A grey, overcast early afternoon gave way to a low bright winter sun, just minutes before kick-off at Rodney Parade, casting a shadow the size of the Hazell Terrace over the sand covered Rodney Parade pitch. One wag suggested that the amount of sand on display was an effort to make our visitors feel more at home! Supporters
hoped that the lengthening shadows weren’t a metaphor for an end to Newport’s excellent run of form recently. While Newport have been doing well against sides placed around them in the Principality Premiership and, indeed, some of the league’s mid-placed sides have left Rodney parade winless, Newport haven’t had a recent chance to test themselves against a real top team, a team with pretensions of being at the top of the pile come the end of the season. Enter Aberavon. The Wizards had recorded eight wins and a draw before today and were sitting in second place behind Merthyr RFC who were at the head of the table. This game would be a good test of Newport’s abilities.
Aberavon’s outside half, Steffan Williams got the game underway, kicking off towards the school end. The referee, Mr Simon Mills, awarded Newport an instant penalty as soon as the ball landed allowing Newport’s Arwel Robson to boot Newport to thirty metres from the Aberavon line. Newport were awarded a second penalty following good tight work at a maul so Robson kicked the Black and Ambers into the left-hand corner. Newport got the nudge at the maul but Aberavon were very smart at slowing the ball down and disrupting the drive. Newport captain Adam Brown broke from the back of the maul and went left but was smothered by strong red and black defence and the chance was lost.
The game was already being played at a frenetic pace. Aberavon prop Alex Jeffries, formerly of this parish, popped the ball up to full back Joe Gage but was soon snared by the marauding Reuben Tucker. Aberavon were attempting to run out of defence but Jon Morris, another relentless character, tackled the runner forcing the Wizards to kick. Elliot Frewen, the Jack-In-The-Box winger, picked up the ball and bounced his way through the scattered defence. Henry Palmer took the ball forward next, making an arcing run before a head-down charge for the line but Aberavon were equipped enough to snuff this attack out.
After 15 minutes, Mr Mills felt compelled to call across Adam Brown and Aberavon’s Ian Moore, the two captains, for a chat as he clearly felt that things were starting to get a little fractious, particularly in the scrums. From another set scrum, Aberavon tried again to run out of defence. However the pass to Joe Gage was poor, combined with Jon Morris pressurising him, forced the mistake. Morris scooped the ball up and sprinted for the line, only to be brought down short. Henry Palmer, again, tried to get on the score sheet only to be tackled short. The ball was popped out to Reuben Tucker who was absolutely swamped by defenders but managed to get the ball back on the Newport side. It was left to Arwel Robson to take a quick look around, see Elliot Frewen almost unmarked and execute a smart cross-kick which Frewen picked up and crossed for Newport’s first try in the left corner. The conversion was missed so the score was Newport 5 Aberavon 0 on 16 minutes.
Aberavon, like the quality team that they are, threatened straight away. They found a gap too. Luckily for Newport, the scoring pass to wing Jay Baker boomed high over his head. Newport, though, were building up a head of steam and that pressure release valve blew on 24 minutes with another Newport try. Wes Cunliffe, on as a blood replacement for Jon Morris, received the ball on the right of the field. As is the Cunliffe way, he ran hard and direct breaking a tackle and getting to within inches of the Aberavon line. Tom Riley was following up and was left to burrow his way across for Newport’s second try. Newport 10 Aberavon 0 after the conversion was again missed.
Aberavon had ample possession over the next few minutes but were not so successful at getting through the Newport defence. Arwel Robson put in a beautiful touch-finding kick from a tight space that took play from one 22 metre line to the other. It was capped by Aberavon being penalised at a ruck for going off their feet. Matt O’Brien, on as a replacement for the unfortunate Tom Pascoe, assumed goal kicking responsibilities and slotted the penalty to make it Newport 13 Aberavon 0 on 32 minutes.
Aberavon came within a whisker of scoring their first try on 37 minutes as they had Newport on the rack. Hooker Gareth Harvey, who was lively and a thorn in Newport’s side all afternoon, made a good break but Rhys Jenkins was on hand to intercept Harvey’s pass. Arwel Robson cleared the ball but it went straight to the enthusiastic wing Jay Baker. Baker set off across field and found an overlap on the right. Centre Will Price made a charge for the line but was held up by Elliot Frewen. Price’s pass out to the supporting loose forward, Luke Joseph, was at knee-height and he fumbled the ball with the line at his mercy. A narrow escape for the Black and Ambers.
The half was petering out when we were treated to a display of talent and grace under pressure by fullback Geraint O’Driscoll. A kick into the Newport 22 was rolling towards the try line with O’Driscoll tracking back in a lone defensive position. However, three red and black shirted attackers were bearing down on him quickly. O’Driscoll simply took the ball, carried it behind his own try line, turned to dodge one tackler then put in a relieving kick, from the tightest of angles, which took play back up to halfway and Newport back on the attack. At the end of a breathless half of rugby, Arwel Robson had a dip at glory himself but was ushered into touch.
