The Black and Ambers hosted Pontypridd after two decent, but unsuccessful, performances against Cardiff and Bedwas respectively. Conversely, Pontypridd managed to beat Ebbw Vale at Eugene Cross Park the previous Friday night and, as us supporters know well, that is no mean feat. So it was with trepidation that Newport supporters gathered in the Bisley stand for this Principality Premiership fixture. Pontypridd, along with Neath RFC, have been the standard-setters in this division for several seasons; to win anything at all you had to beat Pontypridd first. However, nothing in sport lasts forever and Ponty’s fortunes have waned slightly recently so this may well have been as good a time as any to face them. They still represent a fierce challenge to any team and will punish mistakes.
Former Wales International Ceri Sweeney kicked things off at Rodney Parade, booting towards the North Terrace. Newport were in some bother from the outset as lively winger Dale Stuckey made ground towards the Newport line before the home defence leaked penalties for, firstly, not releasing a tackled player then being offside. The visitors made their statement of intent by going for the five-metre line out. Second row Chris Dicomidis claimed the ball for Pontypridd and the ball was mauled left through the soft edges of the Newport pack and over the try line. The referee, Mr Rhys Thomas, couldn’t get a clear view of the grounding and restarted the game with an attacking scrum five metres out. The Newport front row, featuring the fit again John Lavender, buckled their opponents inwards and won their team-mates a relieving free-kick.
Newport progressed steadily up the field when flanker Kyle Tayler managed to steal a Pontypridd throw-in at a line out. The Black and Ambers took the attack patiently, probing for gaps with the odd bludgeon thrown in for good measure. They crept closer to the try line as Matt O’Brien, the outside half, pulled the strings for the attackers. O’Brien’s hands were being watched by the visiting back rowers as they angled passes at varying degrees. One could almost see the breathing chest of the Pontypridd defence responding to O’Brien’s deft passes. Left to right to left went the play before Tom Pascoe found an opening with the flanker Morgan Burgess in support. Burgess took the pop-pass from Pascoe and stretched out an arm to claim the opening try of the night. Matt O’Brien scored the conversion making the score Newport 7 Pontypridd 0 in as many minutes.
Pontypridd, being the admirable team that they are, suckered Newport with a combination of punches that had them reeling. A Ponty move seemed to fall apart after a curiously loose pass from Ceri Sweeney. Newport’s Jon Morris, playing in the centre on this occasion rather than his favoured wing, couldn’t capitalise and the ball squirted out to the left of field. Pontypridd wing Dale Stuckey found acres of room to sprint forward finding his scrum half Dane Blacker in support. Stuckey, as is right and proper, continued in support and received the ball back from Blacker to waltz over in the corner. Then, just two minutes later, they were at it again. Stuckey found that same acre of ground still unprotected and had the Newport players scrambling back in defence. Unfortunately for Newport most players got sucked into the left corner leaving a three on one overlap on the right and it was a simple job for full back Lloyd Rowlands to take the pass and dive over for the second try in the shadow of the Bisley Suite. Fly-half Sweeney missed both conversions to make the score Newport 7 Pontypridd 10 on 13 minutes.
Newport supporters had every right to feel anxious. Their team had been opened up quite easily for two well taken tries and they were shipping penalties like nobody’s business. Those feelings weren’t helped in the 18th minute when Newport, defending desperately, conceded yet another penalty which Ceri Sweeney took advantage of by kicking his team three points further ahead, making the score Newport 7 Pontypridd 13.
Newport, to their credit, kept at it but were undone by their own mistakes, usually. A Newport penalty, for Ponty’s Chris Phillips not rolling away from a tackle, saw Matt O’Brien opt to kick to the corner. A promising situation, but the throw in didn’t find the intended catcher. Visiting hooker Huw Dowden began the clean-up process but he knocked the ball on himself. The resulting attacking scrum to Newport, another great opportunity, saw Mr Thomas penalise the hosts for wheeling the scrum. Two bites at the cherry both snuffed out.
A Pontypridd line out that wasn’t straight had Kyle Tayler all over it at the back of the line as Newport ground a path forward. The purposeful attack put Newport within five metres but Morgan Burgess, a summer acquisition from our visitors, lost the ball in contact. The resulting scrum had Mr Thomas take both front rows to one side as he was clearly tiring of whatever it was these tricksters were getting up to in there.
Things looked brighter for Newport in the 28th minute when former captain Adam Brown stole a Pontypridd line out and the Black and Ambers really took the proverbial fight to the visitors. John Lavender put in a snarling run at the belly of the Black and White defence, pumping his legs as he made contact and set up the ruck. Newport cleaned out over him and carried the move on before Matt O’Brien spotted the overlap; a quick miss-one pass out to Jon Morris enabled him to race over in the corner. Matt O’Brien’s conversion was unsuccessful so the score read Newport 12 Pontypridd 13.
Newport had the wind in their sails. A 34th minute ruck in the Pontypridd 22 metre area resulted in a yellow card for the visitors captain, the talismanic Dafydd Lockyer, when he couldn’t resist putting boot to ball at the base of a ruck to the huge indignation of Newport scrum half Ryan James. Mr Thomas agreed with James’ protests and had little hesitation is sending Lockyer to the sideline for a ten minute contemplate. From the penalty line out Henry Palmer attached himself to the tail of the maul, ball on hip, ready to sniff out the white line. The maul had trouble getting moving before the ball was handed to Adam Brown. Brown found room enough to thrust his tall frame through to crash over the try line but, again, Mr Thomas was unsure of grounding and awarded an attacking scrum. The chance fizzled out when Mr Thomas decided that Newport were more ‘sinning’ than ‘sinned against’ at the dominant scrum and Pontypridd could clear their lines.
