Aberavon 36-17 Neath
Principality Premiership, 26th December 2018
(by Paul Williams)
While some were basing their expectations on huge points totals recorded against Neath during the previous couple of weeks, those of us with long experience of watching Boxing Day derbies, along with the troubled All Blacks perhaps having a larger pool of players from which to draw a squad for this game, were not disappointed by the intensity of a full-blooded encounter. While the Wizards were never likely to lose, they were given a thorough work-out by a committed Neath outfit who undoubtedly and typically raised their game for the occasion, tackling like demons and eventually finding their feet with some great attacking play.
The opening quarter was scoreless, but nonetheless entertaining, with defences on top. The stalemate was almost broken when Stef Andrews, getting back to something approaching his best form after recovering from a serious injury, tore through from the Aberavon half, being just denied by a foot in touch as he tried to squeeze in at the corner flag. It did, however, establish something of a foothold in the visitors’ 22, and following a series of close-range forward drives hooker Ieuan Davies ploughed his way over near the posts for Chris Banfield to convert.
Davies was again on the scoreboard a few minutes later, the beneficiary of a well-controlled driving maul to go over in the left-hand corner, and shortly afterwards quick passing after played had been swiftly taken through numerous phases released outstanding number eight Andrew Waite who crossed in the right-hand corner with all the pace and aplomb of a wing-threequarter, making the score at the interval 17-nil.
The second-half began with one of the game’s less savoury moments, with a mass brawl erupting amongst the packs. Referee Rhys Jones singled out home prop Jordan Walters and Neath hooker Sion Crocker as the main culprits, but while Crocker was banished for ten minutes, Walters’ reaction to the incident branded as the villain of the piece and red-carded.
It would be wrong to suggest that this had no effect on the Aberavon effort, but they did register their bonus-point try shortly afterwards when left-wing Frankie Jones darted over to make it 22-nil. In fact the match was in its final quarter before the visitors opened their account, by which time the home side had made wholesale changes from their bench, and replacement scrum-half Iwan Temblett had rounded off some fine close-quarter offloading to cross at the posts for Banfield to convert.
The Neath response was to hit back with some style. After lock Ioan Davies had crashed over, there followed a contender for try of the season when a cross-kick from the visitors’ goal-line led to some great running and backing-up until much-travelled skipper Aaron Bramwell crossed at the other end for Callum Hall to convert.
The final minutes saw Neath wing James Roberts squeeze in for a corner try, but Aberavon had the last word when another series of close-range attacks ended with Temblett sending Jacob Blackmore, scorer of two tries at the Gnoll exactly a year earlier, over for Banfield to convert with the last kick of the match.