It’s always a pleasure to welcome one of the traditionally great names in Welsh rugby and they don’t get much greater than Swansea RFC. Newport do not have the finest record against our friends from the west, indeed, in thirteen previous cup meetings Newport have won just twice, in 1975 when a John Jeffrey try gave the Black and Ambers the win and again in 1986 when a Marc Batten try was enough to seize the victory. There was the loss in the final in 1978 and the epic game in the double-header semi-final in 1992 when an injury-ravaged Newport couldn’t quite put the Whites to the sword in eighty minutes and fell apart in extra time, despite heroic performances by, among others, Glen George, Andy Allen and Keith Orrell.
Good memories, but on to the game in hand. Swansea finished the first ‘half’ of the season on the bottom of the ladder, joining Newport in ‘Tier 2’ for the rest of the term. The National Cup is a chance for the Tier 2 sides to add some silverware to their collection and compete against the Tier 1 sides on an equal footing and, naturally, both Newport and Swansea were looking to progress in the competition.
Swansea, playing in their now seemingly more regular blue strip, kicked off with outside half Jac Wilson kicking towards the clubhouse end. Newport conceded a very early penalty when the pack disengaged from a scrum as it wheeled, presenting Wilson with an eminently kickable opportunity in the first minute. Newport 0, Swansea 3.
Swansea were playing some decent rugby, keeping the ball well but not doing an awful lot with it and, invariably losing possession via a spilt pass or other inaccuracy. Their break came in the tenth minute when they rumbled their way into the Newport 22 and were awarded a penalty while in possession. Rhodri Wells, their astute scrumhalf, speculatively kicked to the corner and found fullback Rhys Williams who jumped higher than Newport’s Llywarch ap Myrddin and claimed the opening try of the evening. The score was Newport 0 Swansea 8 on ten minutes.
Newport eventually tasted possession and started to do something with it but the recent run of lacklustre performances was all too apparent. Matt O’Brien tried to bring runners on to his passes but they went to ground too often. Chay Smith and Tom Pascoe made some good progress up field but a pass was intercepted by scrumhalf Wells and cleared away. That particularly hectic passage of play ended when the Whites won the ball on the ground and the ball eventually rolled in to touch on Newport’s five metre line. The Black and Ambers gifted Swansea another opportunity at a penalty when a player was hit late in front of the posts. Jac Wilson added another three points to the tally making it Newport 0 Swansea 11 on twenty minutes.
Swansea continued to hammer the Newport line, back-rowers Rory Gallagher and Adam Thresher prominent. The home team were let off the hook when a supporting White went off his feet at the ruck and conceded the penalty.
Newport had to get back into the game or face it running away from them. Frustratingly, Rhodri Jones, playing at second row, was through and clear for a probable try when the referee, Mr Wayne Davies, called the play back for a knock-on giving Newport the put-in at the scrum. Newport made amends as Swansea were penalised for illegal scrummaging. Matt O’Brien banged the ball into the corner for Rhodri Jones to take the line out. The maul edged forward and it was Henry Palmer who broke from the back to scurry over and score the try for Newport. The conversion was wide, so the score was Newport 5 Swansea 11 on 35 minutes.
Matt O’Brien added to the score two minutes later when Swansea were caught offside on their own 22 making it Newport 8 Swansea 11.
Newport were trying to create a platform to work off when a ruck was set up just outside the Swansea 22 metre line. As Owen Davies weighed up his options a stray boot made contact with the ball and cleared it away from the ruck. Alert Swansea second row Jay Williams scooped the ball up and set off on a lung-busting run which took him all the way to the Newport try line with wing Andrew Claypole in constant support. Jac Wilson added the extras to make it Newport 8 Swansea 18 and the end to a troubling half of rugby for Newport RFC.
Halftime – Newport RFC 8 RGC 1404 RFC 18
There was much for coaches Craig Warlow and Ty Morris to get into at halftime. It had been a lethargic performance from Newport, the like of which supporters had hoped were banished to the history books. Swansea had played like they had something to prove and Newport, frankly, hadn’t.
Newport attacked from the outset of the second half, getting amongst Swansea and almost created a try straight away with a three – on – two overlap on the left of the field but the prospective try scoring pass floated harmlessly into touch. Wes Cunliffe, approaching his best form again, barrelled his way toward the line but was brought down five metres short. Swansea were living off scraps, just clearing the ball away in anticipation of the next Newport attack. The Black and Ambers got to the five metre line again and a series of close drives by Wes Cunliffe, Reuben Tucker and John Lavender ended with the ball being held up over the Swansea line. From the scrum Newport battered on again, Dan Partridge adding himself to the ball carriers and, again, the ball was held up over the line but directly under the crossbar this time. The ensuing scrums were a thing of beauty for the Newport scrummaging aficionado. The Swansea pack creaked and splintered and, eventually, wheeled its way around to a penalty try for Newport after Mr Davies had decided that the Swansea pack weren’t going to play nice. Matt O’Brien added the straightforward conversion to make it Newport 15 Swansea 18 with an hour played. Credit goes to the Newport pack for that one.
Matt O’Brien was given a chance to equalise the scores on 63 minutes when Swansea were penalised for not releasing in the tackle. ‘Obi’ made no mistake with the penalty and boomed it forty five metres to tie the score at 18-18. Game on.
Play then became ridiculously open as both sides looked to keep the ball infield and ran everything at each other. The opening came on 69 minutes when Matt O’Brien was judged to have been high tackled. He gestured at the posts and slotted the penalty to make it Newport 21 Swansea 18.
It took until the 33rd minute of the half for Swansea to have their first meaningful foray into Newport territory but the ball was spirited away from contact, hoofed forward for Wes Cunliffe to chase. He switched the burners on as the ball rolled ominously close to the Swansea line but the Whites’ Martin Luckwell just about beat him to it to save the score. Newport almost, almost blew the game on the 75th minute when wing Jed Evans was away with Josh Jones in support but Cunliffe was back in defence and ankle-tapped Evans and the chance vanished. Swansea were pressing but were undone by their own impatience. A good position for them in the 78th minute was lost when Newport wrapped up and halted the Swansea ball carrier. Frustration got the better of a Swansea player as he pushed a Newport forward right in front of the referee. From a defending scrum near the Newport 22 to a defending line out on their own 22, in just a few seconds.
Swansea tried to punch holes in the Newport defence from their own 22 but the implacable Black and Amber wall only yielded up to the halfway line in four minutes of solid defending, a stirring effort.
Newport progress to the next round of the National Cup, obviously stung by a poor first half but encouraged, no doubt, by a strong second half showing. The Newport RFC supporter’s dream of a day out in Cardiff is still alive!
The game was also notable for the appearance of talented fullback Geraint O’Driscoll off the bench. It was Geraint’s one hundredth appearance in Black and Amber, a shirt that he has served with distinction. Let’s hope that there are many more appearances to come from him.
Newport RFC are next in action in the Principality Premiership competition on Saturday February 4th when they travel to visit Bridgend RFC at their Brewery Field ground.
Come on Newport!
Newport Man Of The Match – Wesley Cunliffe
FINAL SCORE _ Newport RFC 21 Swansea RFC 18