Following last month’s cup win against Swansea, supporters of Newport RFC have been looking forward to a second visit to Sardis Road this season. Our previous visit saw Newport gift their hosts tries in a performance that was careless in extremis. This was a chance to atone for that afternoon. Pontypridd may not be the force that they once were but they are still a potent rugby side that can quickly capitalise on errors. Opponents need to be on their guard at all times.
A light mist hung over the valley as Matt O’Brien kicked off towards the clubhouse at Sardis Road and, within thirty seconds, Pontypridd had conceded a penalty as they failed to release the ball in the tackle. O’Brien stepped forward to put the Black and Ambers 0-3 ahead.
Pontypridd quickly got into their stride, carrying the ball strongly at Newport but they were met with stubborn defence and had the home team simply switching sides of the field as progress forward was not happening. Sadly, Newport were disadvantaged with unfortunate injuries to Matt O’Brien and Reuben Tucker in quick succession. Geraint O’Driscoll quickly dusted off his old outside-half manual and slotted in at ten while the dynamic Kyle Tayler slotted in for Tucker.
A Newport line out fed the ball back to O’Driscoll but the rapid covering of the Pontypridd back row forced him to adjust his balance quickly, thereby skewing the ball into touch not much further forward than it had already come. At the line out, home second row Chris Dicomidis gathered the ball and set the rolling maul up, the beneficiary being hooker Huw Dowden, wearing jersey number 25, to cross at the tail of the maul. Former Welsh international Ceri Sweeney scored the conversion to make it Pontypridd 7 Newport 3 on 11 minutes.
Newport responded by O’Driscoll bringing in Chay Smith on the angle to break the Pontypridd line. Smith hared away but was forced to alter his line by the cover defence. He was halted just a few metres out as home winger Dale Stuckey came away with the ball and kicked ahead. Rhys Jenkins nailed him but the pass inside by Stuckey was knocked on, scrum ball to Newport. The scrum was turned slightly allowing the Pontypridd back row to sniff out the ball that was lingering at the base of the scrum. Flanker Rhys Shellard was handed the ball and set off up to the five metre line. Shellard released the ball to support runners but they were safely shunted into touch.
Pontypridd scored a second try after some excellent work by Dafydd Lockyer who carried the ball in front of the terrace before making a well-timed pass to fellow centre Bradley Coombes who had wing Lewis Williams sprinting outside him. Williams scored in the corner making it 12 – 3 to the hosts on 32 minutes as Sweeney failed to convert the try.
Newport tried to haul themselves back into contention as Owen Davies tapped a quick penalty when Pontypridd failed to release the ball in the tackle. Pontypridd second row Lee Evans couldn’t resist trying to tackle Davies which simply made referee Aled Evans add another ten metres to the offence. The ball was passed out to Lavender, to Pascoe and on to Wes Cunliffe who charged for the line and got to within a few metres before the ball was knocked on at the ensuing ruck. Pontypridd scrum half, former Newport Gwent Dragon Wayne Evans, looked happy simply to get the ball off the field and get back into the changing rooms for half time.
Halftime – Pontypridd RFC 12 Newport RFC 3
Ceri Sweeney restarted the game, kicking the ball long to Owen Davies. Davies returned the ball to the forty metre line. The line out was won and the ball spread across the Pontypridd backs out to Lewis Williams. He cut back inside, taking a tackle adjudged by Mr Evans to be high and gave Pontypridd the advantage. Newport held them out for a while but it took the hulking presence of Hemi Barnes to eventually break the defence and crash over from a ruck. Sweeney was successful with the conversion to make it Pontypridd 19 Newport 3 on 43 minutes.
Dan Mock was led from the field by the elbow as a collision had left him seeing stars and was replaced by club captain Adam Brown. Newport were still endeavouring to create scores but a sucker punch came from Pontypridd when an offload from Llywarch ap Myrddin fell loose. Pontypridd scrum half Wayne Evans pounced on the loose ball and hacked ahead and dropped on the ball once over the line. Sweeney added the straightforward conversion to make it 26-3 to the hosts on 45 minutes.
