Bridgend Ravens kicked off their Foster's Challenge Cup campaign with a third straight competitive victory against Neath at the Gnoll.
A youthful Bridgend side left it late to steal victory with a 77th minute try from captain Ashton Evans ultimately sealing a win. Aaron Grabham had seemingly put the hosts out of sight with a 54th minute try to put the Welsh All Blacks 14-3 ahead but Jamie Murphy's score inspired a Bridgend Ravens comeback and Evans bundled over late on to get Bridgend underway with a victory.
A dominant first half from the hosts will have left them disappointed heading into the break with just a six point lead. The Bridgend defence held firm and scuppered multiple Neath overlaps in what was a heroic first half defensive display at times.
Iwan Evans landed two penalties plus a well struck drop goal with a single Tadgh McGuckin penalty in reply from the Ravens.
HT Neath RFC 9-3 Bridgend Ravens
Bridgend almost grabbed the first try of the match as the second half got underway. A meandering run from Ryan Griffiths saw the wing brought down just five metres out but the hosts’ defence held firm to keep their line intact.
The first try of the match finally arrived with nearly 15 minutes of the second half played. The Welsh All Blacks were able to take advantage of a well worked overlap with Aaron Grabham on the end of an inside offload.
The hosts’ try appeared to be the spark Bridgend needed, along with the experienced bench, to go on and win the match.
Bridgend kicked a penalty to the corner and built through the forwards towards the line. The experienced Jamie Murphy took over and dabbed down from close range to claw the Ravens back into the match. Tadgh McGuckin landed the conversion to narrow the gap to just four points.
The Visitors continued to apply pressure hunting for the go-ahead score late on in the match. The Bridgend pack again battled hard to make yards in the Neath 22 before Ashton Evans drove over to edge the Ravens ahead for the first time. McGuckin converted for a three point lead as the clock ticked towards 80.
There was still time for a dramatic finish as Neath went in search of a late winning score. A penalty kicked to the corner with time all but up handed the hosts excellent field position to sneak the win. The try looked to be coming with the blind side breakaway from replacement Matthew Davies and it took a try saving tackle from the visitors to force the lock into touch and secure the win for Bridgend.