BRIDGEND 24 NEATH 16
An aimless second-half performance from Neath saw them crash to a 24-16 defeat at the hands of Bridgend in their final Foster’s Challenge Cup Pool 4 clash at the Brewery Field.
The Welsh All Blacks had started well but blew a 13-0 lead and coach Paul Williams put it down to poor discipline.
The Welsh All Blacks really should have sealed the game before the break as they dominated possession and territory in the opening period. But, despite looking the stronger with ball in hand, they failed to convert their considerable advantage into a meaningful lead.
Two penalties by full-back Geraint Llewellyn was all Neath had to show for their early efforts and the young Cardiffian then scored the opening try and converted it on the half-hour to make it 13-nil.
All seemed well but Neath then pressed the self-destruct button as they let in Bridgend prop Garyn Daniel (a flanker for Neath in a previous existence) for a try which outside-half Joe Scrivens converted.
Bridgend struck again inside a minute when Neath presented Bridgend with loose ball when a kick to touch would have been the sensible option – full-back Dan Howells was the beneficiary of Neath’s naivety and the visitors’ lead was cut to a point.
With their eyes on the prize of semi-final qualification, Bridgend came out with greater purpose in the second-half than did Neath.
Daniel scored again shortly after the restart and Scrivens’ kick put Bridgend six points clear at 19-13. Despite three yellow cards for Bridgend (Tom Morgan, Gareth Beer and Connor Tantum being the recipients), Neath only registered three points in the second-half – and that a third penalty by Llewellyn.
Neath simply could not sustain pressure and it came as no surprise when Bridgend struck for a fourth try from a kick and chase which sent the homesters in the crowd of around 500 delirious. Matthew Edwards was the scorer and another Scrivens conversion confirmed Bridgend’s place in the semi-finals as pool winners.
Neath are in Foster’s Cup action against Bridgend at The Brewery Field on Wednesday evening (kick off 7.15pm).
Despite missing a late conversion to lose 31-33 against Aberavon last week, Neath still have an outside chance of further progression in this year’s Foster’s Cup.
However, it requires Neath to get a bonus point win at the Brewery Field with Bridgend getting nothing and then relying upon bottom club Cardiff to upset the apple-cart by winning at Aberavon.
“It is a slim chance,” said assistant coach Paul Williams, “but while there is a chance we will keep competing – and we’ll need to be ready because Bridgend know a win will get them through and will be going all out for it.”
“Had that last kick against Aberavon gone over, it would have made it easier but we are fortunate to be still in with an outside chance – it’s no different really, we need to score tries and stop them scoring. Simple as that !”
Only 4 points cover the teams in the “central” Pool with Bridgend (18) leading Aberavon (17) and Neath (14) and only Cardiff (5) out of the running.
Again, Neath have a hefty contingent away on Ospreys BIC duty – centre Keiran Williams, outside-half Luke Price and flanker Charlie Davies as well as hooker Ifan Phillips and full back Ed Howley are all required for their finale at London Irish while scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams and flanker Josh Cole are not yet ready to resume.
Neath bring in Skewen winger Matthew Billett while former Cardiff goal-kicker Geraint Llewellyn has a chance at full back after scoring a try against Aberavon last week. A fresh front row returns, Maesteg No.8 Scott Hicks – scorer of two tries against Aberavon – is again included along with young forwards Tom Hayward and Elis Hopkins (Neath Athletic).
Neath v Bridgend (Away)
15 Geraint Llewellyn; 14 Matthew Billett, 13 Matthew Pearce, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Kristian Corbisiero; 10 Rory Morgan-Williams, 9 Josh Guy; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Aled Morris, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Tom Hayward; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Scott Hicks, 7 Elis Hopkins
Replacements – 16 Sion Crocker, 17 Callum Jones, 18 Geraint James, 19 Lyndon Bateman, 20 Leon Ward, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 James Williams, 23 Aaron Grabham