Neath RFC vs Newport RFC 3rd November 2016 by John Evans
After the disappointment of the home defeat by Bridgend, Newport RFC had the opportunity to get back in the saddle for this Thursday night Principality Premiership fixture at the Gnoll, home, of course, to Neath RFC. Many Newport supporters had, previously, struggled to remember when they had seen the Black and Ambers win at this tough ground, but, incredibly, they had won their previous two visits there. Even the club historians were struggling to find consecutive wins at the Gnoll. They couldn’t make it three, could they?
Newport were forced into making late changes as in-form winger Jon Morris suffered the ignominy of a car break down on the hard shoulder of the M4 near Cardiff, so Geraint O’Driscoll slotted in at Full Back while Llywarch ap Myrddin switched to cover Morris on the wing.
The light rain was illuminated in the floodlights as Neath outside half Iwan Evans got the game underway. Both teams were feeling each other out, so to speak, probing for weaknesses. Neath appeared to have a significant overlap early on but the Newport backline effectively marshalled the Blacks toward the touch line and safety for Newport. Flanker Kyle Tayler was making his presence felt by stealing ball on the floor but attracted the attention of the referee, Dr Rhys Thomas, and was penalised. Neath went for the corner but the poorly executed kick went infield and O’Driscoll cleared. Newport began to press, scrum half Ryan James putting the ball to the corner. Newport managed to win the ball but the rolling maul that ensued was, if anything, too quick and collapsed under its own momentum and Neath were awarded the scrum put-in on their own five metre line.
Neath tried to run the ball out of defence but, in the slippery conditions, the ball squeezed out of the side of the ruck allowing Matt O’Brien to react fastest and nutmeg Neath’s scrum-half Josh Guy. The line out was Neath’s but the pressure remained on them. They managed to fluff their lines in defence as wing Aaron Grabham was caught offside. Matt O’Brien went for the corner from the ensuing penalty. From the line out a solid ruck was formed, but Dr Thomas penalised Neath again. O’Brien, as is his nature, thought that he spotted a chink in the Black armour and tapped to go quickly. The gap soon swallowed him up. Newport retained possession and wave upon wave of Newport runners thumped at the Neath defence but the home side put in a remarkable series of tackles that culminated in Wes Cunliffe being taken man and ball and Neath were off the hook.
It took until the 20th minute before the deadlock was broken. Llywarch ap Myrddin was tackled, over-vigorously in Dr Thomas’ view, and O’Brien stepped forward to slot the penalty over making it Neath 0 Newport 3.
Minutes later, Newport were caught offside and Neath were awarded a penalty of their own. Full back Ed Howley, who had a spell with Newport last season, took the kick and made it 3 – 3 on 25 minutes.
Newport were still giving penalties away rather too cheaply but, thankfully, Neath were not able to capitalise. Ed Howley had a further attempt at goal on 29 minutes but pushed his attempt wide.
Geraint O’Driscoll sent a booming kick down field which, fortunately for Newport, bounced off Ed Howley’s chest and Newport were awarded a scrum on the Neath 22 to the right of the posts. Rhys Jenkins broke from the back of the scrum to set up the ruck but home prop Neil White couldn’t resist putting boot to ball through the ruck and was swiftly penalised. Step forward Matt O’Brien for his second penalty to make it Neath 3 Newport 6 on 32 minutes.
Newport had a third successful penalty on 36 minutes as prop Geraint James found himself sprawled over the ball on the Newport side of a ruck and Matt O’Brien took his points tally for the night to 9.
Newport were pressing their dominance in the loose and Matt O’Brien weighed in with a late Drop Goal in the 39th minute to keep Neath’s scoreboard operator busy. Neath pushed for something before the close of the half but their efforts came to nothing making the score Neath 3 Newport 12 at half time.
Halftime – Neath RFC 3 Newport RFC 12
Matt O’Brien got the second half underway as the rain seemed to come down heavier on the roof of the main stand. Geraint O’Driscoll excelled at pinning Neath back in the corner when he had the opportunity.
Newport conceded a penalty in the 46th minute and Neath went for the corner. Neath’s efficient line out secured ball and they were close to getting a score but Ryan Thomas found replacement hooker Henry Palmer in his way. Palmer spirited the ball away from Neath hands and the danger was cleared. Neath were determined to get themselves back into contention and were battering away at a secure-looking Newport defence until flanker Leon Ward broke a couple of tackles and had the Black and Ambers sprawling backwards. Neath whipped the ball right rapidly to Ed Howley who, it must be said, had a good game and was at the heart of most of Neath’s positive play. Howley broke a tackle and found wing Aaron Grabham on his shoulder who cantered over for the only try of the evening. Howley made sure with the conversion to make it Neath 10 Newport 12 on 50 minutes.
Newport were going through their phases well but were making little headway against a stubborn Neath defence. Matt O’Brien made a snatched attempt at a second drop goal, but the ball drifted harmlessly wide. As Neath restarted with a drop out, Llywarch ap Myrddin made a short pass to a poised Wes Cunliffe. Cunliffe picked his line and accelerated into it, picking a path through the bulk of the Neath pack only being hauled down five metres short of the line. Such was the desperation to stop him that Neath’s Ryan Thomas infringed at the tackle and Dr Thomas felt that he had no option but to yellow card him. With a simple three points on offer, on an evening when opportunities were in short supply, Newport captain Adam Brown opted for the scrum, clearly feeling that his team had enough to get a vital try. The scrum won, the ball went wide to Llywarch ap Myrddin who was barged into touch and the opportunity was lost. Newport supporters hoped that the decision wouldn’t be one to regret later.
As the clock ticked down Neath searched for the win as the rain fell harder on this corner of Glamorgan. Neath won a scrum against the head but only managed to knock-on when in a good attacking position. At the resulting scrum Neath were penalised and cleared the danger up to Neath’s ten metre line. Slowly the game was becoming all Neath. They were awarded a penalty on halfway for Newport not binding at a scrum. The Welsh All Blacks metaphorically rolled the dice. Good work by them got them into the shadow of the Newport posts but they were penalised for holding on.
Neath pushed harder. A loose ball was hacked through and the poorly-executed Newport line out was seized by the Blacks. A snatched drop goal went wide, thankfully for Newport. Newport were forced into an intense period of scrambling defence as Neath fought on. A second drop goal attempt was unsuccessful.
Deep into injury time and with the Neath flames nearly doused, Newport conceded another penalty for not binding at the scrum, three metres inside the Newport half. Newport supporters breathed in as Ed Howley lined up the penalty kick. Thankfully, for Newport, the ball hit the upright and out into Black and Amber shirted arms before being gleefully booted dead for a richly deserved Newport victory.
Craig Warlow, Newport RFC’s Head Coach, said afterwards that he “…was relieved to get the win. (We) dominated long parts of the game and controlled the first half but Neath hung in there and almost nicked it at the end. Hopefully, we can kick on from here”. Amen to that. It was good to see Newport’s players rewarded for their efforts. They haven’t been playing that badly all season, last week excepted, and gained scant reward for the hard work that they, and the coaching team, put in.
The next fixture for Newport RFC is on Sunday November 13th when the face the free-running threat of Llandovery RFC at Rodney Parade in the Principality Premiership. Kick-off is at 2.30pm. Why not come along and support the team. Bring your mates!
Come on Newport!
Newport Man Of The Match – Matt O’Brien
FINAL SCORE _ Neath RFC 10 Newport RFC 12