It came as something of a relief to be able to concentrate on actual rugby rather than rugby politics and the white-noise of social media babble to Newport RFC and its supporters after this last week to ten days. The very welcome distraction of a Principality Premiership Tier Two fixture away at the Gnoll, home of Neath RFC, was a reason to focus on oval ball related matters. The game kicked off at midday to allow supporters and players a chance to watch the France v Wales Six Nations game, a game that will long live in the memory simply for the bizarre closing twenty minutes!
Neath RFC, of course, will have a measure of sympathy for Newport RFC, having gone through recent financial upheaval themselves. The fact that they are still here and still competing is testament to the hard work put in by people who love their club. Good on ‘em. Of course, Neath no longer have the ‘sturm und drang’ of old, when they were as feared a team as any in the British Isles. Many Newport supporters will recall their 50-odd game streak unbeaten against Welsh opposition that ended on 29th December 1990 at a suitably wintry Rodney Parade. However, many Newportonians selectively forget some of the utter batterings we have taken against those Maltese Cross adorned jerseys!
Newport RFC were led on to the field by number eight Rhys Jenkins to mark the occasion of his one hundredth game for our club. The game kicked off on a misty and drizzly afternoon. Neath’s outside half, Ben Guarneri, kicked off towards the uncovered terrace at the clubhouse end. Straight away Tom Pascoe showed his intent for the afternoon by smashing into tackles and attempting to disrupt Neath possession. Elliot Frewen was pinged offside allowing Guarneri to boot his team to just outside Newport’s 22 metre line. Home number 8, Jordan Collier, made some impressively physical runs at the Newport defence but lost the ball in contact.
Neath continued to power forward, wing Aaron Grabham putting in a decent kick to keep Newport pinned in their own 22. Newport knocked on enabling Neath to keep the pressure up. The Black and Ambers then conceded a penalty at the line out which scrum half Chris Morgans took quickly. He sprinted for the line but was tackled. His captain, flanker Jordan Collier, then followed up but was penalised for tip tackling a Newport player away from the ruck area and allowed Newport off the hook.
It wasn’t long before Neath were rewarded for their endeavour when full back Ed Howley, who had a spell at Newport previously, slotted a penalty when the referee, Mr Mike English, judged that the visitors had held on to the ball in the tackle. That made the score Neath 3 Newport 0 on 9 minutes.
After ten minutes of living off scraps suddenly Newport were seeing some of the ball. Matt Prosser made a telling run along the left side of the field before being halted. The ball worked out to Geraint O’Driscoll, playing at outside half, who intelligently selected his attacking options. Newport went close but Neath managed to spirit the ball away to Ed Howley, whose kick went towards the touchlines but found only O’Driscoll. He made ground before finding Elliot Frewen who was snared. The ball worked right towards the touchline to Henry Palmer who ground forward and fed the ball to Jenkins the centurion who crossed the line. Newport RFC celebrated the try but Mr. English wasn’t convinced and, after consulting his assistant, signalled that the ball was held up, no try. The ensuing scrum was scrappy, Neath heaved for all the were worth and disrupted Rhys Jenkins’ pick up at the base of the scrum. He got the ball away but Newport were slowly going backwards as Neath pushed out in defence. In the melee Neath wing Alex Jenkins took a knock to the leg. As he was being treated a high ball came his way. Reacting on instinct, Jenkins gathered the ball and tried to run away but was visibly heavily limping. His injury was probably not helped by then receiving Elliot Frewen, howitzer-like, to the ribs. Jenkins left the field soon afterwards.
Blacks scrum half Chris Morgans found a path through the Black and Amber defence on 17 minutes and tried to bring winger Grabham on to the ball, luckily for Newport Grabham put a foot in touch. Ed Howley took another shot at goal on 19 minutes when Newport were penalised for not rolling away in the tackle, making the score Neath 6 Newport 0.
Geraint O’ Driscoll had a shot at goal himself on 23 minutes but it was pulled slightly right of the posts. Surprisingly, most Newport supporters would have put money on him kicking the points as it looked so straightforward, but the contact between boot and ball didn’t sound right, so one can only guess at a technical issue.
O’Driscoll started the scoring for Newport in the 32nd minute. Neath hooker Sion Crocker overthrew a line out to enable Newport flanker Kyle Tayler to catch it and sprint forward up to the Neath 22 metre line. Neath offended at the ruck and O’Driscoll calmly slotted the penalty to make the score Neath 6 Newport 3.
Newport gathered the restart, Owen Davies returning it with a long kick back from whence it came. Neath’s Guarneri knocked the ball on to Newport’s advantage as Pascoe seized on it and moved it wide to O’Driscoll who found wing John Morris. Advantage over as Neath stole the ball in contact and cleared their lines. Newport returned the kick to Guarneri who compounded his earlier error by kicking directly to touch. From the line out, some thirty metres out, Tom Pascoe punched a hole in the Neath defence and tried to pass the ball away. In doing so the ball bounced off the head of a retreating black-shirted defender and into the path of Elliot Frewen. Frewen was all over it like a cheap suit and sprinted away for Newport’s first try of the afternoon. O’Driscoll made light work of the conversion to make it Neath 6 Newport 10 on 34 minutes.
