NEATH, who normally play with a verve that English titans like Bath only rarely recall and Leicester have totally forgotten, won their way to the final of the Swalec Cup as expected, but with nothing like the ease or flair of their recent 65-23 League win over yesterday's opponents, Newport. Although they scored two tries to Newport's one, what finally decided the game was a kick at goal, in which the sniper fire of their scrum-half, Pat Horgan, had the last crack over the heavy-mortar shelling of Newport's stand-off, Gareth Rees.
Neath have come far in the comparatively short time since that post-Jonathan Davies era when they became the self-elected hard man of Welsh rugby, all cropped heads and surly grimaces of triumph to the crowd. It's not that they have gone soft since, but at their best they have added a pace, wit and exuberance that have brought them 94 tries and a leading place in the Heineken League this season.
The next few weeks could sound the swansong of the present side. The Llewellyn brothers, their formidable second row, are due to go east next season. Others may well take the same route. If Welsh clubs and country thought they were afflicted by the brawn drain to rugby league in the past, that may have been nothing compared to the future drift towards England's rugby union sides.
The only sign that Neath believed in their superiority was that they immediately set themselves a seven-point penalty. Paul Williams kicked off, deep and close to the touchline. The Neath forwards failed to cover the kick or the possibility of a counter-attack. Richard Rees, the Newport right-wing, let the ball drop into his arms and was off up the touchline unmolested and free to circle to the posts for the touchdown. The try came just 12 seconds from the opening blast of the whistle and Gareth Rees had only to put the conversion through on the nod. It was shaming for Neath and they spent the rest of the match striving to live it down.
Their earliest chance came after 18 minutes when the Neath prop, Darren Morris, barged his way over for a try from a free-kick. A conversion by Horgan would have levelled the score but he put the ball wide. And so the rest of the half was measured out in kicks at goal. Rees, the hefty Canadian, thumped over three penalties and dropped a goal, while Horgan managed only three penalties from twice as many chances. By half-time Neath had reduced their handicap by only two points at 14-19.
There the scoring stuck for the next 22 minutes of play. A sinuous run by Paul Williams, a series of scrums on the Newport line, a move from a quick throw-in deep in the Neath half came to nothing. Then a solo run took Leigh Davies through to the posts and Horgan converted to put Neath ahead for the first time
Even that didn't clinch it - with four minutes remaining Gareth Rees seized his final penalty chance to take back the lead for Newport. When Horgan placed the ball 42 yards out from the Newport posts for a do-or- die effort, nothing in his past performance suggested the young scrum- half could score from that distance. On wings of hope the ball rose and collapsed exhausted behind the crossbar. Neath had not won with style, but at least they had won.
Newport: S Davies; R Rees, D Hughes, A Palfrey, M Llewellyn; G Rees, J Hewlett, R Snow, A Peacock, S Cronk, M Voyle, K Moseley, M Workman, D Gray, R Goodey (capt).
Neath: R Jones; C Higgs, L Davies, G Evans, R Wintle; P Williams, P Horgan; D Morris, B Williams, J Davies, Glyn Llewellyn, Gareth Llewellyn (capt), R Jones, I Boobyer, J Burnell.
Referee: G Simmonds (Cardiff).Reuse content