A healthy crowd gathered at Llanwern High School for the last of Newport’s pre-season friendlies against the Champions of Welsh League 3 East B of last season, Hartridge RFC.
It was a gorgeous evening for rugby on a bowling green of a pitch. Newport were playing in red, as they have for the other games this pre-season. Arwel Robson kicked off at 6.45pm to start the game and Newport instantly looked in charge. Haydn Palmer looked dangerous in midfield but Hartridge were tenacious in defence. Newport kept the ball well and it passed across the field twice before Chay Smith found a gap out wide to skip through and touch down for the opening try. Sadly, Arwel Robson’s conversion clattered the upright, bouncing back out into the field of play. This made the score Hartridge 0 Newport 5 on 3 minutes.
Any hopes that Newport supporters may have had, that this was the opening of the floodgates, was misplaced. Hartridge set about their opponents with vigour and no little skill. Their defence was little short of ferocious and their scrummaging had the Newport pack having to think hard and work harder.
Hartridge got their reward on 13 minutes when they were awarded a kickable penalty which was duly slotted to make the score Hartridge 3 Newport 5.
Hartridge began haemorrhaging penalties, usually for offside. If they could have tempered their over-enthusiasm for getting in amongst their city opposition, then they may have received further reward. However, Newport consistently failed to capitalise, losing ball in contact, spilled passes, the list seemed endless. Newport lacked basic accuracy and didn’t seem sure how to correct this. Wrong options were taken when clear overlaps were ignored in favour of bashing the ball up the middle of the park in an arm wrestle.
A chink of light appeared in the 23rd minute when Arwel Robson spotted the Hartridge defence was very flat and executed a chip for Chay Smith to race onto, however, Smith was deemed offside and play was brought back.
Jack Goodey was his usual lively self but, if anything, seemed guilty of trying to do too much, trying to play Hartridge on his own. He made an excellent burst of thirty metres before being snared by the maroon shirted defence but failed to release the ball when tackled and conceded the penalty.
Newport went for a penalty to the corner when Owen Williams was tackled in mid-air, landing uninjured and, once again, the ball was spilled in a promising position. Williams has generally played well this pre-season and his vocal encouragement and positional play around his colleagues was heartening to hear, as he captained the side for the evening.
As the half closed, Newport had won tons of possession but often lost it through inaccuracy and a lack of cohesion. Credit to Hartridge, they were tremendous but, with the talent available at Rodney Parade, it was a very poor half of rugby for Newport.
Half Time Hartridge RFC 3 Newport RFC 5
Newport made some changes at halftime and this seemed to have a galvanizing effect on the team. From the outset of this half Newport pressed and were rewarded with a try in the 42nd minute from debutant second row Henry Williams as he crashed through a mass of bodies to claim the try. Arwel Robson was awarded the conversion to make the score Hartridge 3 Newport 12.
There soon followed a minor fracas, which had been bubbling away nicely for a few minutes, which forced the referee to speak to both sets of forwards to remind them about their responsibilities.
The cracks in Hartridge’s defence were slowly starting to appear. To be fair, they had done lorry loads of tackling for 50 minutes and that sort of pressure begins to tell. Arwel Robson put in a cute chip for Owen Williams to chase but the Hartridge defence covered it by carrying the ball over the line, awarding Newport a scrum five metres out. From the scrum, wing Srdan Majkic was fed the ball at pace and scored a try, making it Hartridge 3 Newport 17 on 51 minutes.
It took until the 67th minute for Newport’s backs to finally get the ball through their hands in an effective manner. Llywarch ap Myrddin made good ground before finding Majkic in support. He was tackled but, in doing so, Hartridge gave a penalty away. Newport went for the corner and, from the successful line out, prop Keagan Bale found his hands on the ball as the maul rumbled over the Hartridge line to make it 3-24 once Robson had converted.
Hartridge were out on their feet. A probing kick to the corner caused confusion in the Hartridge ranks and the ball slipped clear of the two defenders for wing James Dowle to simply pick up and place back down over the try line. Robson’s conversion made it 3-31 on 71 minutes.
A loose kick from Hartridge was fielded in the Newport 22 by Dowle who, using his new-found confidence, beat the two attackers before finding Chay Smith in support who carried the ball about forty metres before launching an exquisite back-hand pass to Srdan Majkic who raced over unopposed under the posts. Again, Robson’s conversion was good and the score was 3-38 on 76 minutes.
Almost from the restart, Majkic put in a lung-busting run before passing right to the supporting Dowle who sprinted away for the final try of the evening. Owen Williams was successful with the conversion to make the score Hartridge 3 Newport 45 on 77 minutes.
Newport RFC, of course, thank our friends at Hartridge RFC for the fixture and their hospitality. They are a good, strong club deeply rooted in their community. They played with a fearlessness one would expect of them and, until they tired, put on a terrific display of aggressive rugby that can only serve them well this season. They are blessed with a handful of players that have potential to play at a higher level. Everybody at Newport RFC wish them every success for the season ahead.
The Newport XV have the next weekend off. There will be a Newport team representing the club at the Foster’s 7s at Cardiff Arms Park on Sunday 28th August, but the season starts with a bang, away to our old friends and rivals, Cardiff RFC on Friday September 2nd.
Come on the ‘Port!
Final Score Hartridge RFC 3 Newport RFC 45