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- Whites taste defeat in season opener
- Neath run in five tries as they secure bonus point win
- Impressive debut by Whites centre Owen Howe
By: Paul Hopkins
It was a disappointing start to the All Whites’ 2017/18 campaign as they were well beaten by rivals Neath at The Gnoll.
A cricket match at the ground meant kick off was delayed until the evening, but that did little to dampen enthusiasm for the season opener as a very healthy crowd of over 1,000 went through the turnstiles to witness a great spectacle of rugby.
It was the visitors who registered the first points when centre Jedd Evans made a break, forcing the All Blacks offside at the ruck. Fellow centre Owen Howe kicked the penalty goal.
Neath hit back almost immediately when centres Matthew Pearce and Richard Smith combined well with the latter racing in to score the game’s first try. Full back Ed Howley converted.
Howe kicked another penalty goal when the home side were harshly adjudged offside at the restart, despite it appearing non-intentional.
A crooked feed at the set piece by scrum half Rhodri Wells gave Neath a free kick in a dangerous position. Moments later a high tackle meant Howley was able to convert a penalty.
Howley made a break and drew in the visitors’ defence, before finding winger Mike Evans, who handed off a couple of weak tackles to score a well taken try. Howley sliced the conversion wide of the posts.
Lock Jay Williams superbly tapped down the restart to the supporting prop Richard Murphy. The All Blacks were penalised for kicking the ball out of the ruck and Howe chipped to the corner. Second row Tudor Hughes collected the lineout and hooker Paul John was mauled to the line for a try. Howe converted to reduce the deficit to just a couple of points.
Howley regathered his own well-weighted chip through and his side spread the ball out wide, but play was brought back for a high tackle. The Neath forwards battered the Whites’ line and the defence finally gave way when flanker Aled Morris crashed over for a try. Howley converted.
Neath continued to attack, but a powerful maul over the twenty-two was well defended by the visitors and Howley ended up box kicking straight into touch.
On the stroke of half time the home side spilled the forward at the lineout, giving Swansea a scrum ten metres from the line. A mistake in midfield allowed Smith to hack the ball clear, but Neath were unable to make the most of it.
Half-time:- Neath 22 Swansea 13
Swansea cut the gap to six points almost immediately after the restart through a Howe penalty after referee Wayne Davies blew up for a dangerous tackle.
Howe took a pass on an angle and set up a rare Swansea attack. Fly half James Davies then dummied and twisted inside, feeding the powerful Hughes. Alas the move broke down when the support lost the ball forward.
Morris then secured good lineout ball on half way, but the Whites intercepted and full back Rhys Williams chipped through the middle. He was unable to regather but play was brought back anyway for a high tackle by Smith.
Another super run by Morris forced the visitors offside at the ruck. However, this time Howley’s effort at goal sailed well wide of the posts.
Impressive winger Keiran Williams was introduced to proceedings and immediately showed his pace after taking a pass from Mike Evans, before racing clear to score, beating the chasing Andrew Claypole. Howley converted.
Replacement full back Phil Jones was brought down a metre short of the line and Neath were penalised for offside. Jones kicked to the corner and James Davies tried to go alone, but was also stopped just shy of the whitewash.
Desperately needing a try to get back into the match, Swansea began to throw the kitchen sink at the Neath defence. Flanker Ben Davies charged forward and Jay Williams was tackled a couple of metres short of the line. Then it was Claypole’s turn to charge through, before substitute winger Dominic Callaghan was bundled into touch.
Scrum half Scott Gibson darted forward to spark a Neath attack and the visitors were penalised for foul play to gift Howley three more points to effectively put the game to bed.
The Whites struggled to bring the pacey Howley down and he sent Mike Evans on another run towards the line, but the winger lost the ball forward.
When James Davies dropped the ball on his own line, all signs pointed towards a probable Neath penalty try such was their dominance in the scrum. However, replacement flanker Leon Ward caught everyone by surprise when he pealed off a scrum to score. Howley converted.
Next up for Neath is a trip to Carmarthen, while Swansea host Aberavon.
Full-time:- Neath 39 Swansea 16
Tries:- Richard Smith (5), Mike Evans (21), Aled Morris (31), Keiron Williams (60), Leon Ward (78)
Cons:- Ed Howley (6, 32, 61, 79)
Pens:- Ed Howley (17, 73)
Tries:- Paul John (24)
Cons:- Owen Howe (25)
Pens:- Owen Howe (3, 7, 42)
Venue:- The Gnoll, Neath
Referee:- Wayne Davies
Weather:- Sunny, 22C
Man of the match:- Aled Morris
15 Ed Howley
14 Mike Evans
13 Richard Smith
12 Matthew Pearce
11 Geraint Llewellyn (rep: Keiran Williams 48)
10 Gavin Evans (rep: Iwan Davies 76)
9 Scott Gibson (rep: Chris Morgans 74)
1 Ben Uphill (rep: Joe Davies 78)
2 Sion Crocker (rep: David Edwards 78)
3 Geraint James (rep: Ryan Thomas 54)
4 Rhys Jones
5 Ryan Bean (rep: Matthew Davies 33)
6 Jordan Collier ©
7 Aled Morris (rep: Leon Ward 67)
8 Scott Hicks
16 David Edwards
17 Joe Davies
18 Ryan Thomas
19 Matthew Davies
20 Leon Ward
21 Chris Morgans
22 Iwan Evans
23 Keiran Williams
15 Rhys Williams (rep: Phil Jones 52)
14 Andrew Claypole
13 Owen Howe
12 Jedd Evans
11 Jake Randall (rep: Dom Callaghan 61)
10 James Davies
9 Rhodri Wells (rep: Josh Guy 70 (rep: Rhodri Wells 77))
1 Tom Sloane (rep: Jack Powell 80+1)
2 Paul John (rep: Tom Ball 70)+)
3 Richard Murphy (rep: Chris Thomas (
4 Jay Williams (rep: Adam Thresher 70)
5 Tudor Hughes
6 Rory Gallagher (rep: Emyr Williams 41)
7 Ben Davies
8 Jon Fox ©
16 Tom Ball
17 Jack Powell
18 Chris Thomas
19 Adam Thresher
20 Emyr Williams
21 Josh Guy
22 Phil Jones
23 Dom Callaghan