Cool Dewdney steers Neath back to the top

Neath 36 Edinburgh 3
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The Independent Online

Welsh rugby's focus this weekend was either directed at the National Assembly, and the First Minister Rhodri Morgan's critical appraisal of the state of the Union, or towards Oxford and Nottingham where Pontypridd and Llanelli are flying the Welsh flag in search of European club glory. Neath, however, have ambitions of their own, in particular upstaging the more fashionable clubs in the Welsh-Scottish League. And this emphatic home victory against much improved Edinburgh took them to the top of the table, above Llanelli courtesy of a superior tries scored record.

They accomplished this in some style and with plenty to spare due to their impregnable defence, a composed and controlled kicking performance and a willingness to turn defence into attack from deep positions. This was exemplified on the hour when their wing, Dean Dewdney, picked up loose possession in his own 22. Following slick inter-passing, he crossed at the posts 80 metres later for one of the tries of the season.

The Welsh All Blacks have hit a rich seam of form in recent weeks with thumping wins against Newport and Ebbw Vale, and they were further boosted last week when their outstanding flanker, Brett Sinkinson, he of Grannygate fame, pledged his future to the Gnoll for the next three seasons.

Edinburgh are also one of the league's form teams, their fortunes changing for the better when the former All Blacks' skipper, Todd Blackadder, arrived midway through the season. Recent wins over Swansea and Cardiff were a testament to their renewed strength.

Neath were determined to outflank their title rivals on the blind side, and it was that route their back row and half-backs took to break down the resolute Scottish defence. Sinkinson and Nathan Bonner-Evans were every bit as prominent as the more illustrious Blackadder and the Lions No 8 Simon Taylor, though the Edinburgh pair created an opening for Derrick Lee in the 15th minute only for the referee, Richard Elliott, to dubiously adjudge the final pass forward.

Duncan Hodge scored the game's opening penalty a minute later, but Lee Jarvis replied on the half-hour as Taylor was sin-binned for cynically killing possession. Edinburgh valiantly kept Neath out until Taylor's return, but in injury-time the two Jones boys in the Neath front row turned the match after Gareth Llewellyn had pinched Edinburgh's line- out. Hooker Steve powered 40 metres up the touchline before handing on to the supporting Duncan who crashed over in the corner. Jarvis converted superbly.

Neath then consolidated with Jarvis slotting two penalties and Shaun Connor dropping a goal. Dewdney's superlative effort and the Jarvis conversion effectively settled matters and Patrick Horgan claimed Neath's third try following a series of scrums on the Edinburgh line and Jarvis's conversion took him past 400 points for the season. The fly-half then sealed an impressive home performance with a last-minute drop goal.

Neath: S Connor (P James, 72); K James, D Tiueti, J Storey (A Bateman, 75), D Dewdney; L Jarvis, P Horgan; D Jones (G Morris, 72), S Jones (B Williams, 55), A Millward (A Howell, 75), S Martin (L Bateman, 70), G Llewellyn (capt), A Mocelutu (S Tandy, 72), N Bonner-Evans, B Sinkinson.

Edinburgh: B Laney; D Lee, M Di Rollo (C Joiner, 65), K Utterson, C Paterson; D Hodge, G Burns (capt), G Whittingham (C Di Ciacca, 58), S Scott (J Brannigan, 58), C Smith, A Davidson, M Jolly, T Blackadder, G Dall, S Taylor (A Dall, 40).

Referee: R Elliott (Cardiff).

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