The injury list for the Black and Ambers was becoming a genuine concern. Wes Cunliffe limped off holding his shoulder while Kyle Tayler also retired hurt, himself a replacement for an injury earlier in the game. Ryan James replaced Owen Davies, Haydn Palmer replaced Cunliffe while Will Evans filled in on the flank.
Chris Dicomidis, the home second row, threatened to go close but Mr Evans ruled that the Newport tackler, Rhodri Jones, had been impeded so a penalty was awarded to Newport. The Black and Ambers made an increasingly rare foray into home territory when a loose ball was booted forward by John Lavender and chased up by Lavender himself. Ceri Sweeney mopped up the danger as Newport’s attacks were coming to nought.
Indeed, it got worse. A Newport line out, about forty metres out, was won. Ryan James fed the ball out to Rhys Jenkins but the ball was lost in contact. Pontypridd’s Wayne Evans made a simple pass to Lewis Williams who had a clear run to the corner with only a couple of Newport tight forwards to grasp at shadows behind him. Replacement outside half Lewis K Williams added the conversion to make the score Pontypridd 31 Newport 3 on 58 minutes.
Newport were well and truly on the ropes. But by extending the boxing allegory a little further, Pontypridd dropped their guard. By removing their former Dragons half back pairing of Evans and Sweeney, Pontypridd seemed to indicate that they thought that their job was done. The hosts suddenly became rudderless and their shape went to pieces.
The tide began to turn when Chay Smith sensed an opportunity. Ryan James had been tied in at a ruck so Smith weighed in to help. Receiving the ball at the back of the ruck he set off on a run, evading defences then breaking tackles before finishing strongly near the posts. Geraint O’Driscoll added the conversion to make it Pontypridd 31 Newport 10 on the hour.
Llywarch ap Myrddin added a try of his own after some super work by the Newport backs. Ap Myrddin raced past the Pontypridd cover to score, O’Driscoll added the conversion to make it 31-17 on 63 minutes.
Pontypridd were clearly rattled. The partisan crowd quietened and the home players vented their frustration in predictable ways. When Rhodri Jones was penalised for a careless tackle on 66 minutes, Pontypridd second row replacement Peter Sidoli responded with a clear punch on Jones while he was on the floor. He can consider himself lucky that Mr Evans was unsighted as it would have been a straight red card, no doubt. It remained a penalty to Pontypridd which Lewis K Williams slotted to make it 34-17.
Newport were far from being finished, so it turned out. The boxer was now fighting his way out of the corner and back into the middle of the ring. A solid Newport scrum was fed out to Chay Smith who put in a super pass to put Elliot Frewen away. Frewen turned on the turbo and won the race for the corner to make the score Pontypridd 34 Newport 22 on 69 minutes.
Newport were hammering away at Pontypridd and another break came on 73 minutes when Ryan James placed a delicate box kick for Elliot Frewen to chase. He secured possession and managed to provide a pass to Henry Palmer to dive over. O’Driscoll added the conversion to make it 34-29.
Lewis K Williams spurned an opportunity to make the game safe for Pontypridd by pulling a penalty wide. Indeed, the game could have been Newport’s as Pontypridd laboured in vain to move the ball around. Elliot Frewen spotted an opportunity to intercept a pass but couldn’t quite hold on to the ball and spilled it forward. From the scrum, Ryan James strayed offside and conceded the penalty that put Pontypridd back into Newport territory in injury time, Pontypridd won the line out but scrambled the ball off the field with an indecent haste knowing full well that they had almost blown a 28 point lead.
Newport RFC are back in Principality Premiership Tier 2 action next Saturday afternoon when our old friends at Cardiff RFC come to visit. This is usually and entertaining fixture and kicks off at midday so that supporters can watch Wales beat Scotland on television in the bar afterwards. Come for the Principality premiership game, stay for the International!
The Newport supporter’s wait for a day out at a cup final in Cardiff must wait for another year at least.
Man Of The Match – Chay Smith
FINAL SCORE _ Pontypridd RFC 34 Newport RFC 29