ULSTER 17, NEATH 13
Lee Jarvis left his kicking boots in Wales and Neath lost their unbeaten
record in the Celtic League.
The Welsh All Blacks prolific points scorer missed three second half penalties at a packed Ravenhill to let Ulster off the hook and allow them to hit back after their heavy defeat at Swansea last weekend.
The 10,000 crowd witnessed a very even, but pretty dour, first half in which
Shane Williams provided a ray of sunshine with a brilliant solo try after 27 minutes.
Neath started well and were rewarded with a Jarvis penalty after 17 minutes
before Williams broke through the middle and sprinted clear to score a
great try at the posts which Jarvis converted.
But no sooner had the Welshmen established a 10 point lead than they found the home side battling back into contention. Whereas Ulster had folded in the face of Swansea pressure the previous week, on their own patch they
rolled up their sleeves and fought back.
"We were in the driving seat and things were going well for us in the opening quarter," said Neath coach Lyn Jones.
"But the yellow card for Duncan Jones for a technical offence at a scrum was a huge decision by the referee. We lost our composure and they scored 10 quick points.
"I think we had 10 opportunities to score in the match and we only took
three of them. Not good enough!"
Neil Doak launched the revival with a penalty after half an hour and then he added the extra points to a try by full back Bryn Cunningham to ensure it was all square at the break.
Neath were down to 14 men at the time Cunningham claimed his try because
Scottish referee Andy Ireland had sent prop Duncan Jones to the sin-bin for
disrupting the scrum. Mr Ireland also produced his yellow card in the second
half when he sent Warren Brosnihan to the touchline for killing the ball with 16 minutes to go.
The second half opened up and with the scent of an unlikely victory in their nostrils the Ulster side raised their game. Having Irish utility back Paddy Wallace for the rest of the season with a broken leg at Swansea last weekend, they were hit by the withdrawl of two more players the day before this game.
That left the home fans fearing the worst against the unbeaten Neath side
who they still remembered from last season's thrilling quarter-final when
the Irishmen emerged 38-29 victors.
The turning point came eight minutes after the break when Ireland and Lions
wing Tyrone Howe ripped through the heart of the Neath defence, brushed off
two tackles and sprinted to the line. Doak added the conversion anmd Neath
were left to chase the game.
Jarvis managed to hit the mark with his second penalty with 10 minutes to go, but those other misses cost his side dear.
Ulster: B Cunningham; J Topping, R Constable, S Stewart (J Cunnigham 80), T Howe; A Larkin, N Doak; J Fitzpatrick, M Sexton (captain), S Best, M Blair, J Davidson, W Brosnihan, N McMillan, T McWhirter (N Best 74).
Yellow Card: W Brosnihan 64.
Neath: A Durston; K James, A Bateman (J Storey 68), D Tieuti, S Williams; L
Jarvis, P Horgan (A Moore 59); D Jones, B Williams, A Millward (A Jones 68),
A Newman, G Llewellyn (capt), H Jenkins, N Bonner-Evans, S Tandy.
Yellow Card: D Jones 33.
Referee: A Ireland (Scotland)
Nearly 40 players were involved in the first Wales Under 18 training session of the season. WRU National Performance Manager Gethin Watts is excited at the potential shown by the group and expects the Regional Under 18 Championship to hone their skills even further.