It was an unusual prospect, Newport RFC playing so far into the start of the cricket season whilst not being on tour. This explained the 7.30pm kick off time for a Saturday fixture as Newport RFC’s Principality Premiership Tier Two Final opponents, Neath RFC, who ground share with the town’s cricket team, were committed to a fixture that day against Cardiff CC so the rugby had to wait until the cricket was over before they could set up the ground.
Neath’s outside half, Gavin Evans, kicked off toward the covered terrace and Newport immediately knocked on. The scrum had barely settled when the referee, Mr Gareth Newman, who officiated at Rodney Parade last Saturday against Llanelli RFC, penalised Newport for turning in the scrum. Up stepped Neath’s deadly accurate full back, Ed Howley for a shot at goal and the opening score of the game. Neath took the lead against Newport 3-0 in the second minute.
Newport launched themselves at Neath in response. Hooker Henry Palmer ran at the defence before setting up the ruck, Ryan James passed the ball right to Adam Brown whose improvised ‘basketball-style’ pass was knocked on by Neath. Number eight Reuben Tucker gathered the ball playing with the advantage but the ball was lost in tackle. A scrum to Neath made it two weeks running where Mr Newman gave very little advantage after an infringement. Further, the Newport scrum was again penalised ensuring all the good approach work was undone.
Newport full back Llywarch ap Myrddin lofted a high ball forward in the 7th minute for Elliot Frewen to chase which, naturally, he did whole-heartedly. He reached the ball first and barged into Neath second row Rhys Jones while successfully wrestling himself and ball to the floor. Ryan James whipped the ball out to flanker Lennon Greggains who showed a tenacity, strength and focus beyond his experience to power over for the opening try of the evening. Geraint O’Driscoll was on hand to kick the conversion to make it Neath 3 Newport 7.
Neath replied by trying to move the ball and probe the Newport defence for gaps, only to find that there were none. Newport were defending on the half way line very well and, as usual, the opposition became frustrated and booted the ball to touch. It was an excellent defensive effort by the Black and Ambers. However, the usually dependable line out was misfiring slightly, an aspect that would need to be tightened up if Newport had aspirations to win the game.
Neath gained a little momentum in the 15th minute as the piled forward but they weren’t particularly doing so in numbers. The only way that ploy was going to work was if they could find a penalty in the tackle situation. It duly came when Mr Newman adjudged Jon Morris as not releasing a tackled player quickly enough. Neath kicked for the line, about fifteen metres out on the cricket club side. Home scrum half Chris Morgans had a thrust at the line, as did second row Jon Barley but both were repelled. The Neath scrum came, a few metres from the Newport line, and the visitors were penalised yet again. Neath, tasting blood, opted for a reset scrum. This time the scrum wheeled but was judged legal and Geraint O’Driscoll hammered the ball into touch near the half way line.
Newport’s penalty count was creeping up as they were pinged again in the 24th minute for not releasing the tackled player. Neath’s Ed Howley slotted the thirty metre effort easily to make it Neath 6 Newport 7.
Neath were starting to look properly dangerous. Newport were conceding penalties for a pastime and the Blacks were managing to find gaps to run through. Scrum half Chris Morgans, a very direct player, broke to find number eight Leon Ward in support. Ward reached Newport’s 22 before Jon Morris hauled him down. As Newport re-grouped they were caught offside. Ed Howley again slotted the penalty to put Neath ahead again, 9-7 on 30 minutes.
Newport took the lead minutes later when the Neath captain, flanker Jordan Collier, was penalised for breaking from the scrum early. Geraint O’Driscoll kicked the penalty to make it Neath 9 Newport 10 on 33 minutes.
The penalty situation didn’t improve and the 35th minute saw Newport prop Nicky Boyce sent to the naughty step for ten minutes after Mr Newman decided that he’d seen hands in the ruck too many times. With the numerical advantage Neath tried to finish the half strongly. A splendid kick through by Ed Howley for his winger Aaron Grabham to chase almost paid dividends only for the ball to agonisingly roll into touch just a few metres from the Newport line, a let off for the Black & Ambers. Henry Palmer threw a long ball into the line out to Reuben Tucker and Neath let Newport off the hook completely when a player was seen to not support his own weight at a ruck. Penalty to Newport, danger averted. O’Driscoll cleared the ball back to halfway to try and run down the clock to half time. But Neath weren’t quite finished yet. Aaron Grabham demonstrated how dangerous he could be by powering through would-be tacklers while Neath open side Charlie Davies ran half the length of the field, ball in hand, before being halted by Llywarch ap Myrddin. Luckily for Newport, the pass away from contact to the supporting Chris Morgans was knocked on. From the scrum, Ryan James hoofed the ball into touch to bring the first half to a close.
Halftime – Neath RFC 9 Newport RFC 10
Geraint O’Driscoll kicked off the second half with Newport playing towards the covered terrace. A returning high ball was taken by second row Dan Partridge who passed to Garin Harris. Harris found O’Driscoll who made a break and passed to Chay Smith in support who, in turn, found Elliot Frewen. Frewen made a sprint for the line only to be bundled in to touch, just metres out, as he tried to turn himself away from the touch line and ground the ball. This was a real statement of attacking intent by Newport.
Nicky Boyce returned to the field only to be replaced on the naughty step by Garin Harris who Mr Newman had felt had conceded too many penalties for turning-in at the scrum. He was replaced by Tom Piper, making his fiftieth appearance in a Newport RFC shirt and, as it turned out, may have been a factor in Neath’s later performance. Harris’ opposite number, Ben Uphill, had appeared to be on a par with him and potentially causing Harris a few problems, However, Tom Piper with a slightly shorter stature seemed to excel at getting under Uphill and into his chest, which is, as any prop will tell you, exactly what you want. Uphill’s earlier apparent goading of Harris soon ebbed away and, before long, he limped off to play no further part in the game.
