A beautiful spring evening heralded the climax of the Principality Premiership regular season for Newport RFC. This fixture, rearranged to avoid clashes with both Newport County and Newport Gwent Dragons, was pivotal in ensuring that Newport obtained a home draw in the play-off semi-final taking place on the weekend of May 13th and 14th.
Cross Keys outside half Josh Prosser got the game underway, kicking towards the clubhouse end. Sadly, it was a disastrous start for the Black and Ambers as the kick was fielded and returned to the willing hands of the Keys fullback, the dreadlocked Leon Andrews who was allowed far too much time and space to skate through some lacklustre tackling and claim his sides first try within thirty seconds of the whistle. The conversion was missed so the score was Newport 0 Cross Keys 5.
The themes evident in the second half of the previous game against Llanelli RFC were soon becoming evident. Newport were able to get themselves into some decent positions but would then let the visitors off the hook with inaccuracies. Twice Newport kicked penalties into the Keys 22 metre area within the first ten minutes and twice they came away with nothing.
Cross Keys were threatening again when scrum-half Ross Pritchard was able to find space around the side of a ruck and burst up to the Newport 22 but good scrambling defence mopped up the danger. Indeed, it was Newport to score next. As play progressed up field, Newport scrum-half Owen Davies took a tap penalty and managed to barge his way up towards the Cross Keys line. He managed to find Matt O’Brien but he lost control of the ball. Newport retrieved the situation and the powerful Wes Cunliffe was released to make a thrust at the line. Cunliffe was tackled and the ball quickly spun left to find second row James Little lingering out wide to score in the corner. Matt O’Brien added the extras to make the score Newport 7 Cross Keys 5 on 16 minutes.
Matt O’Brien added to the Newport score three minutes later when Keys captain, flanker Scott Matthews, was penalised at a ruck. The scoreboard now read Newport 10 Cross Keys 5.
Cross Keys slowly began to dominate the scoreboard operator’s time as they bagged try number two on 23 minutes. A particularly Keys-esque passage of play, lots of hard driving, short passes onto hard running big men, found them deep within the Newport 22 and it was only a matter of time before they scored. It was flanker Darren Hughes who did the damage this time, Josh Prosser adding the conversion to make it Newport 10 Cross Keys 12.
A period of aerial tennis followed until Keys scrum-half Ross Pritchard put in a faultless grubber kick which rolled and rolled and ultimately fooled the covering Geraint O’Driscoll by rolling into touch by the corner flag when it looked odds-on to go dead for a dropout 22. Newport RFC put in a lung-bursting effort to get away from their lines. Centre Tom Pascoe put in a booming pass to Geraint O’Driscoll who found the lively John Morris in support. Morris’ kick ahead rolled into touch rather than infield. Newport continued to press to get back ahead but a loose pass in midfield was picked off by alert Keys wing Nathan Trowbridge on the halfway line. Trowbridge had a straight run for the try line, albeit with the hot breath of a chasing Wes Cunliffe on his neck. But Cunliffe had too much to do and Cross Keys were ten points to nineteen ahead once Josh Prosser added the simple conversion.
Cross Keys distinctly had the upper hand, so it was probably wise of Matt O’Brien to kick the ball dead to get the team into the changing room for a much-needed reorganise and to let coaches Ty Morris and Craig Warlow sort them out.
Halftime – Newport RFC 10 Cross Keys RFC 19
Matt O’Brien kicked off the second half of the game in the darkening evening. The Black and Ambers were trying to claw their way back into the game and visiting lock Danny Hodge seemed to give Newport a way in. He was a little too enthusiastic in pointing out the error of Rhodri Jones’ ways, an act that referee Mr Ben Whitehouse took exception too. He was about to penalise Jones when the call was reversed. Matt O’Brien booted the ball deep into the Keys half only for possession to be lost after another seemingly over-complicated lineout call left both hooker and jumper lost for words. Cross Keys stole the ball and managed to work their way out of trouble.
