It has been over eight years since London Welsh last played at The Gnoll and a sizeable crowd turned out to watch the two famous clubs take the pitch for this pre-season game. Thankfully, the rain and wind of the previous day had moved on to give near perfect playing conditions at kick off.
Neath got the game underway and from the Welsh kick to touch, immediately launched their first attack. The ball was moved across field at pace and only a last ditch tackle by Rhodri Dawes stopped the home team from scoring. Welsh were under pressure again when forced to take the ball over their own line to concede a fivemetre scrum, but a penalty at the set piece allowed fly-half Llloyd Davies to clear the ball upfield.
Neath’s attacks continued to be held up by a strong Welsh defence, but the Visitor’s brief first visit to Neath’s half was ended with a penalty kick that returned play into the 22. From the lineout, Neath’s pack powered over the line only for London Welsh hands to prevent grounding. Neath’s scrum proved more successful as they walked the ball over the line for Scott Malone to pick up and score. The conversion drifted wide for a 5-0 lead after 15 minutes.
Neath were on the front foot from the restart with pace and handling that for a while, showed the difference in the respective levels of the two teams. Welsh battled back with good work by Rohan Pixley, forcing the Neath pack to concede a penalty and hand over possession. Neath’s next attack was stopped twice on the way to the line, but a few metres out their pack regrouped to drive over Sion Crocker to score the second try of the game. Luke Griffith’s conversion put the Blacks 12-0 ahead with 20 minutes played.
Luke Griffiths added his name to the list of try scorers just five minutes later, when he collected a crossfield kick from Jordan Rees. Griffiths converted his own try to extend the lead to 19-0. Welsh had two chances to close the gap before the end of the half but neither fell for them. Joel Ringer, a former Neath Player and new signing for London Welsh, got his boot to a loose ball leaving a chase from the Welsh 22 to the try line, but Rhys Howells was just beaten to the touch down. On the stroke of half time, a pass from Lloyd Davies gave the London Welsh back line a run at the Neath defence but they were finally stopped just short.
Half time: Neath 19 London Welsh 0
Neath began the second half with a strong run downfield, but once again the Welsh defence proved effective bringing the move to a halt before reaching the try line. It was ten minutes before Neath added their next score, with Scott Malone once more gathering the ball from the back of the scrum for his second of the game. Replacement Dan Guarneri added the extras to push the score on to 26-0.
Welsh countered from the restart, Rohan Pixley and Rhys Tudur Davies linking up to take play down the line. Neath regained possession, but a great tackle and strip of the ball by Gruffydd Williams led to Ben Phillips scoring the first points for the visiting team with one hour on the clock.
Both teams made a number of changes during the second half, and Neath brought on a further wave of new players after the Welsh try. The fresh legs helped them on their way to their fifth try with David Griggs twisting his way over the line. Dan Guarneri’s conversion took the score to 33-5.
Welsh finished the second half as they did the first, with chances falling tantalisingly short. Elis Staines set up the first opportunity with a good steal and pass out to Rhodri Dawes, whose run took play into the 22 only for the ball to be turned over. Elis Staines was again involved when both he and Harry Case made moves towards the line, but neither could cross for the try. The final chance came from a lineout where Ruairie Van Raalte got his hands on the ball, but Welsh claims of a try were turned down with the referee bringing play back for a knock on.
A good first run out for both teams showed Neath where they are with their new-look squad, and proved that London Welsh can compete against a higher level of opposition. Welsh face another test in a fortnight when they travel to play Martyn Jones’ Thurrock team.
FULL TIME: NEATH 33 LONDON WELSH 5