AN ANNOUNCEMENT over the Tannoy at the Gnoll encouraged fans to head back in midweek to watch “Italy’s number one blues guitarist” in the clubhouse, well Pontypool had no reason to harp on about their woes after a stirring display at the home of the champions.

The feeling pre-match was that Neath would have a comfortable afternoon against a Pooler outfit that would find the gulf between Division One East and the side that have set the standard for the Premiership too big.

But the visitors produced a terrific performance and you sense that head coach Gareth Lintern was delighted to open their account with a losing bonus point, despite his post-game declaration that they were disappointed to be heading home after a defeat.

The only blot on a tremendous afternoon of rugby was a horrendous injury to Pontypool prop Nicky Blake, who was given oxygen and was treated for 10 minutes on the pitch after breaking his left leg in the second half.

But Blake and his team-mates were terrific throughout and caused Neath all sorts of problems in the first half to go into the break 13-7 up.

The back row of Rhys Bowen, Marcus Sainsbury and Adam Brake was immense in defence with lock Kyle Maiden showing tremendous mobility.

Wingers Nathan Preece and Dan Gravell looked dangerous with ball in hand and snaffled out plenty of dangerous situations, while centre Phil Price was in the right place at the right time to poach a pair of tries.

But the star of the show was full-back Geraint O’Driscoll who was calm and collected under the high ball, tigerish in the tackle and accurate with the boot off both the kicking tee and out of hand.

It was O’Driscoll who opened the scoring when he bisected the posts on 10 minutes and shortly afterwards Pooler moved ten points clear with Price’s first try.

Fierce competition at a ruck 40 yards out, something that characterised their play throughout, produced quick turnover ball and the centre dotted down after his midfield partner Dan Phillips had put the pressure on with a grubber kick deep into the 22.

O’Driscoll converted and then pleased the impressive travelling support further by adding a second penalty with 24 minutes on the clock.

Neath were stirred into action with former Cross Keys hooker Gerwyn Price leading the charge with an energetic display and 18-year-old fly-half Matthew Jarvis - yet another bright young 10 to come out of the region following the success of James Hook and Dan Biggar - controlling matters beautifully.

They set up camp in the Pooler half and got their reward on 28 minutes when Ospreys academy centre Kristian Phillips was put over in the corner.

Jarvis converted but the hosts had to wait until the second half until taking the lead for the first time. Jarvis added an early penalty after the break and then Phillips scored his second after the Pooler defence was stretched by a concerted attack with offloads aplenty.

But the visitors bounced straight back to regain the initiative when Price crossed again following a monumental breakdown in communication between Neath wing Matthew Nuthall and Gareth King.

Then came the delay for Blake’s injury and it was the hosts who coped better with it, wingers Nuthall and Kevin James crossing to put them in command 31-20.

However, once again Pooler hit straight back and O’Driscoll knocked over a penalty then Tom Edwards crossed for a majestic debut try.

Scrum-half Matthew Thomas made a typically forthright burst and produced a pass out of the back of the hand to wing Nathan Preece who drew the last man to give makeshift full-back Edwards a clear run in.

Neath sealed the victory with a well-deserved try for King but Pooler grabbed the bonus point they merited when O’Driscoll kicked another penalty 10 minutes into injury time.

Not a win but if Lintern’s side reproduce the display from the Gnoll then it won’t be a season spent worrying about a play-off against the Division One champions.