Well. What a week that was. After a ‘curate’s egg’ of a performance against local rivals Cross Keys came, without a doubt, the single most decisive day in the long history of Newport RFC. On Tuesday May 9th, the Shareholders of our club were put in a position to vote on the club’s future, an unenviable task. History shows that the vote narrowly passed the high 75% ‘Yes’ barrier and the Shareholders agreed to sell Rodney Parade to the Welsh Rugby Union who would also take full control of Newport Gwent Dragons from July 1st. After such an unsettling time for all involved at the club it’s a wonder that anybody managed to concentrate on rugby. Maybe our squad were unsettled by events off the pitch for the last two performances? Who knows? But now that the imminent future had been decided, the players were free to concentrate on the game and task ahead, namely, beating Llanelli RFC and progressing to the Principality Premiership Tier Two final.
A bright and dry afternoon was the perfect backdrop to a new beginning for Newport RFC as Llanelli’s outside half, Ioan Hughes, kicked off towards the school end. Llanelli chased but knocked on straight away to give Newport the opening scrummage. The newly shaven-headed Reuben Tucker cleaned up at the back of a turning scrum and the ball moved left to allow Tom Pascoe and Chay Smith the opportunity to begin softening up their opposite numbers. Newport worked their way up into the Llanelli 22 metre area before an unfortunate knock-on allowed the visitors to clear back to halfway. Llanelli began setting up patient phases of their own but the home defence was rock-solid, only allowing Llanelli to go side to side until winger John Morris hurried Llanelli number 8 Jack Condy into hurrying a pass that went forward.
The combined front row of Nicky Boyce, Henry Palmer and Garin Harris were awarded a penalty in the 8th minute, forcing the visiting front row to pop out of the scrum. Newport kicked for touch and took a lineout five metres inside the Llanelli half. John Morris was released to attack the navy-shirted visitors but spilled the ball in the process. Llanelli scooped the ball up and worked out of defence. Newport conceded a penalty by not releasing the tackler. Ioan Hughes kicked his team to two metres inside the Newport 22. From the lineout, the referee, Mr Gareth Newman, spotted Ryan James being over-eager in defence and coming into a maul from the side. Visiting full back Dion Jones slotted the penalty with ease to make the score Newport 0 Llanelli 3.
Newport were awarded a 13th minute penalty when Llanelli hooker Taylor Davies was pinged for not releasing the ball in the tackle. The kick was some thirty metres out and relatively straight, but Matt O’Brien’s attempt sailed agonisingly to the right of the posts.
Jon Morris found an excellent running angle in the 21st minute to put the metaphorical cat amongst Llanelli’s pigeons. Geraint O’Driscoll ran hard in support finding Wes Cunliffe to his right. Cunliffe was tackled but Ryan James spun the ball out to Tom Pascoe who found a chink of light to run at. Llanelli hooker Taylor Davies knocked the ball forward giving Newport advantage. However, Newport progressed little further before advantage evaporated and Llanelli could clear the danger.
Newport’s opening score came in the 23rd minute when Ryan James took a quick tap penalty and passed the ball on to Reuben Tucker. Tucker improvised a hack forward for Llanelli’s Dion Jones to boot to touch just ten metres from their try line. Newport second row James Little jumped highest, caught the ball and handed it to the back of the lineout, altering the focal point of the attack. Little looped around and secured himself as the ball-carrier at the tail of the maul. The Newport forwards heaved themselves over the line to allow Little to score the try which put the Black and Ambers ahead. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make the score Newport 7 Llanelli 3.
Jon Morris put in a shuddering, but terrace-pleasing, hit on number 8 Jack Condy in the 27th minute to stop another Llanelli attack. The young winger is quickly gathering a cult following at Rodney Parade with his eagerness in attack and defence. His ‘never say die’ attitude is, at times, something to behold. Let’s hope we see him in Black and Amber for many years to come.
Henry Palmer put in super 29th minute challenge for the ball, getting over the tackled player and amply demonstrating to the referee that the ball wasn’t being released. However, the resulting penalty went directly into the dead ball area. Newport were keeping pressure on themselves. They were beginning to struggle to string phases together and keep the ball for any length of time. Ball-carriers seemed to be happy to biff into a blue shirt rather than look for a supporting runner to let the ball do the work. Llanelli prop Tom Kaijaks rumbled forward from a lineout but was wrapped up in a tackle by Ryan James.
A charge by Wes Cunliffe in the 39th minute was rewarded with a Newport penalty when Llanelli’s tackler failed to release him. Sadly for Newport, Matt O’Brien’s strike was even closer by hitting the right hand upright and bouncing harmlessly away.
The Llanelli try that seemed inevitable arrived in the first minute of stoppage time after Jack Condy broke the Black and Amber defensive wall and found the sprinting Dion Jones to his left. The simple pass was taken and Jones cantered in under the posts. He converted his own try to make the score Newport 7 Llanelli 10 at the break.
Halftime – Newport RFC 7 Llanelli RFC 10
Newport’s coaching team made some personnel changes at half time. On came the massively experienced Tom Riley along with young prospect Lennon Greggains for Tom Pascoe and Dan Mock respectively.
