Rugby Union: Price draws on his nerves

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The Independent Online
Neath 22

Pontyridd 22

At Wembley, the heavily defeated Welsh were rightly praised for moments of skill and dexterity and 80 minutes of commitment to running the ball. Surely a national style must be developing. But back home the club game is still riddled with error and inconsistency.

In this match, in which Pontypridd were defending their progress towards the title against a side with a reputation for iconoclasm, the enjoyment was all in the bustle and movement and the tantalising fluctuation in the scores. It had little to do with the finer points of the game.

All Pontypridd's Welsh squad players were back from Wembley - Neil Jenkins to lead the side from stand-off; Kevin Morgan to take his place at full- back; Paul John behind the scrum, none the stiffer for his spell on the bench. Pontypridd may have been sharing the lead in the Premier with Swansea, but the Welsh "All Blacks" Neath, third from the bottom of the table, can surprise you, as Bridgend and Swansea have recently found.

Their first surprise was not too startling, though; Justin Price missed a penalty from in front of the Pontypridd posts. The second came from Pontypridd themselves, turning the ball out to the right wing where the flanker Martyn Williams carried it over for a try. But just when it looked as though the visitors were going to pull rank, Neath drew a couple of quick tricks from their sleeves. First Tristan Davies, a centre newly recruited from the valleys, had a fantasy debut when, following up a ball kicked over the line, he cheekily dived and touched it down between the defending full-back's legs. Then, three minutes later, Patrick Horgan, piercing a tank-size hole in Pontypridd's patchy defence, put his centre Adam Palfrey through for Neath's second try. Price converted this time, and Neath were almost magically seven points ahead.

But Pontypridd didn't allow the spell to take hold. By the interval Jenkins had kicked two penalties - the first a typical sighter of the upright. Morgan had crossed in the corner from Williams's quickly run penalty. They were four points up at the break, but it was still just as likely that Neath would come back.

Instead, as the game wore on it seemed destined to be decided by muddle, confusion and the avenging boot of Jenkins. One pass in three failed to go to hand. Scarcely a move went any distance before someone went offside or killed the ball.

All the more ironic, then, that Neath should score a pushover try - Lee Jones, the No 8, pouncing for the points - 10 minutes from the end. And then that Price, who had had a nightmare with the boot, should land a conversion to level at 19-19.

So into the third minute of injury time, and you can guess the rest. Jenkins kicked Pontypridd back into the lead.

But wait. There was still a minute to go. Just time for Price to place the ball, and to cries of "come on Justin, we didn't mean it" send it sailing through the posts. All square, no time for further argument.

Neath: M Evans; C Higgs, A Palfrey, T Davies, G Barnard; J Price, P Horgan; D Morris, M Davies, B Evans, G Llewellyn (capt), N Watkins, I Boobyer, A Kembury, L Jones.

Pontypridd: K Morgan; G Wyatt, D James,J Lewis, D Manley; N Jenkins (capt), P John; A Griffiths, J Evans, N Eynon, M Roley, S Roy, M Williams, M Spiller, D McIntosh.

Referee: N Whitehouse (Swansea).

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