By Tony Poole
LLANELLI last night saw their Welsh Premiership play-off hopes take a hit against rejuvenated Neath at The Gnoll.
In one of the surprise results of the season, a Neath team showing 11 changes from the Swalec Cup winning side over Aberavon in the semi-finals last Sunday turned in a rousing display.
The only time that the Parc y Scarlets side looked capable of achieving victory was after fly-half Jordan Williams crossed for a sizzling solo try in the 58th minute.
It resulted in Llanelli turning a 20-6 deficit into a 23-20 lead – but they then failed to kick on and Neath dominated final knockings.
Though the Neath duo of Bowdy Davies and club captain Gareth Gravell had seen yellow, the late binning of Llanelli’s Stuart Leach and Kirby Myhill ultimately cost them the game.
But late pressure led to Leach and Myhill being yellow carded, and it was inevitable that Neath’s superior scrum would go for the jugular approaching time.
It resulted in an under-strength pack being shunted, leaving referee Rhys Thomas with no choice but to award the winning penalty try that ex-Llanelli man Bowdy Davies goaled.
All this means is Llanelli must now beat Newport at home on Sunday – and win at top seeds Pontypridd on April 27 – to stand any chance of home advantage in the play off semi-final.
But even a place in the play-offs is now under threat unless other results go Llanelli’s way.
The key games are Bedwas home to Pontypridd this Saturday while Llandovery host Neath on Saturday and then entertain Aberavon next Tuesday.
But with Bedwas and Llandovery then locking horns at the Bridge Field on the final day of the stipulated season (April 27), you need a crystal ball to predict the outcome.
“You have to say on the night Neath were the better team - and we now have it all to do in order to reach the play-off stage of the season,” said Llanelli Head of Rugby Anthony Buchanan.
After Neath had a second-minute try from centre John Leyshon ruled out for not grounding the ball properly, they remained on the offensive.
And it reaped dividends in the seventh minute when wing Elliot Jones was worked over for an unconverted try.
However, the Blacks had wing Bowdy Davies yellow carded in the 15th minute, and Llanelli responded with a Jordan Williams penalty.
That proved their only score of the binning and in the 32nd minute, Neath took play through the phases before wing Jones was worked over for another unconverted try.
Once more Llanelli hit back with a Williams penalty only for the Blacks to strike during final play.
The Neath pack walked their opponents 22 metres before flanker Leon Ward came off the ruck to claim the try.
That led to the Blacks turning around 15-6 to the good, and a bonus-point try arrived in the 43rd minute via No 8 Steffan Jones.
But by the hour-mark, Llanelli had constructed a 23-20 lead on the back of a third Williams penalty along with well-worked tries from centre Nic Reynolds and fly-half Williams.
Williams and Neath wing Bowdy Davies then traded penalties while yellow cards were issued to Neath replacement Gareth Gravell and the Llanelli duo of Stuart Leach and Kirby Myhill.
And the Blacks made superior numbers pay in the 80th minute when scrum power resulted in a penalty try, goaled by wing Davies, to complete the win.
NEATH: G King; E Jones, K James (capt), J Leyshon, B Davies; R Morgan (K Davies 65), Luc Jones; O Ford (Roy Jones 53), S Vokes (R Clancy 44-47), C Jones (Chris Davies 72), N Ace (E Evans 54), Rhys Jones, L Ward (G Gravell 58), S Jones, M Rees
Scorers: Tries: E Jones (2), L Ward, S Jones, Pen try; Con: B Davies; Pen: B Davies
LLANELLI: J Lewis; K Phillips, N Reynolds, S Hughes (C Keenan h-t), D Ford; J Williams, J James; R Thomas, C Hawkins (K Myhill h-t), J Kaijaks (B Leung 40), N White, Adam Powell (capt), L Rawlins, S Leach, D Eager (D Thomas h-t)
Scorers: Tries: N Reynolds, J Williams; Cons: J Williams (2); Pens: J Williams (4).
SCORING SEQUENCE: 5-0, 5-3, 10-3, 10-6, 15-6 (half-time); 20-6, 20-9, 20-14, 20-16, 20-21, 20-23, 20-26, 23-26-, 28-26, 30-26
YELLOW CARDS: B Davies (Neath) 15 mins, G Gravell (Neath) 68, S Leach (Llanelli) 70, K Myhill (Llanelli) 75
REFEREE: Rhys Thomas (Cardiff).