Match Report: Aberavon 27 – 14 Neath
by Paul Williams
The welcome return of competitive Aberavon-Neath fixtures to the club rugby calendar delivered a spirited encounter in which Neath, despite being horrendously overpowered at the set-pieces, made up for what they lacked in that department with a determined effort that brought them to within a point of the home side at the interval before succumbing to the Wizards’ stronger finish.
It was a match that saw the ideal start from the home side. Directly from the kick-off an attempted clearance from the visitors was fielded near the right-hand touchline. Quick passing across the field, with wing Jay Baker popping up in midfield to create an overlap, allowed full-back Stef Andrews to release Frankie Jones to sprint over in the corner for an unconverted try with only seconds having elapsed.
Shortly afterwards an Aberavon driving lineout, so often a productive area for the Wizards, was brought to ground just short of the goal-line, and referee Ben Breakspear had no hesitation awarding a penalty try and, having adjudged Sion Crocker to have been the transgressor, duly despatched the hooker to the sin-bin.
If the home crowd thought they were going to have things all their way, however, the visitors had other ideas, and after fly-half James Davies had increased the Aberavon lead to 15-nil as the half-hour approached, a determined spell from Neath saw first Joe Hutchings and then Dafydd Howells going over from close range, with two conversions from fly-half Kristian Jones narrowing the margin to just a single point.
The score remained the same until midway through the second half, when the home pack took a hand and marched the visitors backwards over their own line for popular prop Rowan Jenkins to touch down. Davies’ conversion attempt from out wide drifted just outside the uprights, and it was still all to play for going into the final quarter.
It was, fittingly, Frankie Jones who sealed the victory to cap a man-of-the-match performance that saw him at his very best in both attack and defence, bravely leaping high balls, tackling hard and running and passing well. After the home pack had laid siege to the Neath line, with first flanker Ben Gregory and then lock Shay Smallman both hauled down inches short, the ball was worked swiftly out wide where Jones took the ball in full flight to dot it down, with Davies adding the conversion to make it 27-14.
With plenty of time still to play, both sides threw all they had into a frenetic final quarter-hour during which play swung first one way then the other, but neither defence was prepared to give an inch, and the clock eventually ran down with no further scoring.
The Aberavon coaching team will have plenty to ponder ahead of their next outing against Bridgend at the Brewery field. Of concern was the loss of scrum-half Rhodri Cole with what looked to be a serious injury that will keep him out of action for a few weeks, while skipper Joe Gage hobbled off during the closing stages and was seen with an ice-pack on his ankle shortly after the final whistle. On a more positive note, the contribution of some new signings was encouraging. With Ashton Evans, Andrew Waite and Joe Tomalin-Reeves all reduced to a spectator role, a new back-row combination was given a run-out, and the performances of all-action open-side flanker Casey Williams, picking up from where he left off at the tail end of last season, new blind-side flanker Ben Gregory, and a solid return to Aberavon colours for Rhys Thomas, operating at number eight, were high on the list of positives.
Neath, for their part, should rise above the disappointment of an opening-weekend defeat and take satisfaction from the fact that they put in a competitive performance and did themselves credit with their contribution to what was an absorbing encounter.
Saturday September 2nd, 2023
Aberavon 27 – 14 Neath
Stef Andrews; Jay Baker, Bradley Roderick, Joe Gage (capt) (rep Scott Delnevo 61 min), Frankie Jones; James Davies (rep Sam Jardine 80+1 min), Rhodri Cole (rep Aron Hemmings 63 min); Rowan Jenkins (rep Jordan Walters 68 min), Luke Davies (rep Cameron Lewis 77 min), Geraint James (rep Rhys Fawcett 68 min), Shay Smallman (rep Sam Pailor 68 min), Rhodri Hughes, Ben Gregory, Rhys Thomas, Casey Williams (rep Cerith Davies 77 min).
Sam Jardine appeared from Cwmavon RFC; Cerith Davies appeared from Neath Athletic RFC.
T – Frankie Jones (2), Penalty Try, Rowan Jenkins
C – James Davies
P – James Davies
T – Joe Hutchings, Dafydd Howells
C – Kristian Jones (2)
Man Of The Match:
1 – Frankie Jones
2 – Luke Davies
3 – Joe Gage
01 min: Aberavon – T – Frankie Jones (5 – 0)
08 min: Aberavon – T – Penalty Try (12 – 0)
08 min: Neath – Yellow Card – Sion Crocker
25 min: Aberavon – PG – James Davies (15 – 0)
35 min: Neath – T – Joe Hutchings & C – Kristian Jones (15 – 7)
39 min: Neath – T – Dafydd Howells & C – Kristian Jones (15 – 14)
40+4 min: Half Time
58 min: Aberavon – T – Rowan Jenkins (20 – 14)
66 min: Neath – Yellow Card – Carwyn Sion
67 min: Aberavon – T – Frankie Jones & C – James Davies (27 – 14)
80+9 min: Aberavon – Yellow Card – Cerith Davies
80+9 min: Full Time