This curtain-raising fixture of the Principality Premiership for the season took place on Friday night, rather than the more usual Saturday, to cater for a “Monster Trucks” event taking place in the Principality Stadium next door the following afternoon. Regardless, a healthy contingent of travelling Newport supporters made their way west along the A48 for the game.
Cardiff’s outside half, Jarrod Evans, started the game, kicking off at 7.30pm. Cardiff started by far the brighter of the two teams. Newport flanker Kyle Tayler showed his appetite for hard work by getting stuck in from the outset. But after just 5 minutes, Newport floundered. The Black and Ambers were defending reasonably well just ten metres from their try line when advantage was awarded for Newport being offside. Rather than settle for the penalty, Jarrod Evans took a speculative chip forward. However, the nature of the “plastic” pitch at the Arms Park took its toll. The ball looked to have been safely covered by Newport fullback Geraint O’Driscoll but the bounce deceived him and it was left for Cardiff fullback Rhun Williams to claim his team’s first try. Evans converted to make it 7-0.
Worse was to follow for Newport as the Blue and Blacks loose forward Luke Crocker made holes in their defence. The ball was whipped left out to Rhun Williams who appeared to have been snared but he managed to manufacture a pass out to wing Ceri Young who crossed out wide to make it 12-0 in eight minutes.
Newport supporters feared the worst and visions of the drubbing in 2012 reared its ugly head. That day Cardiff rattled 62 points past a hapless Newport team. It couldn’t be like that again, could it?
The Black and Ambers were stung into action. Kyle Tayler pounced on loose ball and the pressure mounted on Cardiff. Newport rumbled upfield before Cardiff were caught offside. Newport’s Matt O’Brien went for the corner. Sadly the ball squeezed from Dan Partridge’s hands at the top of his jump and Cardiff could partially clear. Newport kept at it and more good possession came to nothing as Newport debutant Garin Harris, who had an excellent game on the tight side of the scrum, spilled the ball in the tackle. Cardiff nearly broke away but a good tackle by John Lavender saw the end of that move.
Lavender was soon in action again. A powerful, destructive Newport scrum saw Reuben Tucker come away with the ball, neat hands on to Elliot Frewen who was hauled down in Cardiff’s 22. The ball was quickly fired away to Tom Riley who found Lavender lurking on the left wing to score Newport’s first try. Matt O’Brien was unsuccessful with the conversion to make it 12-5 on 18 minutes.
Newport were hitting their stride now. Kyle Tayler, Owen Williams and Lavender, again, combined well in the loose. Matt O’Brien went for the cross-field kick, looking for Frewen, who took the ball well and stayed strong while the defence swamped him to the extent that Cardiff were penalised. O’Brien kicked the penalty to make it 12-8 to Cardiff on 22 minutes.
Newport were turning the screw at scrum time and the Cardiff Blues prop, Salesi Ma’afu appeared to have little interest in wrestling with John Lavender, consequently, he could basically put him where he wanted him.
Tom Pascoe, in the centre with Tom Riley, showed flashes of skill as a reverse pass from Ryan James almost paid off as he half-gathered the ball, juggling it as he went only to be hauled down by his ankles when almost clear. The Newport pressure had to tell and, on 38 minutes, the try of the game was scored by Elliot Frewen. Newport had a kick charged down in their own 22. Tom Pascoe secured possession and the ball was spun out to the wing where prop Lavender was lurking again. He made far more ground than he had any real right to expect before being collared. However, the flying Frewen in support received the ball and ran in for an excellent team try. Matt O’Brien converted to make it 12-15 to Newport.
Matt O’Brien had the opportunity to widen the gap on the score board as he attempted a penalty from 52 metres out on the stroke of half time. The booming kick had plenty of distance on it but was just wide.
Halftime Cardiff RFC 12 Newport RFC 15
It was notable that Cardiff RFC started the second half with both of their starting props substituted. Clearly the combination of Harris and Lavender was too much for them!
Matt O’Brien re-started the game and, almost instantly, Cardiff knocked the ball on. The resulting messy scrum saw the ball come out Cardiff’s side and they could clear their lines. That funny bounce on the pitch came into play again as Frewen, this time, was foxed by the bounce. Thankfully, Cardiff knocked on again and the next scrum saw Newport relieve the pressure.
Garin Harris was penalised for turning in at the scrum on 47 minutes, Cardiff 10 Jarrod Evans neatly slotting the penalty to make it 15 points each.
Cardiff’s scrum woes continued as they were penalised for collapsing on 53 minutes. Matt O’Brien’s penalty kick looked promising but hit the outside upright.
For all their problems at the set piece, Cardiff had no such worries out wide. A period of intense Blue and Black pressure saw the ball recycled several time before Newport simply ran out of defenders and wing Ceri Young found space out wide for Cardiff’s third, and his second, try of the evening. Jarrod Evans added the extras to make it 22-15 to Cardiff on 59 minutes.
A change of personnel on the hour saw Newport introduce new half-backs in Owen Davies and Arwel Robson. Robson was soon doing what Robson does best, ghosting around and even under tackles before passing the ball left in Cardiff’s 22 on to Lavender who shipped it on to Henry Palmer. The move seemed to have stalled until Rhodri Jones picked up the ball at the back of the ruck and almost commando-rolled his way over the line. The match officials had a quick confer before allowing the try to stand. Robson converted to make it 22 points each on 62 minutes.
From the restart Newport made life difficult for themselves. A series of reset scrums saw the referee take a keen interest in what Garin Harris was up to. The referee could find no fault in Harris’ technique but it was only when the ball rolled right through the tunnel at a scrum that replacement back row Craig Attwell could gather the ball and set up the ruck to allow Arwel Robson to clear to halfway.
A further Jarrod Evans penalty on 70 minutes took the score to 25-22 to Cardiff after Newport failed to release the tackled player on the ground.
Newport had ten minutes to win the game. Sadly, a series of wrong options put paid to that. Too much aimless kicking possession away was never going to yield dividends. Tom Riley showed some flashes of strength and speed of thought that stood him so well in the professional game, but there was nobody on his shoulder to capitalise. It was frustrating for all involved because, in truth, there was more than enough possession coming Newport’s way to win the game. It just couldn’t be translated into points. It tells its own story that Cardiff RFC’s match sponsor gave their Man of the Match award to Newport’s Reuben Tucker.
Cardiff played out the final few seconds hunting the bonus try and trying to deny Newport the losing bonus point. A series of late scrums were scrappy and, when the referee awarded Cardiff a late, late penalty, the Blue and Blacks were happy to boot the ball off the field to ensure that their campaign began with a win.
This was a disappointing start to our Principality Premiership campaign but not one to spend too long wringing hands about. There was enough quality, desire and talent on show in Black and Amber shirts to present a challenge to any team in our division. Newport now have more players with ability in more positions to ensure that they are not reliant on just, say, Brendan Lampitt at 8, or just Elliot Frewen on the wing for example.
Newport’s next opponent is a particularly spiky one in Bedwas. They aren’t known for rolling over for anybody and Newport will have to be at their best to beat them. The game is next Sunday, September 11th at 2.30pm. The same weekend, the Friends of Newport Rugby Trust are holding their annual Beer Festival in the cabin bar opposite the We Fight Any Claim Marquee. The festival runs from Friday, when the Newport Gwent Dragons play Zebre, through Saturday, when our Association Football friends at Newport County play Cheltenham Town, onto the Sunday. Come along a drink real ale, or cider if you prefer, for the benefit of your club!
Final score Cardiff RFC 25 Newport RFC 22.
Newport RFC Man of the Match – Reuben Tucker