NEATH 23 SWANSEA 19
Neath made it a hat-trick of pre-season wins when they defeated Swansea in a keenly fought encounter at The Gnoll.
These two oldest rivals produced an engrossing game, the lead see-sawing throughout an old-fashioned intense and competitive local derby with both defences eagerly out of the blocks to cut down attacks and force the error.
Neath started strongly going though the phases but when play switched to the other end, a Neath mis-kick led to Swansea opening the scoring with an unconverted forward try credited to back rower Jon Fox.
The Blacks hit back with a penalty by outside-half Dan Guarneri and, after the strong home scrum had twice rocketed Swansea backwards, No.8 David Griggs was on hand to touch down at the posts for Guarneri to convert and give Neath the lead at 10-3.
Neath kept up the pressure – the front row of Ifan James, Sion Crocker and Liam Tobias solid in the scrums, line-out men Rhys Morgan and Jon Barley (with the help of their cohorts) doing some fine work and the back row as usual doing what is expected of them in attack and defence.
Behind them, Nicky Griffiths provided direction from scrum-half and centres Ben Atkins and Matthew Pearce are rapidly building up a good understanding. A Griffiths-inspired break by Nicky and wing Luke saw Neath attack and the pragmatic Blacks got their reward when Guarneri slotted his second penalty for a 13-5 half-time lead.
Swansea came out firing after the break and a charged down kick led to a try by centre Gareth Rees which outside-half James Davies converted and they stretched their advantage when No.8 Jon Fox barged over following a line-out drive. Davies’ conversion made it 19-13 to the visitors and the game was back in the balance.
But the Blacks were not to be out-done. They roared on to the attack and forward power again produced dividends when flanker Scott Malone got the second try, Guarneri adding the points to give Neath a slender one-point advantage.
It was pulsating stuff of thrust and counter-thrust but Neath have worked very hard this summer under fitness guru Idris Hanmer and the home side were finishing stronger – the ability to out-last opponents will serve them well ! The Blacks got their reward when winger Luke Griffiths landed a beautiful penalty from 40 metres which made it 23-19.
On the back of a penalty award – Neath discipline must be spot-on – Swansea forced a line-out near the Neath line-out but the home defence was organised and secure; they stemmed the drive and Swansea, forced to move the ball, were rightly penalised for crossing by referee Mr. Gwyn Morris who is already in good early-season form.
The last five minutes were played out deep in Swansea territory. The Whites had possession but when they tried to work the ball into space they could make no headway against tigerish Neath tackling which suggests that this new-look side is developing the character, resolution and will to win which the supporters admire.
All told, it was a good performance by the emerging Neath side. Nobody at The Gnoll will be carried away by their pre-season hat-trick – victories over London Welsh, Resolven and now Swansea have made for a promising pre-season but it will count for nothing without achievement once the League starts.
But, if Neath can build on this start, step up the fitness further, continue their set-piece prowess, reduce the errors and make opponents work harder for points, 2019/20 may yet turn out to be an enjoyable season.
NEATH – A.Bramwell (capt); L.Griffiths, B.Atkins, M.Pearce, W.Holley; D.Guarneri, N.Griffiths; I.James, S.Crocker, L.Tobias; R.Morgan, J.Barley; S.Malone, D.Griggs, J.Hill
SWANSEA – D.Thomas; R.Griffiths, K.Charles, R.Williams, N.Trowbridge; S.Williams, T.Ham; T.Northey, M.Moore, A.Dew; O.Morgan, S.O’Rourke; D.Eager, J.Fox, C.Bowden
Referee – Mr. G.Morris (Cardiff)
Neath’s build up to the new season steps up a gear when they take on Swansea at The Gnoll on Thursday evening (kick off – 7.15pm).
In the wins over London Welsh (33-5) and Resolven (43-nil), coaches Pat Horgan, Matthew Jones and Andrew Howell have run their eyes over 32 players and for this game scrum-half Nicky Griffiths returns for his first start while another newcomer may come into the back row.
Head coach Pat Horgan said, “The two wins against London Welsh and Resolven were encouraging but the squad knows that we have some stiff challenges ahead of us.
“Swansea will be a real test of where we are – it is all about improving and raising standards.”
Neath v Swansea (Home) 7.15pm
15 Aaron Bramwell; 14 Luke Griffiths, 13 Ben Atkins, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Will Holley; 10 Dan Guarneri, 9 Nicky Griffiths; 1 Ifan James, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Rhys Morgan, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Scott Malone, 8 David Griggs, 7 A.N.Other
Replacements – TBC