Bedford Blues set to put Neath's revival to the test
NEATH face a massive test of their mini-recovery when they host Championship high-flyers Bedford Blues in the British & Irish Cup tomorrow (2.30pm).
The Welsh All Blacks have revitalised their Premiership campaign with hard-fought away wins at Swansea and Carmarthen Quins.
But in Bedford they face a side in second spot in the English second tier who have been beaten just twice in the league this season.
"Two wins in a fortnight represents solid progress in our rebuilding plans and now we are looking forward to testing ourselves against one of the best sides in the English Championship," said Neath head coach Patrick Horgan.
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"Most of the sides there are fully pro with big back-up teams so it is a massive step up. In contrast, we have introduced several local players into our set-up.
"Bedford are a very good team and it's good to go into this game with two wins.
"The boys have that little bit more confidence now knowing they are producing results and are getting better, and Neath supporters everywhere can be proud of the way this squad is pulling together. We are improving but there is a long way to go.
"Tomorrow is a big challenge for them, one we've been looking forward to more than any other game this season, to be honest."
Neath are again hamstrung by a crippling injury list that sees 14 players out of a squad of 29 currently sidelined.
Neath include No. 8 Steffan Jones, who enjoyed an impressive debut in the win at Carmarthen, and lock Alun Evans, who made two appearances as a replacement earlier in the season on permit from Bridgend.
Full-back Aaron Bramwell and acting captain Lee Evans are named in a side subject to fitness tests, while Horgan will again look for permit players to make up his squad.
Neath go into the match with one victory from their opening two rounds in the competition, while the Blues have been in rampant form, winning 45-23 at Bedwas and hammering Scottish side Stirling 87-10 at Goldington Road.
The match is the first of a double- header between the sides.
Meanwhile, Evans and Chris Morgans are among the nominations for the WRU Principality Premiership Player of the Month.
"It just goes to show how hard these two boys have worked," Horgan added. "Chris Morgans has played on the wing and scrum-half and he's been involved in every game.
"Lee Evans has been leading from the front, been captain for the last month with an injured shoulder and we couldn't have done without him.
"We're delighted to have two such hard-working players in our squad."
Neath: K. Davies; K. James, R. Evans, J. Leyshon, A. Bramwell, D. Langdon, C. Morgans, A.N.Other, N. Downs, A. Wyn Davies, A. Williams, R. Clancy, M. Jones, T. Price; R. Jones, J. Griffiths, A. Evans, L. Evans (capt), M. Rees, S. Jones, L. Ward.