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Ulster Ravens Endure Second Half Slump

Ulster Ravens Endure Second Half Slump

The Ulster Ravens lost their way in the second half at Shaw’s Bridge as Neath pounced for a 25-20 comeback win in Pool C of the British & Irish Cup.

Two converted tries from full-back Jamie Smith and Tommy Seymour set the Ravens up for a 17-3 interval lead at the Belfast venue.

But Neath mustered three second half tries to turn things around and finish as five-point winners of this evenly-contested tie.

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Having lost 36-22 to the Bedford Blues last time out, the Ulstermen were keen to banish memories of that defeat.

Out-half Paddy Jackson kicked them into an eighth minute lead, before elusive winger Craig Gilroy had a try ruled out for a forward pass.

But, in the 23rd minute, there was no denying the Ravens their first try. Centre Jonny Shiels made the initial incision before linking with Jackson who popped the ball to the supporting Smith and he went over unchallenged.

Jackson's successful conversion was cancelled out by a 32nd minute penalty from his opposite number, Dai Langdon.

The Ravens kept pressing for scores, coming up to half-time, and were rewarded when centre Luke Marshall engineered a break out wide and passed to his Ballymena club-mate Seymour who dotted down under the posts, allowing Jackson to convert and put 14 points between the sides.

But Neath managed to reel the hosts back in courtesy of a Langdon penalty and a 54th minute try from flanker and captain Gareth Gravell.

Scrum half Tom James almost got over from a tap penalty, catching the Ravens off guard, before a quick recycle helped Gravell cross the whitewash. Langdon's conversion cut the gap to 17-13.

The Welsh outfit were beginning to punish Ulster errors and despite a late bout of pressure when the Ravens were camped on the Neath line, Gary Longwell's men could not add to their try tally.

Their final points came from the boot of Jackson, in the 55th minute, before an increasingly clinical Neath landed two telling blows.

Ten minutes after Jackson's second penalty, the visitors capitalised on a defensive error as prop Ross Davies claimed a try, much to the delight of the travelling support.

Neath's ball-killing tactics went unpunished at the breakdown at times, but they had managed to turn the screw when it mattered.

The Ravens, who had excellent performances from Smith and Jackson, took their foot off the gas and with the game there for the taking, it was winger Kevin James who scored the match-winning try for Neath.

Credit to the home side, they tried desperately to mount a late response and their forwards were held up over the try-line in the dying minutes.

Longwell said afterwards: “We had some good individual performances but lost control of the ball in the second half too much and allowed Neath back into the game.”

The Ravens are still in the hunt to reach the quarter-final stages in March, with the two top sides from each pool progressing. However, they will have to win their remaining pool games against London Welsh and Moseley and hope other results go their way.