Penalties by Steff Williams (3).
Penalty by Kieran Meek.
Poor Pooler relinquish record winning run at The Gnoll
Pontypool’s record-breaking winning run in the league came to an abrupt end at The Gnoll where Neath fully deserved their hard-earned victory, writes Ray Ruddick. The run of 64 games stretched back to the last league defeat on 25 March 2017 when Cardiff Metropolitan University ran out 30-22 winners at Cyncoed.
Neath kicked off attacking the town end of the ground on a fine but cold and very windy afternoon. In the second minute Pontypool were penalised for side entry at a ruck 30 metres from their goal line on Neath’s left and outside half Steff Williams make no mistake with his shot at goal to give the home side an early lead (3-0). Three minutes later Pooler newcomer, winger Jay Jones, limped off and was replaced by Marcus Jones. In the 13th minute Neath’s loose head prop Jack Powell received a yellow card for going off his feet at a ruck on the home 10-metre line, 15 metres in from touch on Pooler’s left.
In the 27th minute Neath were guilty of side entry at a ruck 25 metres from their goal line slightly to the left of the posts and visiting outside half Kieran Meek kicked the penalty to bring the sides level (3-3). Eleven minutes later Neath’s number eight David Griggs was sin binned for not retreating 10 metres following a quick tap penalty near the home goal line. Then, in injury time at the end of the first half Pooler were penalised just inside their 22 near the touchline on Neath’s left. Up stepped Steff Williams to kick a fine goal to put his side in front at the break. Half time score – Neath 6 Pontypool 3.
At half time Pontypool made some changes – hooker Alex Watkins was replaced by Sam Scarfe, Luke Fleming-Jones made way for Adam Brown in the second row and Adam Stratton came on for centre Ethan Davies with Amosa Nove moving from wing to centre and Stratton, normally a flanker, ended up on the wing. Four minutes into the second period Pooler were penalised on their 22 to the left of the posts and Steff Williams slotted another penalty goal, his hat trick, stretching the home side’s advantage to 9 points to 3. Four minutes later Scott Evans took over from Craig Price at tight head prop for the visitors and then in the 56th minute another newcomer, Garin Price went off and was replaced by the returning Alex Watkins who went back to is accustomed position of hooker and Sam Scarfe moved into the back row.
In the 67th minute Neath were caught offside 10 metres from their line to the left of the posts. Pooler decided to run the ball rather than go for goal, but got turned over, conceded a penalty themselves and Neath cleared. After 78 minutes Pooler number eight Ieuan Jones left the field and was replaced by the returning Garin Price. In the 10th minute of injury time Pontypool’s loose head prop Sam Cochrane limped off and Craig Price returned to the field. Three minutes later Pooler were awarded a penalty deep in Neath’s half. They decided to kick for the left corner but were turned over and Neath held on for a well- earned victory. Final score – Neath 9 Pontypool 3.
This was the first game involving Pontypool where neither side scored a try since 31 March 2009 when Pooler beat Newport 12-9 at Pontypool Park.
Overall, Pontypool had the lion’s share of territory and possession but failed to turn this into points. Pooler played against a very strong wind in the first half, which wasn’t as strong in the second period but they failed to capitalise on Neath’s two yellow cards in the first 40 minutes. Pooler struggled to gel as a team, seemed disjointed and lacked direction and cohesion, which is understandable with several new faces this season along with a lengthy injury list and some players unavailable. Pooler did everything but score and perhaps should have given the ball more width as they seemed one dimensional and lacked a cutting edge which probably played into Neath’s hands who had a strong, determined and well-organised defence. Anyway, all good things must come to an end and the club can be rightfully proud of setting an amazing record.
Pontypool have an opportunity to get back on track next Saturday when they welcome Tata Steel to Pontypool Park, kick-off 2.30pm.
Pontypool: Geraint Walsh, Jay Jones (replaced by Marcus Jones), Joel Mahoney, Ethan Davies (replaced by Adam Stratton), Amosa Nove, Kieran Meek, Dan Davies, Sam Cochrane (replaced by the returning Craig Price), Alex Watkins (replaced by Sam Scarfe), Craig Price (replaced by Scott Evans), Luke Fleming-Jones (replaced by Adam Brown), Ashley Sweet, Scott Matthews (captain), Garin Price (replaced by the returning Alex Watkins) and Ieuan Jones (replaced by the returning Garin Price).
Neath: Aaron Bramwell (captain), Aaron Grabham, Ryan Evans, Ben Atkins, James Roberts, Steff Williams (replaced by David Langdon), Nicky Griffiths, Jack Powell (replaced by Gareth Lloyd), Chris Morris, Tim Ryan, Sam Langford (replaced by Jacob Blackmore), Jon Barley, Alun Jones, Owain Morgan and David Griggs.