Neath 14-22 Aberavon
(by Paul Williams)

Despite the wet conditions which deteriorated throughout the afternoon, Aberavon were able to stage a terrific second-half fightback to take the spoils at the Gnoll in what the announcer referred to as the "El Classico Boxing-Day Derby".

It did, however, take the Wizards until the interval to get going. Meanwhile, the home side went about their business effectively, sticking to the basics and minimising their error rate in the face of soaking rain and the resultant muddy surface. In doing so they enjoyed more success than that brought by the more ambitious Aberavon approach, and were deservedly ahead 11-nil at half time, courtesy of two penalties from full-back Ed Howley and a close-range try from lock Matthew Davies. It was a lead that would have been considerably greater but for the work of the Wizards in defence right across the pitch, exemplified by one tremendous cover tackle by Chris Banfield, who regained his feet in one movement to secure turnover possession when a try had looked more than likely.

The second half saw a dramatic change in fortunes, however, as the Wizards reined in their usual free-flowing style and instead looked to play for territory, with fly-half Steffen Williams the architect with a mixture of long touch-finders and high, hanging kicks that were an increasing nightmare for the home defence as the rain poured down relentlessly.

It was one such long touch-finder that set up the position for the first score of the fightback, with line-out possession turned into a driving maul that rumbled forward then picked up speed before Jacob Blackmore crashed over the line. Williams converted from wide out on the right to narrow the gap to just four points, but Howley was again on target almost immediately to take it to 14-7.

Blackmore once again got his name on the scoresheet with his second try, this time picking up from a ruck and powering over after the Aberavon pack had laid siege to the Neath line, taking play through phase after phase. Williams’ conversion levelled the scores, and it was by now apparent that while the Wizards were gaining the upper hand in all phases, the home side were visibly tiring in the face of the onslaught.

It was fly-half Williams who eventually put his team ahead, sending up a huge up-and-under deep into the Neath half. With big centre Will Price and flying wing Mike Wilson chasing at full throttle, Howley failed to gather and the ball went to ground for Williams to hack it through and then show a terrific turn of speed to beat everyone to the ball and claim the touchdown. This time his conversion attempt was agonisingly inches out, rebounding off the near post, but the score put the Wizards into a lead they were never to lose.

The result was eventually put beyond doubt a few minutes before the end when Williams put over a penalty to put the Wizards eight points clear, and although the home side desperately tried to salvage something in the dying moments they were unable to breach a solid Aberavon defence.

Neath 14 - 22 Aberavon

Aberavon Team:
Liam Popham (rep Mike Wilson 27 min); Steff Andrews, Joe Thomas, Will Price, Chris Banfield; Steffen Williams, Jacob Flynn (rep Iwan Temblett 80+2 min); Rhys Forse (rep Rowan Jenkins half-time), Ieuan Davies (rep Luke Davies 56 min), Jon Thomas, Ben Thomas (rep Sam Williams 45 min), Ben Jones, Craig Price, Luke Joseph, Rob Dudley-Jones (rep Jacob Blackmore half-time).

Replacements not used: James Garland, Tomos Northey.
Joe Thomas & Rowan Jenkins appeared from the Ospreys; Iwan Temblett appeared from Trebanos RFC; Jacob Blackmore appeared from Waunarlwydd RFC; Tomos Northey appeared from Gowerton RFC.

Aberavon Scorers:
T - Jacob Blackmore (2), Steffen Williams
C - Steffen Williams (2)
PG - Steffen Williams

Neath Scorers:
T - Matthew Davies
PG - Ed Howley (2)


Gareth John

Man Of The Match:
1 - Steffen Williams
2 - Jacob Flynn
3 - Luke Davies

Time Line:

12 min: Neath - PG - Ed Howley (3 - 0)
25 min: Neath - PG - Ed Howley (6 - 0)
35 min: Neath - T - Matthew Davies (11 - 0)
40+2 min: Half Time
47 min: Aberavon - T - Jacob Blackmore & C - Steffen Williams (11 - 7)
50 min: Neath - PG - Ed Howley (14 - 7)
55 min: Aberavon - T - Jacob Blackmore & C - Steffen Williams (14 - 14)
69 min: Aberavon - T - Steffen Williams (14 - 19)
80+1 min: Aberavon - PG - Steffen Williams (14 - 22)
80+3 min: Full Time