By: Paul Hopkins
After a 553 day absence, the All Whites were finally back in action as they defeated old rivals Neath in a match to commemorate the Welsh All Blacks’ 150th anniversary.
A great early touch finder from fly half James Davies put the home side under immediate pressure. Flanker Jay Williams rose high to collect the lineout and he offloaded to hooker Owen Thomas for a first minute try. James Davies converted.
Centre Keiran Charles was penalised for holding on after the tackle and fly half Steffen Williams found touch inside the Swansea twenty-two. Scrum half Elis Horgan raced towards the line, but a mistake by his supporting forwards gave Swansea some much needed respite.
The All Whites gave away a penalty themselves for holding on after the tackle and Williams took a quick tap penalty, although the visitors’ defence was quick to regather, and they earned a penalty when centre Ryan Evans became isolated in the tackle.
A superb kick by full back Liam Popham bounced awkwardly for the Neath defence, with the ball trickling over the touchline a metre from the try line. The visitors stole the lineout, and after a patient build up, Jay Williams powered over for his side’s second try. James Davies converted.
Winger Ian Ellis superbly gathered a poor pass and made a half break down the wing, but the Whites’ defence was penalised for offside. Williams chipped to the corner and lock Jon Barley took the lineout, but a knock forward in the maul brought an end to the move.
A huge scrum by the Neath pack forced a penalty which Horgan took quickly, but it proved to be the wrong decision as the Swansea defence stood firm and prop Tim Ryan was penalised for holding on after the tackle.
A mistake at the lineout by Jay Williams gave Neath possession on half way but a bone crunching tackle by winger Curtis Davies on full back Aaron Bramwell stopped a home attack.
With Jay Williams prolific in the lineout, the Neath defence was forced to illegally prevent release of the ball, so James Davies kicked to the corner. This time the Whites were unable to make Neath pay though thanks to a mistake at the scrum.
A well-weighted chip to the corner by James Davies almost fell into the hands of Curtis Davies, but an unlucky bounce helped out the Blacks’ defence.
A crooked throw by hooker Josh Clark handed unexpected possession back to the Whites. A high tackle on scrum half Connor Tantum gave the visitors a penalty, but Bramwell superbly ripped the ball out of his counterparts’ hands to clear.
Half-time:- Neath 0-14 Swansea
It was a much brighter start to the second half for the home side as replacement flanker Jacob Blackmore made a run down the wing and fed James Roberts. Offside in the Whites’ defence gave Neath a penalty, but Steffen Williams’ effort sailed wide of the posts.
Number eight David Griggs made a powerful run through the middle, crossing the twenty-two, but lock Ciaran Comerford was knocked back in the tackle and surrendered possession.
A crossfield kick by James Davies was expertly taken by wing Harry Houston who made a jinking run before the Neath defence regrouped to steal possession. In fact, winger James Roberts threatened on the wing, but Popham dealt with the one on one tackle with ease.
This time it was Swansea’s turn to mount an attack and Neath captain Bramwell was given a warning by referee Elgan Williams after his side gave away one too many penalties. James Davies extended the Whites’ lead to 17 points.
Offside in midfield by the visitors’ defence gave Neath a penalty and Williams chipped to the corner, but lock Matt Dodd stole the crucial lineout. Winger Ian Ellis looked set to score in the corner but a determined visitors’ defence kept him at bay.
Evans took a quick tap penalty with Barley and Blackmore providing support before the lost the ball forward.
Evans gathered a loose ball as the Whites made a couple of calamitous mistakes in defence. The All Blacks finally were rewarded for their hard work when Griggs held off a tackle to score under the posts. Williams converted.
Centre Evans sprinted through the middle and looked set to add a second Neath try, but he lost his footing and the supporting Grigg was unable to take the pass. The home side continued to attack though, but replacement winger Jon Bayliss was bundled into touch just short of the line.
Offside by Popham gave Neath a penalty and Williams found touch a few metres from the line. Griggs was stopped just short before Bayliss was tackled over the line.
Williams hit the post with a snap drop goal and the chasing replacement winger Luke Griffiths came within inches of following up, but the bounce evaded him. Referee Williams brought play back for a Neath penalty and Williams kicked to the corner.
In truth, the Whites hardly had a sniff in the second half and, in one of the few rare attacks, replacement hooker Aneurin James was penalised for holding on after the tackle.
It took until second half injury time for the customary derby brawl to take place between the sides, with both captains spoken to by referee Williams.
Replacement flanker William Baraclough took a lineout, but the supporting Curtis Davies was brought down ten metres short of the line. A clever flip pass by Jay Williams found replacement centre David Armstrong, but the visitors’ forwards dived into a ruck off their feet and Neath were awarded relieving penalty.
Griggs caught the Whites’ defence napping when he took a quick tap penalty and found Evans, who raced clear to score with the last play of the game. Williams converted.
Next up for Neath is a home match against Tata Steel in the Championship Cup, while Swansea travel to Llandovery in the Premiership Cup.
Full-time:- Neath 14-17 Swansea
Tries:- David Griggs (72), Ryan Evans (80+12)
Cons:- Steffen Williams (73, 80+13)
Tries:- Owen Thomas (2), Jay Williams (17)
Cons:- James Davies (3, 18)
Pens:- James Davies (56)
Venue:- The Gnoll, Neath
Referee:- Elgan Williams
Weather:- Sunny, 18C
Man of the match:-
15 Aaron Bramwell ©
14 Ian Ellis (rep: Jon Bayliss 63)
13 Ryan Evans
12 Ben Atkins
11 James Roberts (rep: Luke Griffiths 72)
10 Steffen Williams
9 Elis Horgan (rep: Dylan Ceredig 63)
1 Gareth Lloyd (rep: Morgan Thomas 63)
2 Josh Clark (rep: Stuart Vokes 63)
3 Tim Ryan
4 Ciaran Comerford
5 Jon Barley (rep: Sam Langford 68)
6 Alun Jones (rep: Jacob Blackmore 41)
7 Owain Morgan
8 David Griggs
16 Stuart Vokes
17 Morgan Thomas
18 Sam Langford
19 Jacob Blackmore
20 Dyfan Ceredig
21 Ross O’Connor
22 Jonathan Bayliss
23 Luke Griffiths
15 Liam Popham
14 Harry Houston
13 Gareth Rees
12 Kieran Charles (rep: David Armstrong 54)
11 Curtis Davies
10 James Davies (rep: Gwyn Parks 68)
9 Connor Tantum (rep: Liam Seaward 63)
1 Tom Northey (rep: Tom Sloane 44)
2 Owen Thomas (rep: Anuerin James 51)
3 Jordan Pritchard (rep: Alun Dew 44)
4 Owen Morgan (rep: Garin Lloyd 63)
5 Matt Dodd
6 Jay Williams ©
7 Callum Bowden (rep: William Baraclough 47)
8 Charlie Davies
16 Aneurin James
17 Tom Sloane
18 Alun Dew
19 Garin Lloyd
20 William Baraclough
21 Liam Seaward
22 Gwyn Parks
23 David Armstrong