Keys number eight, former professional prospect Ieuan Jones, attempted a 48th minute chip of Newport’s Tom Riley but Riley judged it perfectly, caught the ball and blasted up field, mazy running, looking for support. He found Owen Davies who put in a pass to his left only for it to be slapped down by Cross Keys centre Phil Williams. Mr Whitehouse judged this a deliberate act and sent Williams to the naughty step for a ten minute sit down.
Cross Keys increased their lead on 52 minutes with another Josh Prosser penalty. Mr Whitehouse had seen a Newport offence at a lineout which dissolved into a melee and left Newport’s Adam Brown and Cross Keys’ Danny Hodge like a pair of territorial Grizzlies. Mr Whitehouse spoke with both parties before allowing the original penalty to stand. Newport 10 Cross Keys 22.
Keys went close to a try as flanker Darren Hughes came away from a maul with the ball and found Danny Hodge in close support. Hodge flung himself at the line only to be held up by Black and Amber jerseys. An attacking scrum to Cross Keys, just five metres out, looked dangerous but was disrupted enough for Newport to regain possession. The ball went wide to John Morris but his clearing kick screwed horribly into touch some thirty metres out. The visitors’ lineout was loose and, as the ball spilled onto the Newport side, Keys’ Ieuan Jones was through like a shot, hacking the ball ahead. The ball bounced up sweetly for him to gather and score out wide securing the visitors try bonus point. Josh Prosser again added the extra points making it Newport 10 Cross Keys 29, and the game seemingly over as a contest.
Newport’s 62nd minute dart for the line came to nothing when a pass out to replacement Llywarch ap Myrddin was spilled with a quite possible try on the cards. However, it seems as though Cross Keys replacing their talismanic Danny Hodge had an adverse effect on the team. Suddenly gaps began to appear where there had been none. A yawning gap appeared for Wes Cunliffe to burst into and reach the Cross Keys 22 metre line. Newport punched away at the defence with Tom Riley notably setting things up. Replacement scrum-half Ryan James was starting to pull the strings finding Lennon Greggains running hard who passed out wide right to James Little to score in the corner by the Bisley stand. A memorable night for the young man, his first start and two tries in the bag. Matt O’Brien pulled the conversion wide to make the score Newport 15 Cross Keys 29 on 71 minutes.
As the game broke up, Matt O’Brien was finding much more room to manoeuvre. He was running loops around his centres, pulling the defence around until a Dan Mock-sized hole appeared in the Black and White chevron-patterned defence. Mock sprinted under the posts for Newport’s third try which O’Brien converted to make it Newport 22 Cross Keys 29 on 79 minutes. It wasn’t possible, was it? A draw from such a large deficit was a distant possibility.
Cross Keys were on the ropes a little at the end but Newport just couldn’t land the metaphorical punch to salvage the draw and Cross Keys secured the deserved win. But it wasn’t all bad news for the ‘Port. A losing bonus point was enough to secure a top-two finish in the league, at least, so a home draw should follow the weekend after next. Who we play is still to be ascertained but Newport RFC will need to find their form of the previous five games rather than the last two. The Principality Premiership Tier Two title is on offer, and, whatever one thinks of this set up, it is tangible silverware. It may be a modest title but let’s go and win it. There’s nothing to lose.
Newport RFC are next in action on Sunday May 7th when they make the short journey to Caerleon RFC’s Broadway ground. This is a memorial game for Caerleon stalwart Craig Fuller who passed away recently. Also, of local interest, on Thursday 11th May is the Newport and District cup final at Rodney Parade when Caerleon RFC take on Hartridge RFC. Good luck to both teams in that fixture. Following that is the Principality Premiership Tier Two semi-final, also at Rodney Parade. Please look at the website, www.blackandambers.co.uk, for more information.
Come on Newport!
Newport Man Of The Match – James Little
FINAL SCORE _ Newport RFC 22 Cross Keys RFC 29