YSTALYFERA 9 NEATH 15
Neath right winger Luke Griffiths celebrated his return after a three game absence by scoring all 15 points including two tries as Neath were made to dig deep to take the points at the Ynysydarren ground.
Pre-match word from Ystalyfera was that this game was the biggest in their proud history and Neath always had it marked down as one of their toughest tasks on the road – and so it proved as the Blacks were made to battle throughout a tightly-fought affair.
Territorially Neath had the better of the first-half but ‘Fera defended valiantly. Chances were few but Neath centre Matthew Pearce took some holding and, working well in concert with back rowers Griggs and Lukes, threatened to break the stalemate.
Neath spurned a kickable penalty to go for the corner but were themselves penalised and neither side made much headway as conditions worsened. On the stroke of half-time, lively Neath hooker Jake Lewis who has been playing so well in recent weeks had the grave misfortune to suffer a knee injury and it took most of the break for the medical staff to see him safely off the pitch.
His injury drew to an end a first-half which would have pleased Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman in that it was “pointless” – and it is a long time since that last happened ! However, it took only two minutes after the resumption for the scoreboard operator to be called into action as Griffiths gave Neath the lead with a penalty which was cancelled out by home full back Steff Castle within five minutes.
Castle’s second penalty produced huge cheers from the home element in a goodly crowd but it also jerked Neath into action. A Nicky Griffiths tap penalty threatened the home try-line but an injection of urgency from the bench saw Neath step up the pace and menace the home line. Winger James Roberts flew after a deep Pearce kick and was just beaten to the touch down before a splendid run by Neath’s in-form speedster had the home defence back-pedalling. Neath re-cycled rapidly and, swinging the ball in fine style across the three-quarter line, Griffiths dabbed down in the opposite corner and converted from wide out.
Within two minutes, another flowing movement saw Neath make light of the mud and good hands again freed Griffiths who scooted to the corner for his second try but this time his conversion attempt struck the right upright. At 15-6, Neath were in charge but Castle’s third penalty earned ‘Fera a well-deserved bonus point and made for an exciting final play as the Blacks’ defence held firm to keep a clean sheet in the vanishing light.
It had been an old-fashioned, attritional wallow in the mud. Neath, while not playing up to recent standards, stuck in there to earn the result and their two splendid tries belonged to a fairer day and were the difference. The win moved Neath up a place in the table and the Blacks now move on to Tata Steel at The Gnoll next Saturday (2.30pm) when another big effort will be required as Steel are better than their position suggests.
NEATH – A.Bramwell (captain); L.Griffiths, Jarrad Rees, M.Pearce, J.Roberts; C.Hall (Jordan Rees), N.Griffiths (M.Griffiths); B.Uphill, J.Lewis (S.Crocker), L.Tobias (S.Jones); J.Blackmore, J.Barley; T.Antozzi, D.Griggs, B.Lukes (L.Ward)
YSTALYFERA – S.Castle; L.Caines, J.Jarrett (C.Gibson), J.Bayliss, B.Davies; G.James, B.Williams-Jones; R.White (H.Wilkes), O.Phillips, G.Jones; G.Owen (C.Miguel), S.Jones; R.James (capt), S.R.Jones, C.Papp
Referee – Mr. S.Rees (Ebbw Vale)
With three consecutive wins behind them, Neath will again need to produce their best when they visit Ystalyfera on Saturday with a slightly earlier kick off at 2.15pm.
Ystalyfera beat Tata Steel 20-13 last time and are billing Neath’s visit as their “biggest home game ever” and every game is a big game for Neath so the Blacks know they will face a stern test at Ynysdarren Park.
Neath have season ticket holders and followers in the Swansea Valley and the Blacks have watched and enjoyed Ystalyfera’s progress through the leagues.
Last time out, Neath’s fast game saw them score six tries in beating Beddau 34-7 and the Blacks starting line-up sees just three changes with top-scorer Luke Griffiths, Ben Uphill and Liam Tobias returning.
Regular hooker Sion Crocker has returned to fitness and takes his place on a strong-looking bench alongside Steff Jones and Leon Ward with Macauley Griffiths and Jordan Rees, both so impressive in the win at Cross Keys, providing the backs cover.
Neath v Ystalyfera (Away) 2.15pm
15 Aaron Bramwell (captain); 14 Luke Griffiths, 13 Jarrad Rees, 12 Matthew Pearce, 11 James Roberts; 10 Callum Hall, 9 Nicky Griffiths; 1 Ben Uphill, 2 Jake Lewis, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Jacob Blackmore, 5 Jon Barley; 6 Tomi Antozzi, 8 David Griggs, 7 Ben Lukes
Replacements: 16 Steffan Jones, 17 Sion Crocker, 18 Leon Ward, 19 Macauley Griffiths, 20 Jordan Rees