BLACKS BREAK THE WIZARDS SPELL WITH SHOW OF STEEL
Two tries in a three minute spell from two Neath players at either end of the career scale gave Neath an invaluable win and a four point gap in the league standings.
Gareth Gravell and Jordan Collier both crossed the whitewash in quick succession, with Avon a man light – losing captain Ian Moore to the bin for successive infringements – just after the hour, to give the battling Blacks a ten point lead that they would never relinquish.
But the game was always in the balance until that point, as disappointing defence from the home team let the Wizards in twice at the start of each half.
From the kick off, Neath failed to deal with the ball, it appeared back on the visitors side. From the resulting ruck, Avon recycled and drove towards the far corner at the Tonna end, resulting in Nathan Brown crashing over. Jamie Davies added the extras for a 7-0 lead.
Things remained tight for the next half hour, with Neath’s Scrum getting more and more on top, but puzzlingly referee Rhys Thomas giving Avon a couple of penalties, despite the visitors front row coming up and going backwards with apparant ease.
Both Jamie Davies and Dai Langdon missed kickable penalties in this period – 3-1 Davies led Langdon – but Neath got on the board on 32 minutes following good handling from the home backs.
Good strength from centres Pinches and Luke Williams led to Daf Howells being put into an inch of space near half way and the young Osprey impressively sliding over near the sticks. Langdon improved on the try to tie the scores at half time.
Straight after the break, Neath again failed to deal with the kick off and Avon Lock Gavin Ronan found himself in space. He evaded several tacklers before crashing over the line, Davies again adding the extras, but Langdon replying for a 10-14 advantage to the visitors.
Then two important incidents changed the course of the game. Firstly, the normally reliable Jamie Davies missed one penalty and hit the post with a second attempt, which Avon supporters know he would normally bury.
From the rebound Avon conceded a penalty, and virtually straight away skipper Ian Moore transgressed again. Referee Thomas had seen enough and gave Moore ten minutes in the cooler.
It was from the resulting penalty that Neath moved upfield and a good drive resulted in Jordan Collier being worked over and the Blacks took the lead for the first time. Langdon landed the extras to put the home team 17-14 up.
Neath were now in the ascendancy and were rewarded for yet more dominance up front, with recently returning ex-skipper Gareth Gravell being driven over on the far side, and Langdon slamming over the two pointer to put Neath 24-14 up.
The last 15 was all about if Neath could nick a four-try Bonus Point, but good, dogged defence from Avon saw to it that the revitalised Blacks got just the four points.
With Relegation looming for the bottom team in the WPL, this win will give the oldest club in Wales confidence going into a tough 2014, with a Cup run and hopefully a run clear of the relegation zone high on the list of priorities.
(Match Report – Phil Lawrence, Image – Len Kowalski)