Neath 35 Stirling County 22
NEATH'S recent improvement continued when they overturned a 14-point deficit to overcome Scottish visitors Stirling County.
It meant they ended their British & Irish Cup campaign on a high note with a 50 per cent record.
The match only went ahead after excellent early morning work by Neath officials, with the Scots pleased to play after a difficult journey on Friday.
There was a colourful feel to the game.
The pitch was white, the players and spectators blue with cold and rookie referee Andrew Davies doled out three yellow cards, plus a red for visiting scrum-half Alex Black.
But it was Neath's purple patch in the second half that left the visitors reeling.
Stirling possess a powerful driving line-out and they started strongly with two tries in 15 minutes from hooker Alex Moffatt and international prop Jon Welsh, both of which centre Brian Archibald converted.
And Neath were reduced to 14 men when prop Owain Ford was binned.
But Neath got a toehold in the game when a misdirected Kyle Davies kick caused havoc in the visiting ranks and wing Kevin James powered through to score for Dean Cummins to convert.
Neath were beginning to compete strongly, with the marauding back row of captain Lee Evans, No. 8 Steffan Jones and young Jordan Collier — on his home debut — to the fore. And as the half drew to a close, Cummins landed two penalties to one by Archibald as Neath's Rhys Jones and Stirling's Benji Barsanti received yellow cards.
It was 17-13 to Stirling at half-time, but Neath suffered a double blow with the loss of their two most experienced forwards — Ford and Evans — as the Gnoll injury jinx struck again.
But after the break, the Welsh All Blacks tore into Stirling with a relish with hard-working locks Rhys Jones and Jonny Griffiths putting in another solid shift and the front row yielding nothing, despite Stirling introducing another Scotland prop in Ed Kalman.
Neath's cause was helped when Black received his marching orders five minutes after the restart and the home side nudged in front for the first time when scrum-half Luc Jones took quick tap 35 yards out, skipped past a couple defenders and raced to the line for Cummins to convert.
The Blacks were now making most of the running with some of their most inventive back play seen for a while.
Cummins's third penalty pushed Neath up to 23-17 and they cut loose when wing Chris Morgans arrowed through the Stirling ranks for their third try, which Cummins converted.
Stirling countered but Neath broke out and wonderful skills by David Langdon set up a position from which centre Lloyd Phillips crashed over for a bonus-point try.
The Scots had the final word when impressive No. 8 Stevie Swindall crossed for a try, just reward for a powerful display throughout.
Neath assistant coach Neil Edwards said: "The boys got little credit for the previous week's win at Bedwas but again the team as a whole fought and foraged for everything.
"We still have a long way to go to achieve our objectives but we are on the right track.
"Don't forget we had 18 players unavailable for this game mostly because of injury
"But it showed that if we continue to work hard the rewards will come."
Neath : Tries: K. James, L. Jones, C. Morgans, L. Phillips. Cons: D. Cummins (3). Pens: D. Cummins (3).
Stirling County : Tries: A. Moffatt, J. Welsh, S. Swindall. Cons: B. Archibald (2). Pen: B. Archibald.