Pontypridd had the final say in the half when a Newport attack broke down. A smart training ground move, with players looping around each other and drawing their opponents worked well. Full back Haydn Simons made solid progress for the team but the ball was lost in the ruck. Ponty second row Josh Hawkins burst through the Black and Amber defence but was hauled down. Ceri Sweeney whipped the ball out to scrum half Dane Blacker who put in a mazy run while Dale Stuckey ominously tracked up in support. Blacker drew his last defender, Wes Cunliffe, before releasing Dale Stuckey for his second try and his team’s third. Sweeney added the conversion to make the score Newport 12 Pontypridd 20 on the stroke of half time.
Pontypridd threatened to extend their lead in added time as full back Lloyd Rowlands made a break but he was so intent on finding support that he gave Matt O’Brien time to line him up for the tackle which halted his progress. Pontypridd passed the ball around loosely before Jon Morris got a boot to one stray pass and hacked the ball away to the Pontypridd 22. Ponty centre Aled Summerhill was back in defence before Mr Thomas blew time on a breathless first half of rugby.
Halftime – Newport RFC 12 Pontypridd RFC 20
Newport were doing fine in attack, just tighten up the defence and something good may come out of this game. And so it proved. Newport built a head of steam from Matt O’Brien’s restart. Determined attacking saw Pontypridd resort to some of the desperate tactics that Newport were forced to employ in the first half, straying offside, hands in the ruck etc etc. Ryan James took a penalty in the 43rd minute, barging into Pontypridd prop Will Davies-King to make a point about him not having retreated ten metres and found the powerful Wes Cunliffe to his right. Cunliffe stomped forward, ball under his arm as two black and white shirts clung onto him. Cunliffe managed to cross the line and score Newport’s third try to his, and the Newport supporters, obvious delight. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to narrow the gap to Newport 19 Pontypridd 20.
Newport were getting the upper hand in the exchanges but were still falling foul of refereeing decisions. Getting penalised for offside, say, is one thing but conceding penalties for chopsing is unforgiveable. Hard fought territory was thrown away after lots of hard work due to indiscipline.
Wes Cunliffe’s work for the evening was over as Dragons Academy player Corey Howells made his entrance. Newport pushed and heaved their way forward, Matt O’Brien directing traffic again before Ryan James found a half gap and Haydn Simons found three quarters of a gap in turn and took Newport into the visitors 22. Once again a Pontypridd boot couldn’t resist kicking the ball at the base of the ruck, an occasion which warranted a sin-binning in the first half, which was just punished with a Newport penalty this time. Presumably Mr Thomas had difficulty in being sure who the offender was whereas earlier Dafydd Lockyer made it abundantly clear to everybody within the NP19 postcode what he had done.
Newport were exhibiting a patience and coolness that observers of them were delighted by. There was no need to rush the attack, keep the ball and wait for the chance to present itself, as it surely will. It did so in the 59th minute as Ryan James moved right to bring Corey Howells on to the ball. It would have been easy to think that James had left Howells with too much work to do to score the try, what with three black and white shirted defenders converging on him. Not a bit of it. They, after all, had to stop him. Howells kept running and, almost casually given the circumstances, dotted the ball down in the Bisley corner. Matt O’Brien kicked the tricky conversion to make the score Newport 26 Pontypridd 20.
Pontypridd weren’t going to lie down and let Newport walk away with a win; they were going to have to earn it. A 64th minute try by prop Will Davies-King following a line out and rolling maul was disappointingly soft and the conversion by replacement outside half Diggy Bird notched the scores to Newport 26 Pontypridd 27.
Newport went on the attack again, O’Brien utilised the directness of Tom Pascoe more as the clock ticked on and it paid dividends on 70 minutes when Mr Thomas gave a shrill blast and awarded Newport a penalty from some 45 metres out and at an angle. O’Brien clearly fancied a go at it with some justification; it sailed between the uprights convincingly to put Newport 29 – 27 ahead.
When the backline needed tightening up it was Tom Pascoe who seemed to take on the responsibility, steeling his Desperate Dan jawline and tackling, bludgeoning and probing his mates forward. His finest point came in stoppage time when, under considerable pressure, he managed to put in a super relieving kick which arced forward and rolled into touch in the Pontypridd 22 on the Bisley side. Newport retrieved the ball and put in a disciplined set of rucks which kept the ball just far enough away from a Pontypridd hand until the clock had wound down fully and replacement scrum half Owen Davies could kick the ball off the field to secure Newport’s first win of the season.
This was an excellent game of rugby played by two very talented and able teams. What an advertisement for the Principality Premiership! Eight tries and 56 points scored tells its own tale. The Newport squad can and should take much heart from this performance. It was a full-blooded contest for the full ninety minutes of rugby played and was all done at quite a pace. I don’t recall seeing such a ‘fast’ game for some time.
Newport RFC are next in action on Saturday 16th September when they visit Ebbw Vale RFC in a Principality Premiership fixture. The following Saturday, the 23rd September, they visit champions Merthyr Tydfil. The Friends of Newport Rugby Trust are looking at organising buses to these games. If you would like to travel with them please make yourself known as soon as possible. The next home game in the Principality Premiership is on a revised date, as Bargeod RFC visit on Sunday October 1st. Please try and make the effort to get to this game, the club needs your support!
One City. One Club. Come on Newport! #cotp
Newport Man Of The Match – Haydn Simons
FINAL SCORE _ Newport RFC 29 Pontypridd RFC 27
Pictures from Simon Latham:https://flic.kr/s/aHsm47BjAh
Pictures from Ron Sutcliffe: https://www.flickr.com/photos/147517109@N03/sets/72157686013310980/