NEATH 29 points YSTRAD RHONDDA 19 points
What a fabulous game of rugby football ! Pace, movement, passion from both sides and Neath coming out on top by the odd try in seven – taking it for the superior strength of their forwards. But Ystrad Rhondda, well drilled and combative, won many new friends on their first visit to The Gnoll and showed why they were runners-up last season.
Warm sunshine and another healthy crowd greeted the two teams and it was Neath who were faster out of the blocks. Sustaining possession with the back-line handling well, they attacked from the start through backs and forwards and it culminated in back rower David Griggs supplying the finishing touches as he powered to the posts for his sixth try of the season, Luke Griffiths adding the conversion.
Five minutes later, the Blacks doubled their score, great combined play giving outside-half Jordan Rees time to perfectly place a kick for winger Luke Griffiths who gathered and sped in for the second try and converted himself.
It was then the visitors’ turn as they worked their way upfield and their attacking intent resulted in centre Ryan Howells crossing for a try which outside half Rhys Truelove goaled. The game then entered an exciting period of attack and counter-attack with Neath eager to pick up the pace and Ystrad, full of delightful running angles.
But Neath’s forwards are a tight and determined bunch; all eight working for each other, and, from Jacob Blackmore’s line-out take, hooker Sion Crocker burrowed over for his second try in successive weeks to make it 19-7 before Ystrad hit back with a fine second try by flanker Jarrad Llewellyn.
As half-time approached, the Blacks again attacked strongly through their fast driving forwards but the move was held up and Neath were penalised at the subsequent scrum.
19-12 at half-time, it was anyone’s game with Ystrad now having the advantage of a stiffening wind. Although the visitors put together long spells of possession, Neath defended with vigour and took play to the Ystrad line. Luke Griffiths missed a pot at goal but the Blacks kept up the pressure and another penalty saw the points added by Jordan Rees.
Back came Ystrad and scrum-half Jack Foulkes burst away for the visitors’ third score, Truelove converting to make it 22-19 but thereafter Neath’s forwards exerted a firm grip on the game. The Blacks hammered away at the Ystrad line and pulled clear when David Griggs went over again for Neath’s bonus point try, Rees converting to make it 29-19.
Neath’s stranglehold continued and Ystrad, their hopes all but gone, imploded somewhat adding a red card to yellow and the game ended with Neath still on the attack when excellent referee Simon Rees (Ebbw Vale) blew the final whistle to end a rousing game and an afternoon of royal entertainment for an appreciative crowd.
The Blacks now move on to Pontypool and will be very much the underdogs with the Gwent club unbeaten at home for three years. Last season, Pooler won the title ahead of Ystrad Rhondda so Neath, still building, know it will be another step up.
NEATH – A.Bramwell (capt); L.Griffiths, B.Athins, Jarrad Rees (M.Pearce), S.Summers; Jordan Rees (D.Guarneri), M.Griffiths; I.James (G.W.Lloyd), S.Crocker (Iestyn Jones), L.Tobias; J.Blackmore (L.Ward), R.Morgan; D.Griggs, S.Malone, J.Hill
YSTRAD RHONDDA – L.Greening; K.Williams, A.Lewis, R.Howells, A.Clarke; R.Truelove, J.Foulkes; M.Auger, L.Wiggins, D.Webb; N.Hughes (capt), K.Evans; M.Roderick, H.Connolly, J.Llewellyn Reps. I.Haskins, C.Williams, L.Morris, T.Jevons, J.Davies
Referee – Mr. S.Rees (Ebbw Vale)
It’s back to the Championship for unbeaten Neath who, with five consecutive wins behind them, take on second-placed Ystrad Rhondda for the first time at The Gnoll on Saturday (kick off – 2.30pm).
Neath made it a double by beating Trebanos 24-nil last week and are gearing for a tough challenge from their Mid-District visitors who crashed out of the Cup last week when they were well below strength at Cardiff Metropolitan.
“We believe that Ystrad were without a number of players last week which helps explain that odd scoreline,” said backs coach Matthew Jones, “and I know from my time at Pontypool that they are much better than that. They are different to Trebanos, more physical maybe but their backs are sharp too and we need to be ready for it.”
The Neath team again shows several changes and is :-
Neath v Ystrad Rhondda (Home) 2.30pm
15 Aaron Bramwell (captain); 14 Luke Griffiths, 13 Ben Atkins, 12 Jarrad Rees, 11 Sion Summers; 10 Jordan Rees, 9 Macauley Griffiths; 1 Ifan James, 2 Sion Crocker, 3 Liam Tobias; 4 Jacob Blackmore, 5 Rhys Morgan; 6 Scott Malone, 8 David Griggs, 7 Jon Hill
Replacements – TBC