RUGBY UNION: Neath serve up a black day for Pontypridd

Neath 33 Pontypridd 21
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IT HAS not been a great time for Pontypridd since the WRU Premier Division went into its second phase, the home and away play-off section between the top four clubs.

First they lost the services of their inspirational captain, Neil Jenkins, through injury and then they were beaten by Ebbw Vale. To make matters worse, three days later they travelled to Neath and were once again put to the sword by the resurgent Welsh All Blacks.

As if that was not bad enough, defeat at The Gnoll came only hours after it was officially confirmed that the club's forwards coach of the last eight years, Lyn Howells, is moving on at the end of the season to take over from Terry Holmes, Cardiff's head coach, who is also moving on.

The only consolation for the proud valleys club is that they look safe and secure for a top three finish to guarantee themselves a place in next season's European Cup.

As for Neath, successive play-off victories over the top two sides, Llanelli and Pontypridd, have given them hope of perhaps moving into the top three.

Their views on the Welsh Rugby Union's likely decision to grant accommodation to the rebel clubs Cardiff and Swansea among the five European Cup places next season are well known, but they are doing as much as they can to join that elite by right.

If the Neath coach, Lyn Jones, does not quite have the same personnel around him as he found when he was winning League and Cup titles at the Gnoll as a player, he has certainly instilled a sense of purpose and belief in his side that has once more made them an awkward team to play against.

He also has a few gems to rely on. The new Wales open side flanker Brett Sinkinson is very much the new hero, and his dominance of Welsh rival Martyn Williams was a key factor in this victory.

Behind the scrum, the fleet -footed Shane Williams is fast building a reputation for himself. He scored a hat-trick of tries, the first of which came from 60 metres. Pontypridd simply had nothing to match him.

Neath also had the reliable boot of outside-half Matthew Pearce to rely on and he knotched 18 points to make victory secure.

Neath: Tries S Williams 3; Conversions Pearce 3; Penalties Pearce 4. Pontypridd: Tries J Lewis Shorney; Conversion Wyatt; Penalties Wyatt 3

Neath: D Case, D Williams, D Tiueti, T Davies, S Williams, M Pearce, Mark Davies, D Jones ( L Gerrard, 72), Mefin Davies (capt), D Penisini (M Thomas, 72), G Llewellyn, A Jackson (R Francis, 8), S Martin, G Newman (M Turner 68,), B Sinkinson.

Pontypridd: K Morgan, R Shorney, D James, J Lewis, G O Lewis (S Lewis, 64), G Wyatt, P John, N Eynon, T Billups (A Lamerton, 65), N Tau, I Gough (GP Lewis, 65), A Freeman, M Lloyd, D McIntosh (capt), M Williams,

Referee: G Simmonds (Cardiff).