SWANSEA 24 points NEATH 17 points
Neath went down to a defeat at St. Helen’s where Swansea scored 4 tries to 3 to take the honours in an untidy game in which both sides seemed to be labouring a little after the recent break in fixtures. But, if Neath harboured hopes that the two-week BIC lay-off would bring an end to their injury worries, they were very much mistaken as, within 25 minutes, they had lost three players and, with centre Richard Smith crying off before kick-off, their pre-match planning went out of the window.
Neath regained the kick-off to establish and early attacking position but Swansea countered and when Ed Howley attempted to run out of defence, Swansea on the back of three penalty awards, went ahead when wing Andrew Claypole latched on to a neat grubber-kick by Phil Jones to score at the posts and Owen Howe converted. Neath’s powerful scrum gave early evidence of a marked superiority in this area and, after a thrilling run by young winger James Roberts, the Blacks’ scrum took over to provide a penalty try which levelled the scores at 7-7.
In a lack-lustre first-half, punctuated by injuries, other stoppages and slow line-out set-ups, a couple of lengthy clearances by replacement full back Geraint Llewellyn earned applause from the crowd but the only other action of significance was Swansea’s second try which came from a line-out when flanker Jay Williams was driven over for a try ansd Swansea led at half-time 12-7.
Neath failed to cope with the re-start and Swansea soon extended their lead to 19-7 when centre Jed Evans raced over for a try and Howe converted. Neath threatened briefly with centre Matthew Pearce making good ground but a penalty at goal was missed, so too another to touch, and Swansea broke out to score a fourth, bonus-point, try when lock Adam Thresher went over from a line-out.
Neath were looking down and out but suddenly they started to play. A finely-judged cross-kick by replacement fly half Iwan Evans almost resulted in a try for winger Alec Jenkins, but the ball was spilled over the line. Then, opting for a scrum instead of a kick at goal, Neath’s set-piece power showed again and, moving the ball wide, the eager Jenkins got in near the corner for their second try.
The limping James Roberts then accelerated through midfield to threaten again but his wide pass to opposite winger Jenkins flew into touch with a try beckoning. With acting captain Sion Crocker driving them on, Neath kept up the pressure with replacements prop Liam Tobias and back-rower Elis Hopkins impressing with their effort and a line-out drive had Swansea back-pedalling – had one or two forwards not stood off in the modern mode instead of joining the surge, they would surely have scored.
Eventually, Neath picked off a Swansea line-out and great work by replacement scrum half Chris Morgans and centre Matthew Pearce set up the attack and, from a scrum, the eager Jenkins, back to his best, flashed over for his second try which was how it stayed although there was late drama when a Swansea attack nearly ended in Llewellyn intercepting.
NEATH – E.Howley (G.Llewellyn); J.Roberts, M.Evans, M.Pearce, A.Jenkins; G.Evans (capt) (I.Evans), S.Gibson (C.Morgans); B.Uphill (L.Tobias), S.Crocker (D.Lake), G.James (R.Thomas); R.Bean, J.Barley; J.Cole (E.Hopkins), L.Ward, C.Davies (M.Davies)
SWANSEA – G.Walters; A.Claypole, J.Evans (J.Davies), J.R.Williams (capt), O.Howe; P.Jones, J.Guy; J.Powell (L.Bullock), P.John (T.Ball), F.Holder (C.Thomas); A.Thresher (J.Vaughan). M.Dodd; J.Williams, M.Morris, E.Williams (J.Fox)
Referee – Mr. S.Rees (Ebbw Vale)
Neath resume Premiership action after a two-week break with a visit to Swansea (kick off 2.30pm).
Wing three-quarter Mike Evans returns as the only change behind the scrum with captain Gavin Evans continuing to lead the side in the absence of Jordan Collier who is making good progress in his recovery from a broken leg.
Up front, Ryan Bean is fit to resume in the second row alongside the returning Jon Barley while Josh Cole makes his first start for over a year. Nantyffyllon youngster Dewi Lake is named among the replacements alongside props Liam Tobias and Ryan Thomas.
Neath coach Gareth Llewellyn said, “It will be nice to get back into action after the break and we need to get back on track without delay. We suffered a few injuries in the first block and it is good to have players returning.”
Neath v Swansea (Away)
15 Ed Howley; 14 James Roberts, 13 Richard Smith, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Mike Evans; 10 Gavin Evans (captain), 9 Scott Gibson; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Geraint James; 4 Ryan Bean, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Josh Cole, 8 Leon Ward, 7 Charlie Davies
Replacements :- 16 Liam Tobias, 17 Dewi Lake, 18 Ryan Thomas, 19 Matthew Davies, 20 Elis Hopkins, 21 Chris Morgans, 22 Iwan Evans, 23 Alec Jenkins