Newport travelled to the Butts Park Arena to face Coventry RFC in their second pre-season friendly. Coventry RFC is one of the historic English clubs with a marvellous history in the game, so it was a great opportunity to test ourselves against such opposition. Coventry, on the other hand, have suffered a few lean years. The club have undertaken major surgery this summer, replacing the entire playing management structure and retained just six players from last season. Their new head coach has been acquired from Cambridge RFC, who have made something of a name for themselves with their buccaneering brand of rugby.
Newport, in turn, rotated their squad fairly extensively for this game to try to ensure that all squad members had a run out. The back row that started against Rosslyn Park was much changed, Atwell and Tucker starting and Lloyd Phillips getting another go.
The weather forecast wasn’t up to much in the days before the game, promising heavy rain showers and strong winds. Luckily, the rain stayed away for the duration but the heavy wind was a feature throughout the game.
Matt O’Brien kicked off into the wind, but it was strong enough to blow the ball back inside the ten metre line and ensure that Coventry were awarded a scrum. From the outset, the blue and whites showed their attacking intent. A strong push at the scrum ensured clean ball out to their captain, centre Tom Wheatcroft who broke the Newport defence easily. He passed right to winger Dan Rundle who had no difficulty at all in crossing for the try. Outside half Tony Fenner made it 7-0 with the conversion while the game was still in the first minute.
Newport realised that they were not going to have an easy afternoon reasonably quickly. Tom Riley tried to conjure a bit of magic with a delightful floating pass that found Elliot Frewen who, in turn, found Henry Palmer supporting him on the inside. Palmer got close to Coventry’s try line but quick passing along the line found Lloyd Phillips in space who found a gap and scored Newport’s first try of the afternoon. This made the score 7-5 on 4 minutes.
Newport continued to look after the ball well without making much inroad into Coventry territory, which suited the hosts nicely. However, Coventry were soon on the scoreboard again. A rather sedate rolling maul rumbled slowly towards the Newport line when Coventry switched the bludgeon for the rapier. The ball slipped from the back of the maul to wing Max Trimble who managed to step through some ineffective Newport tackling, passed out to Fenner, who showed great awareness by slapping the ball on, and out to centre Rob Knox who ran in to score unopposed. Fenner added the extras to make it Coventry 14 Newport 5 on 9 minutes.
Max Trimble was on the scoreboard himself just five minutes later. A training ground move by Coventry saw them win line out ball and Trimble flying into the ball at pace. His run was timed perfectly and all the Newport defence could do was watch him as he ran past them. Fenner kicked the conversion excellently, adjusting for the wind to ensure his side two more points to make it 21-5.
A promising Newport attack was spoiled by a loose pass and Coventry hacked up field. Newport wing Owen Williams covered back well, picked himself a line to follow and ran. He found Chay Smith in support and the willing Henry Palmer outside him again. Palmer took the ball around the 22 metre line and stormed over for an excellent try. Matt O’Brien kicked the conversion, excellently, favouring the ‘low and hard’ approach into the strong wind. The score was 21-12 to Coventry on 17 minutes.
Newport rallied. O’Brien was constantly looking for attacking angles, Frewen was making dents in the Coventry defence. All the players looked quite comfortable with the ball in hand and it wasn’t long before Reuben Tucker finished off a very good team try. Matt O’Brien converted again to make it 21-19 on 22 minutes.
Coventry retaliated, as one might expect. An attack down the right side of the field appeared to be coming to nothing as a strong Newport tackle seemed to dislodge the ball forward. However, the referee, the aptly named Mr Makepeace of the RFU, appeared to have not seen it and awarded the try once Coventry blind side flanker Eoghan Grace scooped the ball up and crashed over. Tony Fenner added the conversion to make it 28-19 on 31 minutes.
