The coach conveying a healthy group of Newport supporters left Rodney Parade in almost spring-like conditions rather than the mid-winter conditions one might expect on Boxing Day. The air temperature was a little nippier up the valley at Cross Keys but the weather conditions were excellent for playing a game of rugby.
Before the game kicked off there was a minutes silence for Bill Cambray, a Cross Keys life member. Interestingly, Bill played for Newport United and had one game for the first fifteen. This game was away at Swansea RFC on 22nd April 1948, so it was fitting that this tribute was held during a clash between the two clubs that he represented at first class level.
Matt O’Brien kicked off towards the Cross Keys clubhouse and, early on, the home team were getting the upper hand in the exchanges. As early as the 5th minute the two packs of forwards were scraping the cloying mud from their boot studs as the heavy, sticky surface made its presence felt.
Newport were awarded a tenth minute penalty which O’Brien booted to the Keys 22 metre line. The ball soon got into Elliot Frewen’s hands as he made ground into the Keys 22. The ball went right to Henry Palmer who was tackled to the ground but kept going by crawling on his all fours. The referee, correctly, wasn’t having any of that and penalised Palmer and Cross Keys could clear their lines.
Cross Keys were awarded a kickable penalty once the referee had decided that Rhodri Jones had hung on to the ball for half a second too long in the tackle. Home outside half Josh Prosser stepped forwards and scored the opening points, making it Cross Keys 3 Newport 0 on 15 minutes.
Matt O’Brien responded in kind on 20 minutes after good hands from Rhys Jenkins freed Reuben Tucker to run with the ball. He found Garin Harris in support who carried the ball up to 30 metres from the Keys line but, as he was tackled, the referee judged that Harris had been stripped of the ball illegally and allowed the opportunity for O’Brien to level the scores to 3-3.
Newport were trying to create space, running from deep if necessary, and an effort to free up Jon Morris almost paid off but the ‘tip-pass’ from Rhodri Jones was deemed forward and, frustratingly, the chance was gone. However, soon after Rhys Jenkins carried the ball to the halfway line on the left side of the pitch. He deftly slipped a tackle and surged forward finding Tom Riley to his left. He drew the Keys cover before releasing Frewen, at top speed, to sprint in to score a try for Newport with only home wing Nathan Trowbridge for company. The referee, Mr Simon Rees, paused for a second before allowing the try to stand. Matt O’Brien’s conversion was wide making the score Cross Keys 3 Newport 8 on 24 minutes.
Cross Keys were offered a very kickable penalty on 32 minutes which they ignored, opting to go for richer rewards. Tenacious Newport defence, however, denied them on this occasion as Newport’s pack wrestled the ball out of Key’s control. Minutes later, Mr Rees offered Cross Keys another opportunity which they took after he became overly interested in the technicalities of John Lavender’s scrummaging technique. Keys’ Josh Prosser kicked the penalty to make it 6-8 to Newport on 36 minutes.
Newport began to lose their direction somewhat when Rhodri Jones was yellow carded for going off his feet at a ruck. Ironically the ruck had been won for Newport, making it all the more disappointing to lose his talent and physicality when all hands on deck were needed. Cross Keys were getting to within touching distance of the Newport line, forwards Leon Brown and Ieuan Jones being prominent in the waves of attacks. The Newport pack stood up to the heavy defensive effort making Keys do something different with the ball. They passed it across the line before the last pass to exploit the numerical overlap ballooned up and away to Newport safety. However, the Assistant Referee in front of the stand had spotted some Black and Amber foul play and Keys opted for the 5 metre scrum. Once the nudge was on, and Newport began to slither backwards in the mud, Mr Rees felt that he had no option other than to award Cross Keys a penalty try. Josh Prosser kicked the straightforward conversion to make it Cross Key 13 Newport 8 on 40+3 minutes and the half-time whistle blew.
Halftime – Cross Keys RFC 13 Newport RFC 8
Cross Keys’ Josh Prosser got the second half underway and his team mates were quickly in the ascendancy again. Scrum half Owain Leonard found space in front of the stand to skip through the Newport defence and find centre Barney Nightingale in support. Nightingale was brought down around the 22 metre line but Leonard, following up to the now formed ruck, managed to knock on and Newport were off the hook for now.
Mr Rees was forced to speak with captains Adam Brown and Darren Hughes for Cross Keys once he sensed that things amongst the forwards were getting a little heated. Things soon became worse for Newport when Mr Rees awarded Cross Keys their second penalty try, again from a scrum, when he decided that Newport were guilty of wheeling it. Josh Prosser kicked the simple conversion to make it 20-8.
Newport attempted to rally themselves, Rhodri Jones almost came close when, following a line out, he seized on a loose ball and galloped clear only to be called back by the referee for a knock on.
The game slowly began to turn into rugby torpor. This was only briefly enlivened on the hour mark when an altercation between Reuben Tucker and Cross Keys prop Luke Garrett resulted in a yellow card for Tucker for starting the fight and a red card for Garrett for trying to finish it. The game stagnated in the middle ‘third’ of the field as Cross Keys knew that the game was effectively won and Newport couldn’t find a way around their black and white shirted hosts. Both teams were effectively just going side to side which didn’t make for a great spectacle. Josh Prosser booted another penalty to make the game safe for Cross Keys on 70 minutes, making it 23-8 but the next ten minutes of normal plus five minutes of added time were a deterioration into squabbles, reset scrums and mud.
The public address system announced that Keys prop Leon Brown was their man of the match. Quite right too, he was tremendous, being a powerful scrummager against our own John Lavender and a force in the loose. Indeed, one could go so far as to say that he was the difference between the two teams today as they were fairly evenly matched across the board.
Eventually, Mr Rees blew time on the whole muddy spectacle. Some supporters had already seen enough and had retired to the bar for a pint and a warm.
Newport RFC are back in Principality premiership action on Monday January 2nd 2017 at 7.15pm when we host Rygbi Gogledd Cymru 1404 for the first time at Rodney Parade. Please note the kick-off time.
Newport RFC would like to thank all of the supporters, volunteers and sponsors that enable the club to function as well as it does for their backing in 2016 and wish them a happy and healthy 2017.
Man Of The Match – Rhys Jenkins
FINAL SCORE _ Cross Keys RFC 23 Newport RFC 8