Rugby Union: Pearce piles on agony for Ponty

Neath 53 Pontypridd 31
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IT'S ALL going pear-shaped for Pontypridd. Having lost the WRU Challenge Trophy final to Llanelli, they departed the SWALEC Cup, thanks to the Scarlets last weekend.

Then this. Stripped of the services of their captain, Neil Jenkins, who is nursing a shoulder injury in readiness for the Five Nations finale against England, they lost out to Neath in an 11-try thriller.

The goal-kicking of the Neath outside-half, Matthew Pearce, who helped himself to 23 points, made all the difference on the night as Jenkins' stand-in, the Wales wing Gareth Wyatt, could manage only three conversions.

While Pontypridd were going down to their second defeat in a week, Llanelli were making hay against Aberavon to extend their lead at the top of the Premier Division to eight points. There were 13 tries for the Scarlets in their 83-10 victory and Ponty must now take maximum points from their remaining match in the first round sequence of the championship to leave themselves with only a three-point deficit to make up in the home and away play-off section between the top four teams to determine who carries off the title in six weeks' time.

As for Neath, now comfortably established in the top four, this result came at the end of a rather notable week for them. On Thursday night the WRU general committee voted to hand back governance of the club to a new board of directors at The Gnoll and this victory underlined the advances they have made under the coach Lyn Jones.

The dark old days of last summer, when one of Wales' oldest clubs crumbled amid debts of pounds 600,000, now look to be a thing of the past. The future is bright, even if the title looks beyond them and "super club" status may yet elude them.

But if Jones' men can continue to conjure up performances like this then the crowds will soon be flocking back to one of the traditional strongholds of the Welsh game. It really was a thrill-a-minute with Ponty, missing nine of their 24-strong squad, put to the sword in the final quarter when Neath burst away to score 32 unanswered points to prove they still have a lot to offer the Welsh game.

Neath: Tries: Penalty tries 2, Williams, Evans, Colderley, Gerrard; Conversions Pearce 4; Penalties Pearce 4; Dropped goal Pearce. Pontypridd: Tries Williams, John, G O Lewis, Griffiths, Morgan; Conversions Wyatt 3.

Neath: R. Jones (P Davies, 49); D Tuieti, J Colderley, G Evans, S Williams; M Pearce, M Davies; L Gerrard, Mefin Davies, (capt), D Penisini (M Thomas, 77), M Turner, S Martin, D Jones (A Jackson, 69), G Newman, B Sinkinson.

Pontypridd: K Morgan; S Enoch, J Lewis, S Lewis (C Perry, 67), G O Lewis; G Wyatt, P John (capt); A Griffiths, A Lamerton, N Tau, G. Prosser, I Gough, G P Lewis, M Lloyd (N Thomas, 64), M Williams.

Referee: R G Davies (Dunvant).