Division Three West A:

Neyland 19-19 Haverfordwest

NOTHING could separate Pembrokeshire rivals Neyland and Haverfordwest at The Athletic Club this afternoon after a ferocious and physical battle in treacherous weather.

It was The Blues who led 19-12 heading into the final quarter, before Neyland player coach Steve Martin gathered a clever chip kick from Mark Riley to go under the posts and earn his side a draw.

And whilst the visitors were left to reflect on more important points dropped as they look to keep pace with Pembroke and Milford Haven at the top of the table – in truth The All Blacks were well worth a share of spoils, and were in fact left to rue a slow start and four missed kicks at goal that arguably cost them victory.

Although a comfortable away win seemed on the cards after 20 minutes as The Blues led 11-0, with centre Gareth John landing an early 30 metre penalty before a well worked run around move in midfield culminated in skipper Matty Phillips giving the scoring pass to full back Rhys Baker.

Neyland’s first opportunity came off the back of a charge into the 22 by young No 8 Scott Buirds, whose strong carrying was a feature of the home side’s play throughout, that led to a penalty 15 metres out.

But scrum half Riley uncharacteristically pushed his effort wide, and the home side were made to pay moments later when at the other end, John was offered another penalty chance in front of the posts and made no mistake.

However, The All Blacks then got themselves on the board in style, when young flanker Iestyn Evans won turnover ball deep in the Blues’ half, and after another charge forward by Buirds, the ball went wide and centre George Williams exploited a gap to cross over out wide.

Riley landed the difficult conversion but The All Blacks were soon under pressure again, and the visitors wasted the chance of a second score when winger Steve Thomas was hauled down just short of the line after ignoring an overlap, before second row Karl Busch was held up over the line.

But from the resultant five metre scrum, The Blues did strike when a miss pass from No 10 Olly Hughes, whose brother Tom was against him at full back for Neyland, created the space for winger Josh Atherton to dive over.

Yet it didn’t take Neyland to respond again, despite losing a key attacking lineout after Riley kicked a penalty into the Haverfordwest 22.

But whilst the Blues held the edge in that department throughout the afternoon, it was the home pack who dominated scrum in the first 40 minutes, and after pushing The Blues off their own ball, they attacked out wide and winger Dan Goodridge did brilliantly to gather a low pass from centre Alex Codd before shrugging off Baker to score.

Riley was off target with the conversion and was then unlucky with a penalty attempt in the final minute of the half, as his long range attempt in the swirling wind and rain bounced back off the bar.

It meant that Haverfordwest, with Simon Le-Petit taking charge in place of the absent Bruce Evans, led 16-12 at the break,  and they made the better start to the second period with No 8 Lewis Wood featuring heavily with some powerful bursts.

And the visitors also managed to establish a foothold in the scrum, with their pack managing to shove The All Blacks off their own ball to present John with another penalty chance 22 metres out, which the centre landed to make it 19-12.

But now playing down the slope, the home side chose to pin The Blues back in the adverse conditions, with winger Martin in particular looking to turn the away defence with deep kicks downfield.

And it paid dividends when they forced The Blues into a mistake in their own territory, and after a sustained period of pressure, scrum half Riley cleverly chipped from behind a ruck and Martin gathered in full flight before shrugging off two tackles to score.

Riley added the extras to level matters and set up a tense final quarter.

And it was Neyland who appeared most likely to strike again as they camped in The Blues’ 22, and prop Jack Harries was prominent in a series of forward drives towards the line, with No 10 Jonathan Lloyd also going close but spilling possession after being hauled down metres short of the line.

But Haverfordwest, who had to deal with the loss of centres John and Phillips to injury late on, perhaps had reason to feel aggrieved when flanker Mike Griffiths charged down another Riley chip, and seemed to be racing under the posts when he was called back by referee Richard Nuth for a knock on.

As the clock ticked and the rain intensified, the game became a real war of attrition, and Riley was short with an ambitious penalty attempt from inside his own half, before The Blues were unable to capitalise or two scrums deep in Neyland territory, with scrum half Richard James knocking on from the latter in the dying minutes.

The All Blacks nearly fashioned one last chance from the game’s final play when centre Williams kicked downfield and Haverfordwest full back Baker slipped as he looked to gather possession, but he recovered well and The Blues cleared their lines.

It signalled the end of an enthralling contest, with both teams having to settle for two points ahead of a prolonged gap in Division Three West A action due to the Autumn Internationals and National Bowl.

Neyland: Tom Hughes, Dan Goodridge, Alex Codd, George Williams, Steve Martin, Jonathan Lloyd, Mark Riley, Yori Salter, Richard Jones, Jack Harries, Mark James (capt), Jimmy Buirds, Ben Williams, Iestyn Evans, Scott Buirds.

Replacements: Harley Tree, Chris Busby, Luke Dawes, George Evans, Ryan Hill.

Haverfordwest: Rhys Baker, Josh Atherthon, Matty Phillips (capt), Gareth John, Steve Thomas, Olly Hughes, Richard James, Ashley George, Jamie Zambass, Ritchie Little, Dan John, Karl Busch, Mike Griffiths, Morgan Leighton, Lewis Wood.

Replacements: Cole Barry, Ross McKenzie, Gareth Owen, Iestyn Griffiths, Matthew Clayton.

Referee: Richard Nuth.