Still down to fourteen players, a Neath scrum on Newport’s 22-metre line yielded a try straight off the training pitch as the ball went through the hands for winger Geraint Llewellyn to find space on the outside where John Morris would have been had he not had to yield for Tom Piper. Ed Howley missed the conversion so the score no was Neath 14 Newport 10 on 47 minutes.
Newport were still down one player when they scored their next try. Elliot Frewen lead the charge into midfield before being tackled. Scrum half Owen Davies, on for Ryan James, had time to pick his runners before finding Tom Piper in yards of space. Piper ran from the Neath 22 metres line to a few metres out from the try line before being tackled. Davies passed the ball left quickly where Dan Partridge took possession and cantered across the line unopposed. The conversion was missed so the score stood at Neath 14 Newport 15 on 52 minutes.
The evidence of Neath beginning to unfurl was there to see when the restart went straight into touch and the Neath conceded a penalty at the resulting scrum on the centre spot.
Newport were beginning to dominate all facets of the game. The scrum niggles had worked themselves out, the lineout was more dependable and Neath were struggling to find answers. Henry Palmer was prominent as the close-quarter drives took Newport up field. Neath were being stretched but wouldn’t quite break until a mass punch-up took place on the hour mark. Once it subsided, Mr Newman took the advice of his assistant and it was felt that Newport’s Rhodri Jones and Neath’s Jon Barley could carry on their philosophical debate on the sidelines for ten minutes. However, the penalty for punching stood for Newport and Geraint O’Driscoll extended the Black and Ambers lead to 14-18.
Llywarch ap Myrddin chose a line that took him up to ten metres from the Neath line on 66 minutes. Once tackled, he set the ruck ball up for Owen Davies to find the sprinting Geraint O’Driscoll coming onto the ball at pace with enough room to evade the covering defence and dive across the line for Newport’s third try and effectively slam the door shut on any hopes Neath had of winning this game. O’Driscoll converted his own try to make the score Neath 14 Newport 25.
Neath had become ragged and inaccurate but still physical and determined but the game was up for them. Newport, however, were looking for more. Tom Pascoe was trying to put Chay Smith in position when Neath centre Max Llewellyn picked the pass off and looked to get wing Geraint Llewellyn away. The pass, however, bounced loose for a retreating Reuben Tucker to gather and remount the charge towards the Neath line. Geraint O’Driscoll put a grubber kick in to chase himself but was knocked-on under pressure just metres from the line.
As the game wore on, Newport were demonstrably superior across the park. A strong shove at a Neath scrum some 35 metres out resulted in a penalty to Newport which O’Driscoll kicked to the corner with laser-guided accuracy. Adam Brown jumped to take the throw and an effective maul formed around him. Neath did enough, however, to get bodies under the ball and prevent the try. The resulting scrum was a thing a beauty. A Newport attacking scrum, five metres out, and Piper, Palmer and Boyce had their opposite numbers in all sorts of trouble. The pack slowly marched forward, ominously, as Neath boots, hands and kitchen sinks were thrown in to prevent the heave. Mr Newman, quite correctly, judged that the try was going to be scored and the entire Neath back row had broken away to try and prevent that. A penalty try was the decision and O’Driscoll had the simple task of converting that to make the score Neath 14 Newport 32 on 80 minutes.
Newport kept going into injury time with the constant singing of an exceptional level of travelling support ringing around the Gnoll, but no further scoring took place before the referee blew for full time and Newport RFC were crowned Principality Premiership Tier Two Champions.
It has been thirteen years since Newport RFC had won silverware of any kind in the fifteen man format and this was a reward for a group of players, good, honest players, who have bought in to the ethos instilled in them by the coaching team. All the hard work, the weights and fitness on cold January evenings, the frustration when things go wrong and the mental ability to move past it and go again seem worth it on rare occasions like this. Equally, the coaching staff who spend long hours working on drills and WhatsApp-ing each other late into the night with ideas. They’ve earned the reward too. The physios, who patch the players up and get through roll upon roll of bandage and electrical tape. Who have to try and convince some players that, no, you’re quite badly injured and you’d best not carry on. They’ve earned this as well. The team management who spend hours of each and every day trying to arrange training sessions, getting players to grounds and sorting out the logistical problems associated with running a rugby team. They, too, have earned their day in the sun.
As the season draws to a close some players will be moving on to other clubs, some may be finishing with the game altogether. To them the club gives thanks and hope that the little medal that you now have in you back pocket is something to remember Newport RFC by in years to come. The club wishes you good luck and much success unless, of course, you’re playing against Newport RFC! The vast majority of the squad have signed up for next season with a few interesting signatories still to come and we look forward to welcoming them next pre-season, just a few short weeks away.
The hard work is only just beginning for the Friends of Newport Rugby Trust. With the sale of the ground on July 1st, a new club structure will need to be put in place; a new Board of Directors and a new management committee will need to be appointed as well as a whole host of more prosaic issues. It’s a daunting thought but one that will be overcome. If the squad can do it, so can the Trust. What both the Trust and the club need now is support. Whether it is volunteers, cash, ideas or something that hasn’t even been though about yet, get in touch. Lots more detail will be forthcoming as the summer progresses. Please look at www.blackandambers.co.uk and www.fonr.co.uk regularly for updates.
Enjoy your summer!
Come on ‘the ‘Port! #cotp
Man Of The Match – Geraint O’Driscoll
FINAL SCORE _ Neath RFC 14 Newport RFC 32