By Tony Poole At The Gnoll
NEATH rounded off their home campaign in the Welsh Premiership with an exciting victory over Llanelli.
However, when the WRU eventually get around to informing clubs of the play-off details, it might bring about another Gnoll fixture.
It could even lead to a return to the ground for Llanelli, who came from 27-6 down at the break to get within a sniff of a losing bonus point.
A strong wind played a big part in a vibrant West Wales derby that kept a good crowd entertained throughout.
Llanelli brought a surprising number of supporters, and their hymns and arias renditions brought some atmosphere to the occasion – and harked back to bygone days.
You sensed they fancied their chances of repeating the 25-10 success that they achieved on their last visit in December 2009.
That formed the last occasion for Neath to lose at home in the Premiership, and the run has now been extended to 23 matches.
However, there is still some way to go before the Blacks threaten their own Premiership record of 31 matches, recorded between April 2004 and May 2006.
Four of the players that have been to the fore during recent games – captain Gareth Gravell, back row colleague Ejike Uzoigwe along with half-backs Thomas James and Dai Langdon – once again stood out against the Parc y Scarlets side.
But others like front row men Gerwyn Price, Vinny Lott and Ross Davies along with locks Euros Evans, Peter Sidoli and No 8 Adam Powell also took up the mantle.
As head coach Patrick Horgan said afterwards, everyone was in the circle during the first half, as the wind-assisted Blacks blew the Parc y Scarlets side away to lead 27-6 at the turnaround.
Fly-half Langdon, who missed just once in nine goal attempts, landed four early penalties.
But it was two tries in as many minutes from wings Kevin James and Chris Morgans that hit the Parc y Scarlets side for six.
Fly-half Langdon improved on one and with Llanelli playing into a strong wind, they could only muster a pair of Dan Newton penalties, one of which appeared to go under the bar.
Though Newton nailed a third penalty on the restart, a 97th league try from powerhouse wing James, goaled by Langdon, proved both a hammer blow and the pivotal score.
That extended the lead to 34-9, but Neath then gifted centre Nick Reynolds an interception try.
And when blond bombshell Daniel Thomas capitalised on a Newton break to touch down in the 63rd minute, the lead had shrunk to 34-21.
But significantly, the next Llanelli try didn’t unfold until injury time, No 8 Gilbert intercepting and racing 75 metres to set up a try at the sticks for wing Lee Williams.
A second Newton conversion made it 34-28, but the bonus-point evaporated after fly-half Langdon - who contributed 22 points – saw an 85th-minute penalty strike an upright and go over.
Neath round off stipulated fixtures with away West Wales derbies, involving Swansea (April 12), Carmarthen Quins (April 16) and Aberavon.
Leaders Pontypridd, who head Neath by four points from one more game fulfilled, are away to Llanelli on April 14, and visit Llandovery on April 19.
Though it is now a two-horse race for first past the Premiership post, who is going into the winner’s enclosure remains up in the air.
Neath: Tries – K James (2), C Morgans; cons: D Langdon (2); pens: D Langdon (6)
Team: G King; K James, J Thomas, A Bramwell (A Jenkins 75 mins), C Morgans; D Langdon, T James; A V Lott, G Price (A Littlehales 80+4), R Davies, E Evans, P Sidoli, G Gravell (capt), A Powell, E Uzoigwe (A Whitney 67)
Llanelli: Tries – N Reynolds, D Thomas, Lee Williams; cons: D Newton (2); pens: D Newton (3)
Team: Liam Williams; Lee Williams, N Reynolds, R James (I Evans 75), D Ford; D Newton, J James; P John, R Lawrence, S Gardiner (S Hopkins 52), N White, Allan Powell, Adam Powell (capt), M Gilbert, N Cudd (D Thomas 18)
Referee: Timothy Hayes (Ammanford)