bean.
Two players will be marking significant milestones with hooker Sion Crocker making his 100th appearance and outside-half Iwan Evans his 50th while Wales Under-20’s star Keiran Williams will begin his comeback from the replacements’ bench.
Neath coach Gareth Llewellyn said, “Swansea at home is a big start because it is always a keen encounter. We are looking forward to it, as are the supporters, and there is always a special atmosphere about these warm Saturday evening games at The Gnoll with a good crowd expected.
“Swansea have a few newcomers too so our preparations have focussed on getting our own game right. Swansea will have been saddened to lose to Redruth but they held Irish champions Lansdowne to 10-19 last Friday and are always a challenge.
“We were pleased with our three warm-up wins but the really serious stuff starts now. We are just looking to continue driving up our standards and performing consistently.”
Neath v Swansea
15 Ed Howley; 14 Mike Evans, 13 Richard Smith, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Geraint Llewellyn; 10 Gavin Evans, 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Ryan Bean; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Scott Hicks, 7 Aled Morris
Replacements :- 16 David Edwards, 17 Joe Davies, 18 Ryan Thomas, 19 Matthew Davies, 20 Leon Ward, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Iwan Evans, 23 Keiran Williams
** COMING UP NEXT ! – September fixtures against RGC (9th) and Llanelli (23rd) – Season Tickets are still available and cover all home Premiership matches