Division Three West A: Milford Haven 31-5 Neyland

It was a powerful performance in more ways than one.

And for those at The Obs yesterday, it made for a one sided derby as Milford Haven simply had too much for a Neyland side that never truly imposed themselves on their arch rivals.

But then they were never allowed to. The Milford scrum, so pivotal when the sides met at The Athletic Club in October, was again dominant and their set piece play laid the foundations for a 12-0 half time lead with tries for prop Zac France-Miller and flanker Ryan Mansell.

And yet they offered more than attritional rugby. The third Milford try after the break saw skipper Jamie Lewis go over from a length of the field move, and after hooker Mark Mathias pulled a score back for Neyland, it was player coach Nathan Williams and No 10 Efan Morgan who rounded off the win with further tries.

The result extends The Mariners’ advantage at the top of the table to 11 points over the second placed All Blacks but given the latter have played two more games in reality it is now only Aberaeron who can seriously challenge. They lie 17 points off Milford but with two games in hand - plus a meeting in Mid Wales between the two sides to come.

Milford lay the foundations:

The game’s first scrum yielded a Milford penalty, and it set the tone for the remainder in the half. The Mariners also carried hard in midfield early on with France-Miler and flanker Ben Groves especially making inroads and soon they had the game’s first try.

Captain Lewis opted for a scrum instead of a simple three points, and when Neyland transgressed, he did the same again.

Another penalty followed but this time No 9 Dan McClelland went quickly, and after a series of carries it was France-Miller who drove over from close range and McClelland added the extras.

Neyland’s first moment of threat inadvertently came from a Milford attack as Steve Martin cut into the 22 but when his pass to Garin Gardner hit the deck, and Patrick Bellerby hacked twice downfield to eventually set up a close range lineout, but it came to nothing.

And then the home side crossed again from another set piece, a 15 metre lineout drive rounded off by Mansell as Milford maintained their intensity - and another burst from France-Miller was halted by a Iestyn Evans tackle before the All Blacks managed a crucial turnover.

But with ball in hand they were under pressure and No 8 Ben Williams had a torrid time at the back of a retreating scrum – although right on half time they gave a reminder of their threat with ball in hand.

No 10 Dillon McGaffin picked up a loose ball and dummied his way up to the 22 before linking with Alex Codd, but he knocked on as he tried himself to off load under pressure.

Killer blow:

If Milford’s first two tries came from structured rugby, their third after the break was anything but.

A big hit in defence from France-Miller caused a turnover and it was Groves who then carried hard upfield before linking with centre Dan Jenkins, and he made further ground and slipped an inside pass for Martin to gather one handed and then put Lewis away on a run to the right corner – and the winger duly beat the cover defence to score.

To top it off, McClelland converted brilliantly from the touchline.

The scrum half was then wide with a 40 metre penalty and the tide did then turn slightly as Mansell was forced off with what looked like ankle ligament damage, and France-Miller saw yellow for killing the ball.

Mark James was also sin binned for Neyland after an off the ball skirmish but the visitors rallied, and some prolonged pressure brought about a deserved score as replacement hooker Mark Mathias went over from five metres.

That gave Neyland hope but it was short lived as with 15 minutes left Williams secured his side the bonus point try, barging over under the posts after Groves had been hauled down just short of the line. And although McLelland shanked the simple conversion against the bar the contest appeared over.

To their credit, Neyland didn’t cave in and it took a last ditch cover tackle from Lewis to deny replacement winger Henry McBeth, before a Bellerby break out wide was halted by a big hit from Martin.

But The Mariners finished in the ascendancy and from a lineout it was outside half Morgan who ghosted through a tired defence for the fifth and final try and this time McClelland did add the simple extras to round off Milford’s 13th straight league win of the season.

Man of the match – Zac France-Miller:

With Mike Cockburn and Adam Rees injured, the signing of Zac-Miller could not have come at a better time for Milford.

He’s a powerful carrier and has played in the Championship and Division One so inevitably, he’s going to be an asset to any side at this level.

Yesterday he was outstanding. He was regularly used as the first receiver off the breakdown and made big yards, and throw in some hard tackles and his part in Milford’s scrum dominance and he’s an obvious choice.

His yellow card, a little needless given were 10 metres from their line at the time, was his only black spot.

Men on a mission:

This was by far the most accomplished all round display Milford have produced this season.

Before yesterday there were winning the crunch games, but not without periods of panic or late drama. Here, they put their ‘foot on the throat’ early and didn’t let it go.

For 40 minutes they played the power game and it worked. They targeted every scrum, they sent runners up in midfield, and they kicked very little away. A mark of the pressure Neyland were under is after 30 minutes the penalty count stood at 8-2 against them, and although that later evened out (finishing 12-12) the physicality they had to endure in the first half eventually told.

The Mariners now have back to back games with Llanybydder and given they still must go to Aberaeron, can’t afford to let up. They will also wait nervously on the injury to Mansell and their last four weeks have brought four tough, energy sapping matches. Williams and Steve Martin will have to rotate selection carefully from here.

But they currently look determined, have improved their discipline and are managing games. Maintaining standards is now the key.

Tough to take for Neyland:

It would be patronising to suggest Neyland’s players shouldn’t be downhearted. It’s been considerable time since they tasted a league win over their rivals but in recent years, rarely has there been as big a points margin as 26.

They will be disappointed.

In truth they barely saw the ball in the first half and it took its toll. The All Blacks have an exciting backline but with possession so limited, they clearly felt they had little option but to try and run from deep and take penalties quickly. As a result their play was frenzied and too many balls went down.

They kept trying to attack and no one could question their commitment – and with a predominantly young (and very talented) squad they will learn from this.

Neyland were over-powered yesterday. But they still have the makings of a very good team.

Nathan Williams (Milford head coach): “It was part of the plan to target the set piece and they probably knew what we would bring. It was the same approach we used in Neyland earlier in the season and it worked so we thought why try and fix something that isn’t broken?

“We’ve earnt respect this season but having won every league game it’s now like a cup final for teams when they play us. So we know we have to keep upping our own performance.

“It’s been an outstanding run but we have to keep it going. The mentality of the boys is good, there is a real fear of losing there.”

Graham Richards (Neyland coach): “Make no bones about it they’re a good side.

“They came at us with fire in their bellies and controlled the ball really well – and they are a better side when Nathan (Williams) is on the field helping dictate things.

“We came back into it second half but we had to defend hard early on and there were some tired players out there by the end. Obviously they had a strong scrum and that proved so important.”

Milford Haven: Steve Martin, Jamie Lewis (capt), Dan Jenkins, Dan Birch, Garin Gardner, Efan Morgan, Dan McClelland, Zac France-Miller, Luke Ryan, Nathan Williams, David Round, Dewi Williams, Ben Groves, Ryan Mansell, Mark Wonnacott. Replacements: Ben Jenkins, Sam Dolling, Dean McSparron, James Trueman, Brandon Cooper.

Neyland: Patrick Bellerby, George Williams (capt), Jack Partridge, Alex Codd, Tom Hughes, Dillon McGaffin, Jack Richards, Craig Power, Gavin Campbell, Sam Cataki, Nathan Banner, Mark James, Owain Evans, Iestyn Evans, Ben Williams. Replacements: Chris Busby, Delme Bateman, Henry McBeth, Mark Mathias, Luke Griffiths-Dawes.