Neath 3 Pontypridd 29
It took a moment of inspired handling and a lightning turn of speed from the teenage wing Gareth Wyatt to lift Pontypridd out of their torpor and help them extend their lead at the top of the Heineken League last night.
The league leaders arrived at the ground where they had conceded seven tries on the last day of last season - when Neath stole the championship with a thrilling 45-25 victory - seeking to right the ship after losing for only the second time this winter against Llanelli at the weekend.
With the lead at the top slashed to four points, opening up the title race to both Swansea and Llanelli, victory at The Gnoll was vital, and it was surprising to see the usually composed and self-assured Pontypridd side all fingers and thumbs for the opening quarter of an hour.
Not that Neath, down in the doldrums at present, were much better in an error-strewn first half that had everyone scratching their heads at the low standard. Then four passes went like bullets from a gun as Ponty attacked down the narrow side to give Wyatt half a yard in which to weave his magic and leave the covering Ian Boobyer wondering where he had gone.
Crispin Cormack carried on where he had started with his goal-kicking and missed the conversion - one of six misses throughout the night. Neil Jenkins, Pontypridd's Lion in waiting, must have been kicking himself on the touchline as he saw kick after kick straying wide of the posts. Not that Ponty, seeking their first league title, had come looking for points via the boot while their skipper was still nursing his broken arm. They were seeking tries and bonus points.
After that nervous start, Wyatt's try certainly did the trick because two minutes later some more basketball style handling led to a second try by the scrum-half Paul John.
Cormack at least managed to convert that, yet having gathered momentum Ponty spent the rest of the half on the back foot as Neath threw everything at them. Wave after wave of attacks came from the home team, but time after time Ponty's gallant defenders buried their men to keep their line in tact. Titles might be won by scoring tries, but they are also secured through watertight defence.
All that Neath got for their hard work was a Darren Case penalty five minutes before half-time. The only other consolation for them was that they managed to stop Ponty from securing both bonus points by restricting them to three more tries in the second half.
The centre Steele Lewis grabbed two of them as he atoned for his dismissal in last season's game. The end result was three points for Ponty to extend their gap to seven points.
Neath: Penalty Case. Pontypridd: Tries S Lewis 2, Wyatt, Paul John, G Lewis; Conversions Cormack 2.
Neath: D Case; C Higgs, Richard Jones, J Funnell (G Davies, 63), B Graham; D Morris, D Hawkins; D Morris, M Thomas (B Williams, 68), J Davies (capt), S Martin, N Watkins, Robin Jones (G Newman, 73), S Williams, I Boobyer.
Pontypridd: K Morgan; G Wyatt, J Lewis, S Lewis, P Ford (G Lewis, 76); C Cormack, Paul John; N Eynon, Phil John, A Metcalfe, G Prosser, P Owen (P Thomas, 57), M Lloyd, D McIntosh (capt; M Edwards, 34), M Williams.
Referee: W D Bevan (Clydach).