P36 W20 D1 L15 : F967-A919 (Tries 114)
Premier League Record : P26 W14 D1 L11 F620–A659 (Tries 71-77)
Swalec Cup : P3 W2 L1 F177-A71 (Tries 27)
British Irish Cup : P5 W3 D0 L2 F121–A178 (Tries 16)
Premier League : 7th place
Capt : Alex Jones
There were no changes to the coaching set following the previous successful season and coaches Sven Cronk, Dai Gray an Jon Bryant continued for another season. In the end the season was one of injuries and bonus points – too many of the former and not enough of the latter! New faces at Rodney Parade included wing Owen Broad, England U20 brothers Arthur (hooker) and Hugo Ellis (back-row) who were contracted to the regional Dragons side – English born but Welsh qualified, Wales 7’s No 10 Rhys Jones – son of former Wales international Kingsley Jones. Gareth Bowen (No 10) joined part way through season after Newport were decimated by injuries.
The season got off to a great start in August with Newport winning the Men of Gwent 7’s for the third time in a row. The win was all the more sweeter as they beat the Dragons Academy 7 (led by former Newport and Dragons favourite Shaun Connor) by 45-17 in the final. On the way to the final they beat Newport HSOB 52-0, Newbridge 24-0 and Bedwas 19-9 Newport’s top scorer was Rhys Jones with 46pts of total 159 and he deservedly took the Man of the Tournament trophy. Dragons Academy player Matt Pewtner gave a good account and was later in the season to impress with the Newport XV.
The first Premier league match was against Llanelli. Newport trailed for most of the game and sensationally recorded a bonus point win in the 10th min of added time. Newport won 40-36 and retained their unbeaten home record which had stood for over a year. Newport then won at Carmarthen Quins and entertained Swansea at Rodney Parade when they duly lost their home record going down 20-38. Head Coach commented “You can’t concede 26 first-half points to a team like Swansea and then expect to win.”
The pattern was set for the season with supporters wondering which Newport would turn up. Wins against Glamorgan Wanderers, Carmarthen Quins, Bedwas and Pontypool were off set by a big defeat at Aberavon (25-41) and so Newport faced Leinster A in the British & Irish Cup at Rodney Parade. Newport were the best Welsh side in this competition the previous season and only went out to eventual winners Cornish Pirates. Newport’s great fight back from 20pts down was not enough to save them and even though they outscored Leinster 4-3 in tries they paid for their mistakes and went down 28-33. Three Premier League defeats followed at home to Neath, Pontypridd (eventual Premier champions and Cup winners) and Llandovey (H). The 18-23 defeat to Pontypridd was certainly controversial and hung on a crucial refereeing decision. Referee Leighton Hodges showed not one but two yellow cards (prop Dai Pattison and flanker Rhys Jenkins) after a passage of play near the Newport line when Newport were leading. Head coach Sven Cronk said he was bemused by some of the decisions. He said “I might be wrong but I always thought that referees went back for the first offence and I have never seen two men from the same team go in the same incident.” Newport completed the double at Pontypool but then went down to defeats at newly promoted Tonmawr and Pontypridd. A B&IC match at Worcester – who would regain their place in England’s top flight Premier – was a mission too far and they we completely outclassed by their professional opponents 58-10.
The New Year saw Newport run in 6 consecutive wins – Glamorgan Wdrs and Bedwas in league, Currie, Cornish Pirates and Plymouth in B&IC and a 74-15 Swalec Cup win at Felinfoel with the referee blowing up after only 68 mins. The win vs Cornish Pirates was possibly the best performance of the season with Newport snatching the win in injury time with a 80yd try by winger Owen Broad. They had come back from 20-32 down to win 34-32. The wins were not enough fro Newport to progress further in the B&IC. A league defeat at St Helens and a comfortable cup win vs Blackwood set up the derby match vs Cross Keys. There had been much talk about Cross Keys being the form team and having a vaunted front row but the Keys were well and truly put in their place. Newport then snatched a 23-23 draw at Pandy Park despite being 23-9 down and could have won. A defeat at Parc y Scarlets was followed by a record 42-16 defeat at Cardiff. Next up was Swalec Cup Q/F match at Swansea. An excellent performance and 5 tries by Newport was not enough as the All Whites snatched 39-34 victory in injury time despite a player being offside in the crucial injury time scrum and despite a forward pass in Matthew Morgan’s wiinning try ! The expected defeat at the Gnoll was followed by wins vs Tonmawr, revenge against the old enemy Cardiff, Llandovery and Aberavon. Newport were 16-34 down going into last quarter and 41-35 in injury time but once again that man Broad danced over and Gareth Bowen cooly converted to snatch the win 42-41.
