By: Paul Hopkins
The All Whites completed a double over neighbours Neath in the second match to celebrate 150 years of the Welsh All Blacks.
It was fitting that the match, which was played 150 years and one day after the first ever match between old rivals Swansea and Neath, was a closely fought encounter – the match in 1872 ended in a draw.
It was the visitors who enjoyed the early spoils and lock Matt Dodd spilled the ball forward at the kick off to gift Neath an attacking set piece midway between half way and the 22. An infringement at the scrum gave the visitors a penalty and fly half Steffen Williams chipped to the corner.
Lock Sam Langford took the lineout and a powerful Neath maul was held up just short of the line, although the home side were penalised for offside. Williams again chipped into touch, but hooker Chris Morris was held up over the line from the resulting maul.
Number eight David Griggs powered forward from the goal line drop out and the Whites were penalised for failing to roll away after the tackle. This time Steffen Williams chose to aim at goal and successfully kicked his side into the lead.
Flanker Owain Morgan was penalised for holding on after the tackle and fly half James Davies took a cheeky tap penalty, although the Neath defence responded well.
Moments later the home side came close to scoring a try, but the pass out wide to winger Gareth Rees sailed into touch and the move broke down.
Scrum half Liam Seaward’s clearance kick was charged down by the visitors and centre Ryan Evans looked to break through the middle, although he failed to get a crucial pass out to centre Ben Atkins, who would have had a clear run in to the line.
Full back Liam Popham took a quick free kick from a mark but number eight Charlie Davies threw a loose pass that was pounced on by the visitors. Dodd stole possession at a ruck and the Neath defence were penalised for failure to release the man.
James Davies found touch on the 22 and the home forwards drove upfield, but a determined Neath pack won a turnover at the maul.
Then, Popham stretched his legs in midfield and found centre Iestyn Hopkins in support as the home side injected pace into the move. Quick ball from the ruck saw hooker Garan Williams crash over for a try under the posts. James Davies converted.
Winger Willis Wood threatened with a chip and chase and forced the Neath defence to block a player off the ball. James Davies found touch on the 22 and the home side looked to attack, but centre Kieran Charles knocked possession forward a few metres short of the line. However, the referee spotted an early spillage by the visitors and awarded the scrum to Swansea.
The home side stayed patient as they went through many phases, but Seaward was held up just short of the line. A second scrum five followed and prop Gareth Lloyd was shown a yellow card for an infringement. The man advantage told as Charles crashed over for a try from the set piece. James Davies converted.
Neath looked to hit back and replacement prop Ben Francis powered forward with the Swansea defence penalised for killing the ball. A quick touch finding penalty by Steffen Williams was superbly kept in play though, allowing the home side to clear.
Lock Ross O’Connor collected a lineout to send prop Jack Powell charging up field, but his opposite number Cameron Jones hacked forward a loose ball and incredibly sprinted 50 metres upfield before he was brought down inside the Neath 22.
The home side were awarded a penalty though and opted for a scrum five. It proved the right decision as a powerful scrum enabled Charlie Davies to touch down for a third try on the stroke of half time. James Davies converted.
Half-time:- Swansea 21-3 Neath
Desperately needing to score first after the interval, the visitors looked to attack straight away but Steffen Williams and Ryan Evans overcomplicated a promising move, gifting the All Whites with a turnover.
The home side made 50 metres upfield with a feast of champagne open rugby before a mistake brought an end to the exciting move on the 22. A poor clearance kick by scrum half Macauley Griffiths sailed out on the full though, giving Swansea another attacking platform.
Replacement scrum half Ben Ley fired a pass out wide to Charles who sprinted towards the line, only to be tackled just short. The home forwards powered towards the line, but lock Jake Baker fell on the wrong side and gave away a penalty.
Replacement number eight Dyfig Ceredig charged into the 22 as a flat pass from Steffen Williams found flanker Carwyn Sion in support. The All Blacks spread play out wide, but Ryan Evans’ pass strayed forward on the try line.
