By Tony Poole
LLANELLI came late to take the spoils over Neath during this opening day clash of former champions at The Gnoll.
The Blacks sent out a side showing 10 newcomers – two others later vacated the bench - and were looking to bounce back from an early B & I Cup exit against Bridgend.
Llanelli on the other hand benefited from a more settled team during wins over Carmarthen Quins and Llandovery that secured cup qualification.
However, Neath got off to a great start, scoring 10 points in as many minutes with No 8 Jordan Collier their try scorer.
Centre Adam Jones converted and then traded penalties with a former Ebbw Vale colleague in fly-half Josh Lewis.
Midway through the half, Neath centre Jones knocked over two more penalties compared to one from Lewis, leaving Neath 16-6 to the good.
In the approach to half time, a searing break from Llanelli full-back Steffan Evans was halted just short of the goal-line - and the Neath defence remained steadfast during time added on.
Into the second half, and Llanelli probed via flanker Stuart Leach and prop Shaun Hopkins only to once more encounter committed defence.
But they continued to pose more of a threat, and in the 55th minute starman Steffan Evans just managed to hit the try-line with fly-half Lewis converting for 16-13.
Better followed for Llanelli when they tied the scores in the 67th minute via a third Josh Lewis penalty - and three minutes later they took the lead for the first time.
A break from centre Chris Keenan set up a try for fly-half Josh Lewis - that he also converted - and soon after ex-Kidwelly wing Dafydd Lewis was released for a debut try that went unconverted.
Ahead 28-16, Llanelli easily closed things out to record a sound victory at ground which in the past has proved a graveyard for their hopes.
Ten previous visits to The Gnoll for regular season fixtures had produced just two wins with the last down to a 25-10 success on December 12, 2009.
But some of the fizz was removed from this rare Llanelli victory at fortress Gnoll when news filtered through of Chris Keenan’s broken leg.
The 26-year-old centre, whose career was launched at Furnance and has gone on to represent the Scarlets, endured the injury during final play.
“This cruel injury is a great shame, as Chris was set to provide a young back division with experience,” said Llanelli head of rugby Anthony Buchanan.
Bucks continued: “Though it was satisfying victory at a difficult location, our second half display was as good as the first period was poor.
“We were one pass short of scoring a few more tries, but the form of full-back Steffan Evans was a massive plus.’’
NEATH: Try – J Collier; Con: A Jones; Pens: A Jones (3)
Team: C Young; A Jenkins (B Davies 78 mins), J Smith, A Jones, D Ford; D Langdon (capt), J Davies (L Davies 55); Roy Jones, S Crocker, M Jones (C Jones 72), J Jones, Rhys Jones (J Griffiths 59), G Bateman (K Tayler 72), J Collier, G Daniel
LLANELLI: Tries – S Evans, Josh Lewis, D Lewis; Cons: Josh Lewis (2); Pens: Josh Lewis (3)
Team: S Evans; D Lewis (G Walters 7-19), Jonny Lewis, C Keenan, D Jones; Josh Lewis, R Davies (J Evans 72); S Hopkins (R Thomas 63), K Myhill (D Harris 71), R Jones, A Powell (capt)(B Leung 77), N White, S Leach, C Price (D Thomas 53), D Eager
REFEREE: Jonathan Mason (Dunvant)
STAR CHOICE: Steffan Evans (Llanelli).