TREBANOS 7pts NEATH 23 pts
Neath opened their Championship campaign in the September sunshine with a solid-enough 23-7 win at Trebanos who battled to the end and held the All Blacks in check when many a lesser team might have cracked.
With five changes from the side which defeated Swansea, Neath were rapidly into their stride. Efficient kick-off receipt saw the worthy left boot of centre Matthew Pearce put Neath onto the attack, Trebanos threw not straight at the line-out and were penalised at the consequent scrum and winger Luke Griffiths landed the goal from 40 metres.
Trebanos gave early indications of their defensive resolution but a break by outside-half Jordan Rees promised much for Neath only to expire due to lack of support. But Neath were slowly turning the screw, forcing Trebanos to defend in their 22, and on the half-hour Neath’s first try was registered – a debut score for No.8 Tomi Antozzi who touched down at the back of a rapidly-advancing scrum.
Griffiths converted and, when Trebanos were penalised for a deliberate knock on, the winger landed a second penalty. The half had been mostly Neath whose try-line was not threatened although winger Josh Ferryman missed with a speculative long-range goal on the interval which Neath entered a deserved 13-nil to the good.
The second-half exploded into action when Aaron Bramwell’s pass was eagerly seized upon by Ferryman who scampered to the posts and converted to bring the score back to 13-7. Neath response was instantaneous as their forwards took play to the Trebanos line, Pearce made inroads towards the posts and Jordan Rees arrowed across on the right for the Blacks’ second try and Griffiths converted to restore Neath’s advantage.
The remainder of the game was played out almost entirely in the Trebanos half but Neath were unable to cross the line again. The home side’s determination was commendable and flankers Iwan Davies and Rhydian George tackled themselves almost to a standstill until replaced. Griffiths added a third penalty but Neath, despite some strong driving play by their forwards, took wrong options and were unable to cross the Trebanos line although they came mighty close on several occasions.
It was not a complete performance by the Blacks – the opening game rarely is – but they were very much on top with hooker Sion Crocker and Tomi Antozzi setting the standards in the pack. More clinical finishing is called for and stupid penalties must be cut out but the scrum and defence look strong and it is notable that the four tries conceded by the Blacks in four games to date have come from individual errors rather than lack of organisation.
Trebanos are brave and very well organised and Neath need to be mindful that every side they meet will be equally as determined even when battered and bruised. Strangely enough Neath’s next challenge is a Cup match against the same opposition. Trebanos will come to The Gnoll on Saturday (2.30pm) fully intent on causing an upset and Neath will know that they cannot be taken lightly. Supporters are reminded that the Cup is “all pay” but at a very reasonable £5, Under-16’s free.
NEATH – A.Bramwell (capt); L.Griffiths, Jarrad Rees, M.Pearce (B.Atkins), W.Holley; Jordan Rees (D.Guarneri), M.Griffiths; I.James, S.Crocker (I.Jones), L.Tobias (S.Jones); R.Morgan, J.Barley (J.Blackmore); L.Ward, T.Antozzi, S.Malone
TREBANOS – T.Dew; R.Bruton, D.Skone, S.Lewis, J.Ferryman; S.Duggan, J.Weaver; C.Forshaw, R.Thomas (capt), R.Evans; E.Morgan, C.Michael; I.Davies, D.Hills, R.George Repl. O.Kennerley, S.Howard, D.Worth, C.Warlow, I.Davies
Referee – Mr. K.Shorte (Cardiff)
The season proper begins for Neath when they visit Trebanos on Saturday in the Championship (kick off – 2.30pm).
After three pre-season wins over London Welsh (33-5), Resolven (43-nil) and, most impressively, Swansea (23-19), the really serious business starts now for the Blacks.
Coaches Pat Horgan, Matthew Jones and Andrew Howell ran their eyes over 33 players in the three warm-ups and only four changes are made to the side which started against Swansea with Jarrad Rees coming in at centre, Jordan Rees and Macauley Griffiths linking up again at half back and Argentine flanker Tomi Antozzi debuting at flanker.
Head coach Pat Horgan emphasised, “We have seen a lot of players so far and we will continue to rotate but we also need to establish team patterns early on.
“There will be disappointments for those not involved this week but the Championship is probably the toughest it has ever been and we will need a big squad.
“The League will define our season and it is important that we start well against Trebanos who we know are an enterprising side and will be a stiff proposition.
“Swansea was a proud accomplishment but we are all about improving and raising standards to a level where we are a team to be reckoned with again. We must make sides work harder to score against us and we must become more clinical ourselves.”
Neath v Trebanos (Away) 2.30pm
15 Aaron Bramwell; 14 Luke Griffiths, 13 Jarrad Rees, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 Will Holley; 10 Jordan Rees, 9 Macauley Griffiths; 1 Ifan James, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Rhys Morgan, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Scott Malone, 8 David Griggs/Leon Ward, 7 Tomi Antozzi
Replacements – 16 Steffan Jones, 17 Iestyn Jones, 18 Jacob Blackmore, 19 Dan Guarneri, 20 Ben Atkins