Steffen Williams made a half break up to half way, but the supporting Ryan Evans was robbed of possession on the ground. Replacement winger Cameron Taylor made a break, but a mistake by the supporting player allowed Neath to clear long.
Swansea continued to attack and Popham found Garan Williams in support after the full back fielded a loose kick. He received the ball back later in the move and his chip through forced winger Jonny Bayliss into a hurried clearance.
The Neath defence were penalised for diving over the top of a ruck and replacement winger Chris Morgans took a quick tap penalty, racing up to the 22. The defence failed to retreat 10 metres so Popham chipped to the corner with a second penalty.
The visitors secured a much needed turnover and, against the run of play, replacement prop Tim Ryan burst through the middle and threw a pass to substitute flanker Jordan Evans, who drew in a defender to send Ryan over for a superb try. Steffen Williams converted.
A second try almost followed when replacement winger James Roberts showed a sharp turn of pace on the wing, but although the supporting full back Iestyn Morgan looked to have scored, his touch down was disallowed for a forward pass.
Play was brought back for an earlier Neath penalty though with Steffen Williams chipping to the corner. The Neath pack controlled the ball at a maul and got quick ball out wide for Steffen Williams to score a try, which he also converted.
In the dying seconds Steffen Williams spotted a gap in the Swansea defence and raced through before losing his footing and spilling the ball forward. It was the last action of the match though with the referee blowing for full time after 75 minutes.
Full-time:- Swansea 21-17 Neath
Tries:- Garan Williams (24), Kieran Charles (34), Charlie Davies (40+4)
Cons:- James Davies (25, 35, 40+5)
Tries:- Tim Ryan (69), Steffen Williams 73)
Cons:- Steffen Williams (70, 74)
Pens:- Steffen Williams (7)
Yellow cards:- Gareth Lloyd (33)
Venue:- St Helen’s, Swansea
Weather:- Clear, 6C
Man of the match:- Iestyn Hopkins
15 Liam Popham
14 Gareth Rees (rep: Chris Morgans 62)
13 Iestyn Hopkins (rep: Leo Eggerton 68)
12 Kieran Charles
11 Willis Wood (rep: Cameron Taylor 41)
10 James Davies (rep: Taylor Phillips 70)
9 Liam Seaward (rep: Ben Ley 41)
1 Cameron Jones (rep: Tom Northy 60)
2 Garan Williams
3 Kaid O’Neill (rep: Jordan Pritchard 50)
4 Matt Dodd
5 Jake Baker
6 Jay Williams ©
7 Leon McNally (rep: Dillon Grindrod 38 (rep: Aneurin James 62))
8 Charlie Davies
16 Aneurin James
17 Tom Northy
18 Jordan Pritchard
19 Dillon Grindrod
20 Leo Eggerton
21 Chris Morgans
22 Taylor Phillips
23 Cameron Taylor
24 Ben Ley
15 Iestyn Morgan (rep: Aaron Bramwell 65)
14 Jonny Bayliss (rep: James Roberts 65)
13 Ryan Evans ©
12 Ben Atkins (rep: Iwan Johnes 52)
11 Louis Rees
10 Steffen Williams
9 Macauley Griffiths (rep: Elis Horgan 70)
1 Jack Powell (rep: Ben Francis 50)
2 Chris Morris (rep: Josh Clark 50)
3 Gareth Lloyd (rep: Tim Ryan 70)
4 Sam Langford (rep: Chris Thompson 65)
5 Ross O’Connor
6 Owain Morgan (rep: Jordan Evans 62)
7 Carwyn Sion (rep: Tim Ryan 33-40+3)
8 David Griggs (rep: Dyfan Ceredig 50)
16 Josh Clark
17 Tim Ryan
18 Ben Francis
19 Chris Thompson
20 Jordan Evans
21 Dyfan Ceredig
22 Elis Horgan
23 Iwan Johnes
24 James Roberts
25 Aaron Bramwell