By: Paul Hopkins
Neath and Swansea battled out a 33-33 thriller in both sides’ final pre-season match at The Gnoll.
It was almost a dream start for the Welsh All Blacks when full back Lewis Evans made a break over the Swansea 22, but the supporting winger James Roberts was brought down a metre short of the line, before a mistake brought an end to the move.
Evans took a high ball as Neath looked to attack again, and it forced the Whites’ defence off their feet at the ruck. Fly half Steff Williams missed his effort at goal though.
Prop Tim Ryan bashed through the middle and set up an attack with centres Ben Atkins and Jon Bayliss combining in midfield, but flanker Owain Morgan was unable to get a pass away and was penalised for holding on after the tackle.
The home side deservedly scored the first try of the match when fly half James Davies’ flip pass was intercepted by Ryan, who beat a man, before he found number eight David Griggs, who raced 30 metres to score in the corner. Williams converted.
A clever restart by the All Whites saw lock Sam Langford bundled into touch on his own 22. Lock Lewis Marsh tapped down the lineout, but at the next phase of play full back Liam Popham was penalised for holding on in the tackle.
Swansea were awarded a penalty following a mistake in the Neath defence and Davies found touch on the home 22. A clever little inside pass by Davies bamboozled the Neath defence and found winger Morgan Rees, who raced in for a try under the posts. Davies converted.
Flanker Carwyn Sion rose high to collect the restart, but a mistake by Bayliss gifted Swansea possession and a superb break by centre Kieran Charles split the home defence and he fired a scoring pass to scrum half Connor Tantum. Davies converted.
Williams found touch deep inside the Swansea half from a penalty with Langford taking the lineout and powering over the line for a try. Williams missed the conversion.
Following a loose period of play, Davies sprinted through the middle and found hooker Owen Thomas, who put his foot on the gas to score a third Whites try. Davies converted.
A poor attempted inside pass by Davies was intercepted by Langford, but Neath were unable to make the most of the chance.
Neath scored again when a quick tap penalty by Williams caught Swansea asleep and he found Atkins in support, before Evans spotted a gap on the blindside to score. Williams converted.
Owain Morgan superbly ripped the ball out of the hands of Tantum 10 metres from the try line to set up an All Blacks attack. Ryan made good yardage, but play was brought back for a home penalty, which Williams dinked into the corner. Langford took the lineout, but Atkins dropped the crash ball with the line at his mercy.
Half-time:- Neath 19-21 Swansea
A superb 50-22 kick by replacement centre Dan Edwards gave Swansea an attacking platform inside the opening minutes of the second half, but a powerful drive at the scrum by the All Blacks’ pack forced their counterparts off the ball.
The home side retook the lead in emphatic fashion when a delayed Williams pass found Bayliss, who sprinted home to score. Williams converted.
A huge rolling maul by the All Whites gave the visitors an attacking platform, but the Neath defence crept offside in midfield so Davies kicked to the corner. From the lineout replacement hooker Garan Williams powered over for a try. Davies converted.
The home side battered the Swansea line with Evans, Griggs and Roberts all stopped a metre short, before the ball was swept out to the opposite wing with replacement flanker Morgan Kneath exploiting the overlap to score. Williams converted.
Number eight Jon Fox stretched his legs to run back a loose kick as the Whites looked to attack, but flanker Callum Bowden dropped a pass and Neath were able to clear.
Dan Edwards sprinted through a gap in the Neath defence and was brought down on the 22, but the Neath defence was penalised for offside. Davies chipped to the corner, with Fox taking the lineout before he was held up over the line, although referee Jason Bessant brought play back for a Swansea penalty.
The Whites took a quick tap penalty, but it proved to be the wrong option as the All Blacks were able to regain possession thanks to a mistake by the visitors.
Swansea outfoxed the Neath pack at a scrum and earned a penalty. Dan Edwards found touch five metres from the line, but the Whites were unable to make the most of the lineout and winger Ryan Griffiths sprinted clear up to half way when he was tackled into touch.
With three minutes of normal time remaining a moment of magic by Dan Edwards tied the scores when he chipped ahead and backed his pace to score. Dan Edwards missed the conversion.
A moment of ill-discipline in the dying seconds by Langford almost proved costly for Neath as it gave Dan Edwards the chance to win the game with a last gasp penalty – earning the lock a yellow card in the process – but he missed his effort at goal.
Full-time:- Neath 33-33 Swansea
Tries:- David Griggs (10), Sam Langford (23), Lewis Evans (32), Jon Bayliss (47), Morgan Kneath (59)
Cons:- Steff Williams (11, 33, 48, 60)
Yellow cards:- Sam Langford (80)
Tries:- Morgan Rees (17), Connor Tantum (19), Owen Thomas (28), Garan Williams (53), Dan Edwards (77)
Cons:- James Davies (18, 20, 29, 54)
Venue:- The Gnoll, Neath
Weather:- Sunny, 17C
Referee:- Jason Bessant
Man of the match:- Jon Bayliss
15 Lewis Evans
14 James Roberts
13 Jon Bayliss
12 Ben Atkins
11 Ryan Griffiths
10 Steff Williams
9 Nicky Griffiths
1 Gareth Lloyd
2 Josh Clark
3 Tim Ryan
4 Sam Langford
5 Matthew Davies
6 Carwyn Sion
7 Owain Morgan ©
8 David Griggs
15 Liam Popham (rep: Willis Wood 54)
14 Morgan Rees
13 Kieran Charles (rep: Dan O’Sullivan 72)
12 Dan O’Sullivan (rep: Dan Edwards 41)
11 Matthew Jenkins
10 James Davies (rep: Harvey James 61)
9 Connor Tantum (rep: Harvey Nash 41)
1 Tom Sloane © (rep: Cameron Jones 41)
2 Owen Thomas (rep: Garan Williams 48)
3 Richard Murphy (rep: Scott Jenkins 51)
4 Matt Dodd (rep: Liam Edwards 8)
5 Lewis Marsh
6 Jay Williams
7 Callum Bowden
8 Jon Fox (rep: Ben Asprea 8-38)
16 Garan Williams
17 Cameron Jones
18 Scott Jenkins
19 Liam Edwards
20 Ben Asprea
21 Harvey Nash
22 Dan Edwards
23 Harvey James
24 Willis Wood