Neath’s 150th anniversary celebrations got off to a familiar start as they welcomed their oldest and dearest of rivals, Swansea, to The Gnoll.
Claiming to be the oldest club in Wales, Neath played Swansea in their first official fixture in the 1871/72 season in a game in which the outcome was “disputed”.
There was no dispute 150 years as the Whites came, saw and conquered in their first game for 18 months. Jay Williams’ side raced into a 17-0 lead early in the second half, although in the end were happy to hang on for a 17-14 victory as Neath hit back with two late tries.
Hooker Owen Thomas opened the scoring for the visitors and outside half James Davies added the extras and then converted a second try to make it 14-0 at the break. Davies then kicked a penalty before Neath hit back.
Back row man David Griggs and centre Ryan Evans both crossed for tries and Steff Williams converted both to cut the gap in the end to a mere three points. After suffering a double defeat to Maesteg Quins in the WRU Championship Cup a week earlier, it was a much better display from Pat Horgan’s men.
Llanelli were the star attraction at Caeffair as Trimsaran marked the opening of their delayed centenary celebrations. The Premiership side, into their final preparations before kicking off their competitive season at Aberavon this weekend, ran out winners by 78-12in a game refereed by Nigel Owens.
Llanelli coach Paul Fisher will have been leased to have had such a good work out before the trip to the Talbot Athletic Ground and the game came on top of another stiff work out at Felinfoel the previous weekend.
Fisher got to work with an extended squad in July and has been full of praise for the way in which his players have reacted coming out of the pandemic.
Commenting on the summer training block, Head Coach Fisher said; “It’s been an immensely difficult time for everyone during the pandemic and returning to training, and some sort of normality, was definitely a positive for us.
“We started with an eight-week remote conditioning programme, managed by our S&C James Cartwright, which gave the boys an opportunity to work on their fitness before returning to contact training. There had to be a big focus on conditioning in the first instance after such a lengthy period of time away from the game,”vsaid Fisher.
“Everyone really bought in to the programme and it meant that they all returned mentally and physically ready for pre-season. Since then our main focus has been the re-introduction of fundamental skills along with a gradual return to contact sessions.”
Aberavon completed their pre-season build-up with a 40-29 victory at Llandovery. They led the Drovers 24-19 at the break and came good in the second half to erase the memories of their home defeat to Newport the previous weekend.
Centre Chay Smith, full back Chris Banfield, No 8 Andrew Waite, wing Matthew Jenkins and flankers Lee Purnell and Lloyd Evans scored their tries and Aled Thomas converted five of them.
Further good news for Jason Hyatt’s side came in the announcement that former Ospreys and Wales U20 centre Joe Thomas has returned from playing in the United States to sign for the Wizards. He made his debut at Llandovery.
Newport backed-up their win at Aberavon with another at Bridgend as they completed their build-up to the new season. Luke Crane, Cameron Lewis, Eliott Frewen crossed in the first half, with Will Reed converting all three, before a late penalty try completed the victory.