Neath’s Howley made the score Neath 9 Newport 10 on 40 minutes after Mr. English had ruled Elliot Frewen offside. Geraint O’Driscoll restored the four-point margin three minutes later when Garin Harris had found the measure of his opposite number, Neath loose-head Ben Uphill, and gained the penalty for turning the scrum in. O’Driscoll made it Neath 9 Newport 13 on the stroke of halftime.
Halftime – Neath RFC 9 Newport RFC 13
Geraint O’Driscoll took the restart with Newport now playing with the breeze. Neath were awarded a penalty for a high tackle in the first minute of the second half, despite being on the receiving end of three or four similar challenges in the first half. Howley’s kick, seemingly easy for him, went askew. Newport got on with the business in hand and a 45th minute scrum, some forty metres out, seemed to offer little in attacking options. The ball went out to fullback Llywarch ap Myrddin who broke the Neath line then angled back in at the sole remaining defender, the hapless Guarneri. ‘Larry’ feinted right then cut back left leaving the defender stood on the spot. The cover defence was closing in but ap Myrrdin had enough gas to beat them to the line. O’Driscoll added the extras to make the score Neath 9 Newport 20. Who says you can’t score tries from first phase ball?
Neath managed to turn a 47th minute scrum but flanker Rhodri Jones tidied up easily and carried the ball away with Rhys Jenkins in support. Jenkins found Owen Davies whose searching grubber kick had the black shirts scrambling back. Garin Harris forced another penalty some minutes later which O’Driscoll booted to the corner.
Good, patient phases were used as Newport pommelled the Neath line. Smart hands from Garin Harris, Henry Palmer and Adam Brown found O’Driscoll looping around behind them. Neath’s Chris Morgans briefly had possession of the ball but couldn’t connect with his own attempted clearance kick. O’Driscoll put in a touch finder of his own to keep the pressure on. Tom Pascoe, Matt Prosser and Adam Brown, among others, willingly hurled themselves at their opposite numbers but, to Neath’s credit, they dealt with the firestorm and didn’t look uncomfortable. Newport conceded ground when Mr. English found a Newport player flopping over a ruck.
Neath, however, we’re in some disarray. Former Welsh cap Gavin Evans at centre had gone off, Guarneri’s work was done and they were running short of replacements. They finished up with a back-row forward and scrum half in the centres and were seemingly playing ‘rush’ at outside half. It noticeably took them a minute or so to work out who was going where, and when. Newport’s props deserved a breather too. Prosser and Harris went off for Keagan Bale and Tom Piper. Also coming on was Tom Riley for Chay Smith. Tom was making his fiftieth appearance in a Black and Amber shirt.
Keagan Bale almost made a name for himself as he joined in the heavy battering of the Neath line. He took the ball from Henry Palmer but couldn’t lower his body angle quickly enough in the little room he had to score the try which would rubber stamp the game for Newport. The pressure remained, however. Geraint O’Driscoll attempted at 46 metre penalty in the 71st minute after a Neath scrum had dissolved like Alka Seltzer. O’Driscoll gave it his best shot but it kept Newport at the right end of the field. The gloss on the scoreline was supplied by Rhodri Jones in the 78th minute. Tom Pascoe kept up his muscular approach and put his teammates in a great position. Replacement scrum half Ryan James showed typical patience to wait for the opportunity when a gap on the right became evident and he released Jones who finished with aplomb. O’Driscoll was unsuccessful with the kick so the scoreboard now read Neath 9 Newport 25.
Newport rolled the dice for a bonus point try. Cheeky? Yes. Justified? Absolutely. They almost managed it too after some, frankly, astonishing passing under pressure by Riley, Pascoe and O’Driscoll but Neath did enough to shut the ball down and bring the game to an end.
It was a remarkable performance given the uncertainty surrounding our club at the moment. Change unsettles everybody so it is a great credit to the team managers who have worked hard in calming the situation down and allaying fears and to our players who put such matters to the back of their minds and concentrate on the job in hand. And what a job, absolutely dominant for large sections of the game and our fourth consecutive away win at the Gnoll.
Newport RFC are next in action on Thursday 30th March at Rodney Parade when they face a Newport and District XV. This is a special occasion to mark fifty years of service by Tom Mulcahy and Herbie Jones as officials of Newport and District and Welsh District RFU. Entry is free to season ticket holders and £5 otherwise.
Come on ‘the ‘Port! #cotp
Man Of The Match – Tom Pascoe
FINAL SCORE _ Neath RFC 9 Newport RFC 25