Cross Keys got back to winning ways with a bonus point victory over Neath at the Gnoll last Saturday.
The Keys started well with a pair of close range driving lineouts setting up good field position but the home side coped well with what Keys threw at them in the opening stages and the early pressure on to the Welsh All Blacks was soon relieved as the home side grew in confidence after the opening 5 minutes.
Despite Keys enjoying the better opening it was in fact Neath who opened the scoring when they crossed for an excellent try as Keys defensive line opened up. A decent looking clearance kick from Keys’ full back Carwyn Penny didn’t quite find touch and his opposite number Jordan Rees was able to pick up the loose ball before going on an excellent solo run from his own 22 toward the Keys half. Keys failed to make their tackles and Rees’ offload to supporting flanker Craig Hill was timed to perfection as he entered the Keys half, Hill then turned on the gas to race through and cross for the game’s opening score with around 10 minutes on the clock. The try was converted by outside half Callum Hall from in front of the posts.
Neath used this score as a catalyst as they continued to enjoy a good spell and they went further ahead when, following a penalty awarded at scrum time they opted for a kick at goal from in front of the posts and Callum Hall was on target to extend his side’s lead with 28 minutes played.
Almost immediately from the restart Keys got themselves on the front foot thanks largely to a barnstorming run from winger Wes Cunliffe who won possession back after a Neath clearance kick. Cunliffe’s run saw Keys break forward before a clever kick to touch from full back Carwyn Penny on the half way line saw play move in to the Neath 22. The Welsh All Blacks secured possession at the lineout but the clearance kick only found its way to Keys’ hands, Penny then launched an excellent from his own half up the middle of the field, he found support in the form of openside Joe Thomas and the flanker stepped around the last defender to cross for Keys’ first points of the day with 30 minutes on the clock. Jacob Botica added the conversion from the left of the posts.
From the restart Keys failed to secure possession following a knock on by Tom Lampard. The resulting scrum on the 22 metre line saw Neath scrum half Nicky Griffiths dart down the blind side and the scrum half had the gas to evade the Keys defence to cross in the corner for his side’s second try of the game with 32 minutes played. Callum Hall’s conversion from the touchline was good as Neath once again appeared to go back in control.
The Keys were next to score when from a lineout, strong carries from both centre Adam Jones and skipper Damian Welch put Keys on the front foot again. Jones then found himself in possession once more before offloading to Leon Andrews who broke in to the Neath 22 and then Andrews had Owain Leonard inside him and the scrum half then had the relatively straight forward task of finishing off with the try scored under the posts. Jacob Botica adding the conversion with 2 minutes of the half remaining and Keys closing the gap to 3 points as a result.
With the last play of an all action first half The Keys levelled the scores as Jacob Botica kicked a penalty from some 45 metres out after Neath offended at a ruck.
Half Time Score Neath 17 Cross Keys 17
The Keys started the second half well and a spent much of the opening 10 minutes inside the Neath half. The Keys went ahead for the first time with 10 minutes of the second half played when a loose clearance kick by the home side saw Keys react quickly and the ball was moved through the hands to Wes Cunliffe who carried the ball over the half way line before barging through a number of would be tacklers. Cunliffe then offloaded inside the Neath 22 to outside half Jacob Botica who did the rest to cross for the try underneath the posts, Botica converting his own try.
The next 15 minutes or so saw little opportunity being created for either side until Keys eventually found space out wide which saw winger Llywarch Ap Myrddin burst forward in to the Neath 22. He passed inside to replacement Joe Carlin who was bought down just short of the line but Carlin managed to get a pass away and found Leon Andrews on his shoulder and Andrews pounced to cross for Keys’ bonus point score with around 12 minutes of the game to go, Botica continuing his faultless kicking game by adding the conversion.
The Keys all but sealed the victory with around 5 minutes to go when Jacob Botica slotted over a penalty from just outside the Neath 22. The Keys finished the game with 14 men as replacement hooker Will Griffiths was sent to the sin bin in stoppage time as he was penalised for obstruction as Neath took a quick tap penalty from their own try line.
Overall a solid bonus point victory against a spirited Neath side whose problems have been well documented recently. There were certainly some encouraging signs from Keys particularly in the second half as they didn’t allow Neath any real opportunity to cause Keys any problems in the second half.
Tries: Craig Hill & Nicky Griffiths
Conversions: Callum Hall (x2)
Penalty: Callum Hall
Cross Keys Scorers:-
Tries: Joe Thomas, Owain Leonard, Jacob Botica & Leon Andrews
Conversions: Jacob Botica (x4)
Penalties: Jacob Botica (x2)