Cardiff travelled to the Gnoll with a team that showed 14 changes (1 positional) from the side that took maximum league points at Llanelli on Saturday – including a first start in Blue & Black for Jim Botham. The only player to retain his place was promising centre Lloyd Chalke whilst the positional switch saw Codey Rees starting at outside half.
On a perfect evening for rugby the weather changed and the players were greeted by a heavy drizzle that continued throughout the game making conditions difficult throughout for the players. The game got off to the worst possible start for Cardiff when Aaron Grabham was able glide through the defence to score the opening try after just three minutes, with Ed Howley adding the conversion to put Neath 7-0 ahead. The home side continued to dominate the early stages and should have gone further ahead shortly after when they were awarded a straightforward penalty. The conditions showed that there would be nothing simple about this game and Howley missed the kick.
The Blue and Blacks were very much on the back foot in the opening exchanges and things were made worse after 12 minutes when debutant Jim Botham put in a heavy tackle on a Neath player. There didn’t seem much wrong with the challenge, but after consulting with the touch judge (and without the benefit of slow motion replays) referee Simon Mills decided that it was to be a red card for the young flanker.
Cardiff were very much up against it now and it was no surprise when Grabham added his second try of the evening shortly after Botham’s dismissal. The conversion was missed but at 12-0 the Welsh All Blacks seemed to be coasting. The visitors, though, were having none of it and an excellent break by Lloyd Chalke released Paul King to touch down near the posts, Diggy Bird adding the conversion. Despite being a man short the Blue and Blacks were showing resilience but a lapse of concentration at a line out near the Cardiff line allowed Geraint James to rumble over just before the break. The successful kick put Neath 19-7 in front but Cardiff continued to chip away at the lead and two successful penalties by Diggy Bird gave the half time score a respectable look of Neath 19 Cardiff 13.
Whatever was said at half time Cardiff started the second period strongly and were soon adding to the score when Diggy Bird kicked another penalty after yet another Neath infringement (the referee ran out of patience with the penalty count in the ‘red zone’ and sent Callum Davies to the sin bin for 10 minutes). Neither side was able to gain any real dominance until an attempted kick ahead bounced favourably for Neath and Howley was able to side-step his way to the line adding the kick himself to extend the lead. As the forwards continued to struggle under the disadvantage of playing a man short it was no surprise when the dominant Neath pack scored a push-over try, again converted, to give the home side a comfortable lead.
There was still time for more try action and Ben Thomas marked his debut from the bench by releasing Paul King to run in from 20 metres for his second try of the evening – with Diggy Bird again kicking the conversion. With the final play of the game Neath substitute Aled Morris was able to cross the line. The inevitable conversion meant that the final score was Neath 40 Cardiff 23.