Newport had thus finished 7th in the league and would have to play Tonmawr with winners playing 6th place Cross Keys to decide who would be the 6th Welsh am in next season’s B&IC. Newport comfortably beat Tonmawr at Rodney Parade and so the scene was set for the showdown at Pandy Park. It was to be bitter disappointment for the Black & Ambers as they went down 25-18 having led for most of the game. Newport trudged away firmly believing that they had done enough to win and many asked why the only yellow card handed out was to Newport prop Dai Pattison for an offence on the half-way line. Penalties just kept coming for Cross Keys but new Dragon’s star Steffan Jones was somewhat outshone with the boot by Newport’s Gareth Bowen who kicked 6 out of 7 attempts. One crucial turning point was in the 2nd half with Newport leading and for once awarded a penalty. Scrum-half Jon Evans chose to tap and go. He was tackled within 10 metres but instead of Keys receiving a yellow card and Newport given a very kickable penalty, referee Wayne Davies shocked Newport by awarding a scrum to Keys for a knock-on ! Newport did indeed lose a very poor match but had only theirselves to blame for being in the position of having to go to Pandy Park to win even allowing for a catastrophic injury list during the season. They had a superior playing record to Keys – also 5th place Swansea – and just 2 more losing bonus points – which they squandered on more than one occasion during the season choosing to go for try scoring glory rather than a kick in front of the posts – would have given them 6th position and a home tie vs Keys – had Keys beaten Tonmawr in the play-off. The last time Keys played at Rodney Parade they were soundly beaten but this time at Pandy Park it was 3rd time lucky as they finally beat Newport.
Newport’s leading try scorers were wing Owen Broad 16 (+ 2 in PSF at Launceston) , wing Matt Pewtner 12, back row Hugo Ellis 10 and Canadian centre/ full-back Matt Evans with 7 ( from 15 games). Leading points scorers were Gareth Bowen 156, Rhys Jones 101 and Lewis Robling 81. Broad’s 16 tries accounted for 80 points. Appearances were led by centre Scott Williams who played in all 36 matches, hooker Andrew Brown 34, tight head Gethin Robinson 32, Owen Broad 31, lock Adam Brown 31 and captain and lock Alex Jones 31. Newport used an incredible record 74 players and of these 33 made their debuts. A further 9 players figured in the match 22 but were not used ie total of 42 “new” players. 13 different scrum halves, 12 back-rows, 11 centres, 9 wings, 9 props, 7 fly halves, 6 second rows, 4 hookers and 3 fullbacks were used.
Newport at times played a lot of good rugby but were inconsistent and leaked too many tries. Devastating injuries – a number serious and some long term eg Alan Awcock, Matt Evans, Jamie Tibbs, Gareth Chapman, Mike Poole, Rhys Jones, Dai Pattison, Dan Watchurst, Aaron Coundley, Mike Leaman, Dafydd Rosser, Adam Frampton, Craig Hill, Dan McShane, Rhys Jenkins and Jamie Thomas gave the medical staff and coaches an impossible task and Newport rarely fielded the same team. Few players had an injury free season and at times there were over 20 players not available for selection. Results suffered from the lack of continuity – inside centre Scott Williams lost count of the number of partners he had ! – but in spite of this Newport scored more points (967) and tries (118) than the previously much more successful season when they scored 101 tries and 901 points from same number of games viz 36. However only 71 tries were scored in the Premier League with a further 43 being scored in B&I and Swalec Cups and 4 in B&IC qualification play-offs. Incredibly they conceded more points (620-659) and tries (71-77) than they scored in Premier League matches (620-659).
Caps for players who have played since 2003 and made minimum of 100 official appearances were awarded to back-row Andrew Coombs, the ever popular wing Mike Poole and No 7 Craig Hill. Newport trudged away from Pandy Park firmly believing that they had done enough to win this B&IC play-off qualification match. Many asked why the only yellow card handed out was to prop Dai Pattison for an offence on the half-way line. Penalties just kept coming for Cross Keys but Dragon’s star Steffan Jones was somewhat outshone with the boot by Newport’s Gareth Bowen who kicked 6 out of 7 attempts. One crucial turning point was in the 2nd half with Newport leading. They were for once awarded a penalty and scrum-half Jon Evans chose to run> He was tackled within 10 metres but instead of Keys receiving a yellow card and Newport given a very kickable penalty, referee Wayne Davies shocked Newport by awarding a scrum to Keys for a knock-on ! Newport did indeed lose a very poor match but had only theirselves to blame for being in the position of having to go to Pandy Park to win even allowing for a catastrophic injury list during the season. They had a superior playing record to Keys and just 2 more losing bonus points – which they squandered on more than one occasion during the season choosing to go for try scoring glory rather than a kick in front of the posts – would have given them 6th position and a home tie vs Keys – had Keys beaten Tonmawr in the play-off. The last time Keys played at Rodney Parade they were soundly beaten but this time at Pandy Park it was 3rd time lucky as they finally beat Newport.
Interestingly Matt Evans who was originally a Dragons player but later registered as a Newport RFC player played for Canada in the Churchill cap and so joins the club’s illustrious list of international players.
Principality Premier Awards : Nick Jackson – Services to Rugby.
Footnote : The WRU proposed that for season 2012/3 the Premier league would be reduced to just 10 teams (from current 14) with qualification down to “A” licence holders and meritocracy – based on last 6 seasons league records.