Rugby Union: Neath climb another mountain to rise above relegation zone

Neath 38 Newport 8
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The Independent Online
Neath 38 Newport 8

There have been enough black days at The Gnoll this season to give even the most ardent of Neath fans an excuse not to turn up, but in one of the greatest hours of need for their club they trooped on to the terraces to give their side the boost they needed to leap three places up the table.

Having started the day in ninth place, one outside the new safety zone, six tries and a bonus point rocketed them ahead of three of their relegation rivals. There were sighs of relief, and smiles, all round.

Last season's league champions and Swalec Cup runners-up, the Welsh All Blacks saw their side decimated last summer. The Llewellyn brothers were enticed to Harlequins, Leigh Davies went to Cardiff and the coaching team of Darrell and Richie Jones had to import untried youngsters to fill vital gaps.

When the Welsh Rugby Union recently won its battle to have the 12-strong First Division slashed to an eight-team Premiership next season, the alarm bells began ringing around The Gnoll.

However unthinkable it might be that Neath could not be among the elite next winter, it still remains a possibility. The captain, John Davies, fully realises that and finally managed to get the point home to his players at the weekend. A nervous start was followed by a blockbusting second half in which the only blemish was conceding a try to Newport that ultimately cost the home team a second bonus point.

In the final rankings that should not matter too much, however, because Neath look to have recaptured the grim determination that has won them so many titles in the past. The final four teams they meet this season had better beware.

Newport could have more or less made themselves safe with a victory, but now their future is in doubt. Their problems look greater than those of Neath.

Their only points came from a first-half penalty by Gareth Curtis and a second-half try by fellow wing David Smith. It took half an hour before Paul Williams opened Neath's account with the first of his two tries and a second, from Richard Jones, came just before the break. After that it was one-way traffic.

Neath: Tries Williams 2, Jones, Higgs, Morris, Evans; Conversions Case 3, Evans. Newport: Try Smith; Penalty Curtis.

Neath: D Case; C Higgs, G Evans, J Funnell, R Jones; P Williams, P Horgan; D Morris, B Williams, J Davies (capt), S Martin, N Watkins, A Kembery, S Williams, S Gardner.

Newport: S Davies; G Curtis (L Jones, 77), A Palfrey, J Colderley, D Smith; A Lawson, N Lloyd; R Snow (S Duggan, 70), I Jones (G Hicks, 61), S Cronk, I Gough, R Goodey (capt, C Crane, 57), G Taylor (R Parkes, 74), M Workman, V Davies.

Referee: N Whitehouse (Swansea).