Things didn’t appear to alter much from the first half. Llanelli seemed composed, recycling the ball well and finding runners where Newport, well, didn’t, frankly. Llanelli’s Ioan Hughes picked a path through the Newport defence and put himself just ten metres from the Newport line. Luckily, Llanelli spilled the ball forward allowing Matt O’Brien to find a gap. He passed to Lennon Greggains who, spotting John Morris sprinting along the wing in the shadow of the Bisley stand, put in a grubber kick for Morris to chase. Unfortunately it bobbled away from Morris and slid into touch on the halfway line.
Llanelli conceded a 46th minute penalty for not releasing the tackled player again. O’Brien belted the ball into touch some thirty metres out. Llanelli second row Ben Davies was penalised further for entering the Newport maul at the side. He atoned for his error at the next line out, just fifteen metres out, by easily stealing the ball and relieving the pressure.
Newport were beginning to wobble quite badly and appeared to be hanging on by their fingernails. Visiting number eight Jack Condy, formerly with Cross Keys, took a quick penalty before finding Dion Jones. Jones’ kick through bounced loosely but Geraint O’Driscoll was on hand to clear up and get the ball away but his pass to Chay Smith ended up on the ground. It seemed ominous to Newport supporters when Llanelli were awarded a penalty against the Newport scrum. They opted for a lineout and, in a planned move, Ben Davies moved the ball to Jack Condy peeling around the blind side with hooker Taylor Davies in support. The Newport defence repelled him into touch, but the signs were there. As Newport tried to run their way out of defence, a loose pass went to ground. Llanelli centre Ryan Davies got boot to ball first and kicked ahead. The ball sat up kindly for him to gather and cross near the posts. Dion Jones added the conversion to make it Newport 7 Llanelli 17 on 59 minutes.
A tactical switch saw Adam Brown come on for James Little and Llywarch ap Myrrdin come on for Matt O’Brien with Geraint O’Driscoll moving forward to play at ten. Almost instantly Adam Brown made his presence felt. At a ruck, Brown was on the floor with a hand grabbing at Llanelli wing Thomas Rogers. Rogers, taking exception to this, took two deliberate stamps at Brown while his team mates were running up field for a possible try. An Assistant Referee spotted the misdemeanour and spoke with Mr Newman about the incident. Rogers can count himself fortunate that it was only a penalty awarded against him and nothing else. Newport won the lineout and got themselves into a midfield position before a scrum was awarded, attacking ball. Reuben Tucker went right with the heavy artillery in support. Owen Davies, on at scrum half for Ryan James, could pick big men to attack the line until enough gap came for Dan Partridge to crash over in the corner in front of the Hazell stand. With the conversion missed it was Newport 12 Llanelli 17 and Newport were beginning to tick.
The tactical change was paying off. The calm, steady influence of O’Driscoll was what was needed at this point. Matt O’Brien, an excellent player and all round box-of-tricks took to Twitter that evening to opine “Woeful from a personal point of view but great impact from the bench & great to come out with the win #cotp”.
Newport began to move through the gears a little bit. Replacement prop Matt Prosser was offering himself up as a battering ram, John Morris was looking for more work while Tom Riley’s tackles were, if anything, getting firmer. A 75th minute attack resulted in Llanelli giving away a penalty to keep Newport at bay. Up stepped the nerveless O’Driscoll to take Newport up to 15 points to Llanelli’s 17. The prospect of a grandstand finish was on the cards.
Lennon Greggains found space in the 79th minute to carry the ball before finding Chay Smith in support. He, in turn, found Morris who was tackled into touch, but not before the ball had bounced off a Llanelli jersey. Evan Whitson, the replacement hooker, was judged to have not thrown in to the lineout straight. Had the opportunity passed?
In the third minute of stoppage time, Llanelli’s Jack Condy threw a pass so forward that Joe Montana would have stopped and admired it. Newport had a scrum about 45 metres out. Lennon Greggains once again found space and had a burst at the line only to be hauled down. Adam Brown was next to willingly hurl himself into the melee, setting up the ruck again. The patient play was rewarded when the ball went to Matt Prosser who drove over the line for the clinching try. Geraint O’Driscoll added the two point sheen to make the score Newport 22 Llanelli 17.
There was time for a restart and, with baited breath, the Newport supporters willed the players not to lose possession. The few seconds that the ball was actually in play dragged until Mr Newman blew the whistle for full time. After the week that the club and its supporters had endured, this was a real tonic and the relief was palpable.
Without wanting to stretch a point too much, this game may be viewed as an allegory for the situation the club itself is in. The players were up against well organised opponents and barely hanging on at times. But their tenacity, hard work and talent saw them through to a victory and they will now appear in the Principality Premiership Tier Two play-off final next Saturday, May 20th. Who they face in the final, and where the game will be played, are unknown at the time of writing, so please check www.blackandambers.co.ukduring the week for more information.
It is now, during the coming weeks and months that us Newport supporters have to do just that – support our club. The Friends of Newport Rugby Trust are working on ways to make this happen but none of it is possible without supporters help. The club needs volunteers, cash and many other things this summer. If you think you can help, or know somebody who will, please get in touch with a Trust committee member
In the meanwhile, we have a final to look forward to!
Come on Newport!
Newport Man Of The Match – Geraint O’Driscoll
FINAL SCORE _ Newport RFC 22 Llanelli RFC 17
Match Pics: https://flic.kr/s/aHskUTpdxf