SWANSEA 32 points NEATH 32 points
A last-gasp penalty by full back Ed Howley earned Neath a draw at St. Helen’s after the Blacks had once again squandered a winning position, having earlier led 29-17 with ten minutes remaining.
Dry-weather rugby was the order of the day as these two old rivals shared eight tries – and bagged three points apiece – from an entertaining affair which ended all square on a rock hard, abrasive surface.
After an opening “sounding out” period, Neath took the lead through a second try in three games by razor-sharp scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams which Howley converted but Swansea levelled through an Emyr Williams try converted by Phil Jones and the Whites went in front when ageless scrum-half Rhodri Wells crossed and outside-half Jones converted.
But Neath wasted little time in drawing level as flanker Charlie Davies, part of an impressive back-row alongside skipper Jordan Collier and Leon Ward, bagged his fourth try of the campaign and Howley converted.
Howley nudged Neath ahead with a penalty only for Jones to equalise but Neath went in front before half-time when lock Rhys Jones rolled over for his first try of the season and Howley’s conversion made it 24-17 to Neath at half-time.
When Aaron Grabham crossed for his 22nd try of the season 15 minutes into the second-half, all seemed fine for Neath but with ten minutes remaining Swansea countered with a try by replacement hooker Ricky Guest and they levelled when wing Joe Jenkins crossed for Jones to convert.
As the game drew towards its conclusion, Swansea’s joy was evident when Jones nudged them ahead with a penalty but Howley kept his composure to land a by no mean straightforward 40-metre goal to ensure Neath a share of the spoils.
As the results came in from the other games, the significance of Howley’s kick became apparent.
The Blacks still harbour realistic chance of a home play-off if they can beat Bridgend at The Gnoll on Friday but any combination is possible as Newport (22), Llanelli (21) who have completed their fixtures, Bridgend (20), Neath (19) and Cross Keys (17) battle it out.
Cardiff and Bargoed contest sixth spot but, despite this draw, Swansea are consigned to the foot of the table.
So, all roads lead to The Gnoll on Friday (kick off 7.30pm) for the last of the games on this year’s highly irregular “regular” list.
Neath play their penultimate game in Tier 2 of the Premiership targeting a win over Swansea at St. Helen’s to take them towards the play-offs.
Neath changes see Alec Jenkins back on the wing, Matthew Pearce returning at centre and Gavin Evans moving to outside-half with hooker Sion Crocker and prop Neil White returning in the front row. Lyndon Bateman figures on a strong-looking bench alongside Wales Under-20’s back rower Aled Ward.
Neath v Swansea (away).
15 Ed Howley; 14 Aaron Grabham, 13 Max Llewellyn, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Alec Jenkins; 10 Gavin Evans, 9 Reuben Morgan-Williams; 1 Neil White, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Ryan Thomas; 4 Rhys Jones, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Jordan Collier (captain), 8 Leon Ward, 7 Charlie Davies
Replacements – 16 Ifan Phillips, 17 Ben Uphill, 18 Geraint James, 19 Lyndon Bateman, 20 Aled Ward, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Iwan Evans, 23 Kristian Corbisiero
Referee – Mr. Simon Mills (Llanelli)