Rugby Union: Neath shift up a gear

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Neath 38

Newport 8

You could tell it was a big day for Neath. The fans turned out in full vocal support, the programme proclaimed it as one of the most important games in the club's history and even the local MP, Peter Hain, gave up an afternoon of electioneering to watch from the grandstand.

Before this game Neath, last season's Welsh champions, were just a few defeats away from dropping out of next winter's top tier. But six tries and a bonus point in this impressive performance have now given them an improved chance of remaining among the elite next term.

The Welsh Rugby Union's decision to slash their First Division from 12 clubs to a Premier League of eight next season has caused heartache for a number of clubs as this campaign draws to a close. Neath's win lifted them three places but, crucially, their sixth position has them back in the safety zone. Immediately below, Newport and Ebbw Vale have the same number of points.

While Neath's skipper John Davies was the first to admit the battle for survival was far from over, he recognised that his side's determination of old was back when it mattered most. "More than anything this win will have given us the confidence to go into our remaining four matches in a positive frame of mind," Davies said. "We're in much better shape now."

There was plenty of passion in the opening exchanges, as befits a relegation battle, only here the standard was appalling. So much so, in fact, that it took half an hour before the Neath outside-half Paul Williams broke the deadlock with the first of his two tries. By half-time Neath had notched another, through the left wing Richard Jones, to advance to a 12-3 lead. At that stage it was still anyone's game, yet it was clearly visible that Newport were not really up for the fight. Their battling scrum-half Nicky Lloyd and elusive centres Adam Palfrey and John Colderley tried to inspire their team, but there was little they could do once Neath built up a head of steam.

In the second half, the home side pounced on Newport's stream of errors and created chances of their own to score four tries. The best was a 20- metre charge to the line by the loose-head prop Darren Morris, and the only complaint Neath had at the end was that they had failed to grab the seventh try needed to notch a second bonus point.

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).