Halftime – Newport RFC 13 Aberavon RFC 0
The Rodney Parade floodlights came on at halftime and the golden glow of festive lights from Friars Walk became brighter as the evening began to creep in. Aberavon came out of the changing room having probably had the ‘hairdryer’ treatment as they were seemingly a different team. Alex Jeffries, the Ospreys prop on permit at Aberavon, went very close but had virtually no room to work in and had a foot in touch. How he would have loved to have scored a try on his return to Rodney Parade. Whatever, it was a vigorously waving red lamp that signalled danger for the Black and Ambers.
Moments later and Newport were caught offside. Wizards outside half Steffan Williams had a simple job to do on the penalty, almost being directly in front and 22 metres out. No mistakes there and the score was Newport 13 Aberavon 3 on 45 minutes.
A 51st minute penalty to Newport following an Aberavon scrum collapse saw Arwel Robson kick the ball up to the visitor’s 22 metre line. From the lineout, the ball went out to Tom Riley who danced back inside and found Geraint O’Driscoll on his shoulder. O’Driscoll was held up short but the Black and Ambers took their time, no panicking, and went through the phases. Rhys Jenkins and Reuben Tucker, naturally, offered themselves up as bludgeons making space for Arwel Robson to fire out a pass to Elliot Frewen, cutting out two Newport players, to finish off the move in the corner in the narrowest of margins. Matt O’Brien scored the conversion making the score Newport 20 Aberavon 3.
The Aberavon management clearly felt that this was the time to act as they virtually emptied their bench; changing four players in one go. It had an immediate effect. The new-found vigour in the Wizards saw them get to within metres of the Newport line. Hurried defensive work by the Black and Ambers was to no avail as Arwel Robson’s kick was charged down and centre Will Price was quickest to react, getting a hand on the loose ball. Aberavon replacement James Garland kicked the conversion to make it Newport 20 Aberavon 10 on 55 minutes.
Newport had to keep going. Aberavon were penalised for standing up in the scrum and Arwel Robson went to the corner again. Rhodri Jones was up high to take the line out ball and set it up for Ryan James to distribute. The Black and Ambers again showed patience in attack but were slowly going backwards. Robson took the bull by the horns, so to speak, and decided, correctly, that Newport needed to come away from this position with something and took a swing at a drop goal. This made the score Newport 23 Aberavon 10 on 61 minutes.
Newport were keeping the ball excellently against a strong ‘top eight’ side. They continued to probe and prod the Aberavon defence with little change but a neat flick out to Jon Morris saw him scamper for the line and finish in the corner under the Burnett Suite. Mr Mills considered what he had seen for a few seconds before deciding that, yes, the try stood and, with it, the bonus point. Matt O’Brien added another conversion making the score Newport 30 Aberavon 10 on 65 minutes.
However, during the build up to Morris’ score, Arwel Robson and Aberavon’s Alex Jeffries were involved in a heated discussion, possibly over whether one takes their cream tea with jam or cream on the bottom. Possibly not. Mr Mills thought it best that they continue their discussion away from the other 28 sensitive souls on the field and play would continue without them for ten minutes.
Aberavon knuckled down for a charge at the line. Jay Baker, again, came close but was caught. Aberavon centre David Evans was nearly through but was held up before the ball was whipped out to Chris Davies, another ex-Black and Amber, who failed to hold on to the pass and knocked on when it seemed easier to score. Time ticked on and Chris Davies got his chance on the 77th minute when Aberavon heaved the much altered Newport pack backwards and claimed the touchdown at the back of the advancing scrum. James Garland booted the conversion to make it Newport 30 Aberavon 17.
Deep into injury time and Aberavon were pushing for the losing bonus point. A series of scrums and penalties absolutely had Newport on the rack. The Black and Ambers were struggling to thwart the constant waves of pressure applied to them. They had to crack eventually and a wide pass out to Jay Baker saw Aberavon score their third try. James Garland was accurate with the conversion, securing the Wizards a losing bonus point with the very last kick of the game.
This was a super result for Newport, their fifth straight league win. Unfortunately though the teams around Newport RFC in the league all won as well so they simply consolidated themselves into eleventh position but chipped away at the points margin between them and eighth placed Cardiff RFC, who have 34 points to Newport’s 27.
Newport RFC’s next fixture is on Wednesday 7th December against Cross Keys RFC at Pandy Park. Kick-off is at 7.15pm and it is in the Premier Challenge Cup competition. Newport are back in Principality Premiership action on Boxing Day, December 26th, again at Cross Keys’ Pandy Park ground. Kick off on this occasion should be at 2.30pm but please check to confirm that nearer the date. Come along, cheer on the Black and Ambers, and wear your new Newport RFC shirt that Father Christmas brought you!
Come on Newport!
Newport Man Of The Match – John Lavender
FINAL SCORE _ Newport RFC 30 Aberavon RFC 24