As a result of Pontypridd’s convincing win over Llanelli last week. which ensured 4th spot in the Welsh Premiership table, it also meant another trip to the Gnoll, some 580 hours after their last visit. This time, for the eagerly anticipated Play-Off game.
On a sunny evening in front of a crowd that was arguably lower than the one for the recent league game, Ponty started the game in a positive manner, taking to the game to the recently crowned League Champions, showing lots of aggression in the rucks and mauls, one rolling maul from a line out on half way in particular driving Neath back 25 metres, and saw hooker Kristian Dacey make a dart for the try line.
Neath however, managed to weather the early onslaught, and nearly scored a try themselves through wing Kristian Phillips following some direct running in midfield by centre Steve Thomas.
There was a bit of an edge to the game, and this came to the fore after 11 minutes after an incident which saw Neath prop Martin Jones and flanker Gareth Gravelle yellow carded by referee Phil Fear for acts of foul play. Jones in particular could consider himself lucky not to have seen red after landing at least 2 punches on the head of Ryan Harford.
With 15 against 13, Ponty continued to apply the pressure, but could not take advantage of the numerical difference, and amazingly, Neath scored the opening try of the game through flanker Steve Tandy. He intercepted a ball from a Ponty scrum on the Neath 22 and raced the 70 odd yards to score in the corner. This try was converted by captain Arwel Thomas to put Neath 7 points clear.
Neath extended their lead 6 minutes later through an Arwel
Thomas penalty as a result of Ponty being offside. This was the
last score of the first half. Given the scorelines of the previous
2 games between the sides, to a see a 10-0 score was rather
Ponty opened the scoring in the second half (and their only score of the game) in the 47th minute through a Dean Gunter penalty (his 50 successful penalty of the season), as a result of Neath being offside and a bit of backchat giving Ponty an extra 10 yards.
Ponty continued to put pressure on Neath but a combination of poor handling and some aggressive defence meant that they could not increase on their 3 points. And it was Neath who scored their (and his) and their second try of the game from Steve Tandy, following a quickly taken penalty, and an interchange of passes, After a few moments of deliberation between referee Fear and his assistant the try was awarded, but went unconverted.
To make matters worse for Ponty, scrum half Kristian Baller (who had only just moved to the wing) left the field with what looked like a serious leg injury, and was replaced by Matthew Hutchings.
Against the run of play, Neath scored a third try through wing
Kristian Phillips on 58 minutes. For the second time it was an
interception try. Following a strong break in midfield by Chris
Clayton, the ball was moved out wide where there was an overlap and
a certain try to be scored, but Phillips intercepted the pass and
raced the length of the field to score a heartbreaking try under
the posts, which was converted by Gareth McCarthy.
From then on Neath launched attack after attack and it was only some superb defence by Ponty that prevented further scoring, but that was at a cost and after 74 minutes and after a 5 metre scrum that McCarthy scored Neath’s 4th try next the posts and added the subsequent conversion.
The game ended on a high for Neath when they scored their 5th try and Kris Phillips’ 2nd try of the evening producing a side step past Matthew Hutchings that even Shane Williams would have been proud of.
It was a deserved win for the home team, but the 31pt winning margin did flatter them, as Ponty in all probability shared if not bettered the territory and possession. They just found it difficult to break down the resolute Neath defence.
With the win, Neath now await a home tie in the semi final play off on May 13th against the winners of the Pontypridd vs Llandovery game to be played on Bank Holiday Monday.
Matthew Nuthall, Chris Clayton, Gavin Dacey (capt), Gary Williams, Lee Thorne (rep Rhys Downes 51 mins), Dean Gunter, Kristian Baller (rep Matthew Hutchings 53mins) Jon Williams (rep Nathan Trevett 63 mins), Kristian Dacey, Ryan Harford, Grant Harrington (rep Cory Hill 53 mins), Ryan Savage, Rhys Lloyd (rep Nathan Strong 46 mins), Darren Waters (rep Tom Hetherington 72mins), Chris Dicomidis
Steve Tandy (21 mins & 50mins)
Kristian Phillips (58 mins & 76 mins)
Gareth McCarthy (74 mins)
Arwel Thomas (21 mins)
Gareth McCarthy (58 mins & 74 mins)
Arwel Thomas (36 mins)
Dean Gunter (47mins)