Cross Keys 15 Neath 19
CROSS Keys failed to repeat the famous British & Irish Cup victory over Neath during the league rematch at Pandy Park.
In one of the most eye-catching results of the season Keys stormed to a 45-18 victory over the Blacks during the run-up to Christmas.
They followed that up with an equally impressive 32-8 victory over Llanelli at the quarter-final stage before edging out Bedwas, 10-9, in the SWALEC Cup.
However, Keys took the Bedwas cup form into the Neath encounter – and paid the price against the five-times champions.
Heavy conditions made for an epic tussle between two strong packs with captain and flanker Rob Nash the standout home performer.
The work-rate of locks Dan Hodge and Lewis Rawlins along with hooker Jamie Sollis was also immense, but on the day Keys got little change out of the Neath defence.
It might, however, have been different had a 32nd-minute thrust from wing Marcus Johnstone, resulting in him making it over the try-line, resulted in a try being awarded.
Instead referee Gwyn Morris ruled that Johnstone was held up, and with it went the chance of Keys building a head of steam.
The only other anxious moment for the Blacks came in the 54th minute after centre Leon Andrews corkscrewed out of a ruck.
He raced 40 metres before linking with captain Nash, and only a last-ditch tackle prevented him going in at the posts.
“In fairness to Neath, they bullied us at the contact area, especially during the first half, and this is where the game was won and lost,” said Cross Keys head coach Greg Woods.
“In the end we weren’t clinical enough, resulting in our challenge never really materialising.’’ Keys, who host Rumney in the SWALEC Cup on Saturday, looked a little ring rusty, especially during the first quarter.
This is when the Blacks did the real damage, scoring unconverted corner tries through flanker Lee Evans and wing David Evans.
Two penalties from ex-Keys man David Langdon enhanced the Neath lead during a clash dominated by referee Morris’s whistle.
The only response came via fly-half Steffan Jones, who possessed a five-out-of-seven goal-kicking record, with successful penalties in the 13th and 37th minutes.
Keys then warmed to their task during the third quarter, highlighted by two more penalties from Jones that cut the deficit to 16-12.
But significantly, they failed to place the Neath goal-line under any sustained pressure, and Langdon just cleared the cross bar with a penalty on the hour.
The only other score unfolded in the 65th minute when Keys fly-half Jones knocked over a fifth penalty, but it wasn’t enough to secure a first home league win over the Blacks.
Cross Keys: G David; M Johnstone (S Mills 61 mins), L Andrews, P Williams, N Trowbridge; S Jones, R Dyer; I George, J Sollis (G Price 68), M Jones, D Hodge, L Rawlins, R Peebles (M Popham 72), T Lampard, R Nash (capt).
Scorers: Pens – S Jones (5).
Neath: A Jenkins; D Evans (Jonny Davies h/t), A Bramwell, G King, Jamie Davies; D Langdon, C Morgans (T Barry 77); N Downs, A James (A Littlehales 66), T Price, T Davies, E Evans, G Gravell (capt), A Powell, L Evans.
Scorers: Tries – L Evans, D Evans; Pens: D Langdon (3).
Referee: Gwyn Morris (Cardiff).