Reuben Tucker continued to show up well in defence, his destructive style and strength getting Newport out of jail on a few occasions. However, he pushed his luck with Mr. Makepeace a little too far just before halftime, as Coventry were being awarded a series of penalties, just five metres from Newport’s line. Tucker was judged offside and was shown the yellow card. Moments later, Mr Makepeace felt that Tom Piper was infringing in the scrums and he, too, was shown a yellow card. With Newport down to thirteen players, more Coventry tries were inevitable and one soon followed from scrum half Sam Grasso. Newport appeared to have done a reasonable job of repelling the Coventry attack until a loose ball ended up in Grasso’s hands and he skipped past the despairing tackle of Newport replacement prop Jamie Edwards. Fenner scored the conversion to make the score 35-19 at halftime.
Half Time Coventry RFC 35 Newport RFC 19
In truth, the game was already over as a contest and Newport, starting the half with thirteen players, wasn’t going to help. Newport started, predictably, with a fierce rearguard action. Tom Riley put in a couple of superb relieving kicks with Coventry pressing hard for more scores. Tucker was quickly back on but then the good work was undone by another Coventry try, one which puzzled the onlooking Newport supporters. Coventry spilled the ball in the tackle, the referee clearly awarding Newport the advantage. However, Mr Makepeace then adjudged that the Newport player who dived on the ball was holding on to it and awarded Coventry the penalty. Regardless, the result was a try for outstanding Coventry number 8, Darrell Dyer, once in Leicester’s squad, apparently. It showed. Tony Fenner added the simple conversion to make it 42-19 on 47 minutes.
Supporters of Newport Gwent Dragons would have recognised the familiar shape of Boris Stankovich as he joined the fray for Coventry on 49 minutes. He has been recruited as a player/coach by the club this season and he still lives reasonably locally to Coventry. I’m sure that he’ll do a great job for them.
It got much worse for Newport. Coventry appeared to be breaking Newport’s tackles at will. Tries for Olly Povoas and Corey Hircock soon followed and the score was a dispiriting 56-19 on 52 minutes.
Then it got better for Newport. As can be the way in pre-season matches, the constant chopping and changing of players can disrupt the flow of the game. With the match won, the things that had worked for Coventry for the first hour suddenly seemed to stop working. Elliot Frewen got his name on the board on 59 minutes following some good hands under pressure in midfield, Frewen found himself in a one-on-one situation against a second row. A jink around the Coventry full back and he was in. Geraint O’ Driscoll added the conversion to make it 56-26.
The introduction of Tom Pascoe at outside half for Matt O’Brien showed promise. An excellent switch pass with Chay Smith made fully twenty metres but, unfortunately, the potential scoring pass was spilled. Smith got his first try in Newport colours on 71 minutes when Coventry attempted Barbarian rugby behind their own posts, Smith smartly spotting the careless pass and intercepting for the simplest of tries. O’Driscoll claimed the conversion to make it 56-33.
Coventry were still capable of causing damage, especially at the scrum. Their problem was keeping hold of the ball. Newport defended and were able to patiently work the ball up field, causing Mr Makepeace to use his yellow card again as Coventry’s replacement Rhodri Adamson was found to have infringed. Tom Pascoe was pulling the strings for Newport from outside half. A late try for Newport came, almost in injury time, as Coventry spilled the ball again, Owen Williams gathered and motored toward the Coventry line. Williams was tackled but managed to squeeze the ball away to Geraint O’Driscoll who cantered in for the game’s final try. O’Driscoll converted his own try to make it 56-40 at full time.
Both teams will have learned a lot about themselves during this display. Coventry have tons of pace in the backs and are electric in attack, but their defence was patchy at times and their ball retention could be quite poor. But they will overpower a lot of teams in their division, I’m sure. Newport RFC wish them good luck for the forthcoming season and thank them for this fixture. It would be good to see them at Rodney Parade in the future.
Newport RFC’s defence would probably give coach Lewis Evans a headache. At times, and during the Rosslyn Park game, it was excellent, going on outstanding. At times it was very poor. Equally, maintaining discipline is paramount when under the cosh. Losing two players at a key time, just before halftime, was probably what cost the game.
Next game for Newport RFC, and the last pre-season fixture, is on Tuesday 23rd August where they face Hartridge RFC. This game kicks off at 1900 and takes place at Llanwern High School. We hope to see as many as possible of you there to support both Newport RFC and an excellent club within the city.
Final Score Coventry RFC 56 Newport RFC 40