CARDIFF 74 NEATH 7
It’s over ! At just before 9 o’clock on Wednesday evening, referee Ben Breakspear blew the final whistle to call time on Neath’s most inauspicious campaign ever.
The Blacks’ troubles have been well documented and the warning from history is that it must never happen again. Somehow, the team has held up but there was a distinct end-of-season feel to this game.
With 15 players in the 23 on permit, Neath were never in with a chance against Cardiff who are the Premiership’s form side at the moment and put the small matter of 75 points on Ebbw Vale the previous Saturday.
For all that, Neath shocked the meagre assembly at the Arms Park by scoring the opening try as winger James Roberts danced his way to the try-line for full back Callum Hall to convert.
Indeed, for much of the first-half the Blacks competed and scrummaged tidily throughout. But when Cardiff found the benefit of a couple of decisions to take a 33-7 lead into the interval there was only one result as injuries took their toll on a wilting Neath side.
Still, there was a fond farewell for forward Lee Evans as he departed early in the second half and a few hands went up to stake claims for next season.
Ifan James, Rhys Morgan and Glynneath captain James Parry earned praise as did scrum half Nathan Cornelius and, before injury, Dean Howell while Captain Bramwell (the capital is well deserved) as usual ran himself to a standstill but they could not stop the Cardiff tide.
The travelling Neath supporters, loyal to the end, cheered the team off and the XV reciprocated. There is a unique bond between the Neath team and its supporters and it was an apt ending because they all know and appreciate the efforts which have gone into preserving the Club.
Perhaps those efforts are best illustrated by some random facts : 130 players appeared for Neath in 2018/19, over 300 permit applications were processed, the average number of permit-players per game since November was 13 (and would have been higher had not a few inspired signings taken place in January), 33 props appeared and 11 scrum-halves.
Although often out-gunned, all have played with spirit – and are a credit to their home clubs to whom Neath have been most grateful.
Most of the players who have remained loyal to the cause and stuck in there when the going got tough will be back in July for pre-season and their numbers will be swelled by some key signings … Neath can now look only forward and the hard work continues for the All Black Volunteers who are sparing nothing as they re-establish affairs.
NEATH – Callum Hall; James Roberts, Dean Howell (Will Holley, Matt Billett), Aaron Bramwell (captain), Geraint Roberts; Jordan Rees, Nathan Cornelius (Zach Bartlett); Ifan James, Connah Vaughan (Sion Crocker), Liam Tobias (Haydn Manorek); Rhys Morgan, Lee Evans (Jake Blackmore); Gareth Jones (Jon Hill), Leon Ward (Steve John), James Parry
Neath’s most inglorious season ever will come to an end on Wednesday evening when they play Cardiff at the Arms Park on Wednesday evening (kick off 7.15pm).
Behind the scrum, Geraint Roberts and Will Holley return with Abercrave scrum-half Nathan Cornelius drafted in for a second time. Up front, Steve John, Liam Tobias, Haydn Manorek, Rhys Morgan and Jacob Blackmore return alongside Glynneath captain James Parry and Newcastle Emlyn’s Jon Hill.
The Neath team will be announced before kick off and will be chosen from the following :-
Neath v Cardiff (Away)
Callum Hall; Matt Billett, Geraint Roberts, James Roberts, Will Holley, Dean Howell, Aaron Bramwell (captain), Jordan Rees, Nathan Cornelius, Zach Bartlett, Gareth Jones, Ifan James, Steve John, Sion Crocker, Connah Vaughan, Haydn Manorek, Liam Tobias; Ioan Jones, Rhys Morgan, Lee Evans, Leon Ward, Jacob Blackmore, James Parry, Jon Hill