Newport RFC made their first journey to the improved Wern since 2010 for this Principality Premiership fixture. Merthyr are, of course, the reigning champions but have been suffering with a fairly bad hangover, having lost three of their first four fixtures and suffered the loss of coach Lee Jarvis to boot. It was with this knowledge that Newport knew they would be facing a fired-up team looking to get their season on track. One could make a strong argument that the Ironmen were the one team last year that beat Newport convincingly when they outscored the Black and Ambers by 26 – 50 at Rodney Parade. Merthyr were irresistible but Newport still managed to sneak a try bonus point off them, something that they were denying most sides at the time.
Matt O’Brien got the game underway and Newport demonstrated their intent from the outset. Morgan Burgess climbed highest at a fourth minute line out to feed Ryan James at scrum half. James whipped the ball away but a tackle in midfield halted play. The referee, Mr Craig Evans, penalised the Merthyr hooker, Matthew Dwyer, for not rolling away from the tackle area, being unconvinced that his flapping around like a freshly landed fish were a serious attempt to extricate himself from the situation. Matt O’Brien punted the ball to the corner. The line out was successful as Newport rumbled toward the try line but Mr Evans judged that lock Gavin Bilton was held up and couldn’t award the try. The Ironmen were let off the hook completely when Mr Evans awarded Merthyr a penalty at the resulting scrum five.
Merthyr soon found their feet. A ninth minute move with lots of inter-passing, in which former Osprey Joe Bearman was prominent, resulted in a try for centre Arron Pinches when Newport simply ran out of defenders. Full back Matthew Jarvis slotted the conversion to make the score Merthyr 7 Newport 0.
Newport’s persistence in attack was rewarded with a try of their own on sixteen minutes. Rhys Cresswell palmed down a line out ball to Ryan James who put in a monstrous kick for Jon Morris to hunt down. Morris arrived at the defence only a second or two behind the ball and hauled the green, white and yellow shirted defender into touch. Morgan Burgess snaffled the ball away and took a quick line out to Matt O’Brien who drilled a grubber kick toward the Merthyr posts. The Ironmen made a right mess of clearing the ball up which allowed Chay Smith to pounce, secure possession before popping the ball up into the hands of the onrushing Geraint O’Driscoll to score the try. Matt O’Brien added the extra two points to bring the score to seven points each.
Parity didn’t last for long. Merthyr responded by grinding their way up field and, following a penalty award, opted for a line out in the corner. The rolling maul was efficient as the Ironmen rolled on and the inevitable try came on nineteen minutes when their captain, Craig Locke, extended an arm to touch the ball down behind the Newport line. Matthew Jarvis added the conversion to make it Merthyr 14 Newport 7.
Another Merthyr try followed soon afterwards when winger Stef Andrews got his name on the board. Merthyr worked hard to find the gaps in the Newport defence and were rewarded with a big four – on – two overlap on the left of field. The ballooned pass from centre Arron Pinches was a slight opportunity to halt the move but it went over a despairing Newport hand and centre Harri Millard simply had to draw the Black and Amber defender and release his wing with a basic passing move. Simple rugby well executed. Merthyr 19 Newport 7.
Newport were not going to roll over, however. After Alex Everett was not released in a tackle, Newport went to the corner. Gavin Bilton broke from the back of a rolling maul to try and power his way to a try but was held up. Newport had the advantage and tried again, this time bringing Tom Pascoe onto the ball at speed. Newport kept the advantage as Pascoe was high-tackled. Newport tried to keep the tempo up by taking the penalty quickly but it was ruthlessly smothered by the Ironmen defence.
Newport scored a second try with some excellent improvised handling. The ball emerged from the base of a ruck and scruffily got itself into Matt O’Brien’s hands. O’Brien then moved it on as best he could with the defence almost on him. Tom Pascoe took the ball at the second attempt, neatly sidestepping defenders as he did so, before securing the ball and crossing for the try. Matt O’Brien slotted the two-pointer to make it Merthyr 19 Newport 14 on 29 minutes.
When Newport conceded a 33rd minute penalty for not releasing in the tackle, about forty metres from their try line, the kick to the corner and line out / rolling maul option was thoroughly predictable but hugely difficult to stop. Matthew Dwyer followed the Hooker’s Handbook to the letter by attaching himself to the back of the rolling maul and was rewarded with a try. The score was now Merthyr 24 Newport 14.
There were moments towards the end of the first half that Newport threatened to be overwhelmed in defence as waves of Merthyr attacks kept coming but Newport kept hitting them over and, to the players credit, stuck at the task and didn’t back down. When Newport were penalised for offside on 39 minutes there was an air of inevitability about what happened next. Merthyr opted for the corner and executed a cute training ground move where flanker Joe Bearman peeled around from the back of the line to the front to touch down where a Newport defender had been but had been pulled out of place. Luckily for Newport, Matthew Jarvis hadn’t brought his kicking boots or the half time score could have been a lot worse than Merthyr 29 Newport 14.
Halftime – Merthyr Tydfil RFC 29 Newport RFC 14
Merthyr outside half Ben Jones restarted proceedings but, almost immediately, Morgan Burgess proved over-eager in defence and slapped the ball down. Mr Evans awarded Merthyr a penalty as the Black and Amber supporters put their head in their hands as the seemingly inevitable try was coming. At the line out Newport cleverly stood off the Merthyr players and let them concede the accidental offside. Newport were then awarded a penalty of their own which was taken quickly enabling Alex Everett to find space and carry the ball out of defence and right up into the Merthyr half. Newport were on the front foot but the move seemed to die out through indecision as much as anything else.
Newport were trying to shift the ball out of defence when a break came during the 52nd minute. The ball was being moved well as the Black and Ambers probed and prodded the defence but it took a little magic from Chay Smith to take the ball on the wing, perform a David Campese-style hitch kick and sprint past the defending winger. The move found him in acres of space and Smith simply had to turn the corner-flagging hooker, Dwyer, inside out before he crossed unopposed for a super solo effort. Matt O’Brien added the simple-looking conversion making the score Merthyr 29 Newport 21.
Merthyr’s cause wasn’t helped when their number 8, Phil Rees, was invited to sit on the naughty step on 55 minutes for tackling Matt Prosser without the ball.
The Ironmen increased their lead minutes later when they were being denied a path through the Black and Amber curtain. Wing Kyle Evans had nowhere to go other than kick through, turning defender Harri Lang, and back himself to win the race to the ball. Evans is quick and won that race but Lang was closing in as he grounded the ball. Matthew Jarvis scored the conversion to make the score Merthyr 36 Newport 21 on 57 minutes.
The hour mark signalled a mass of changes from the Newport bench. On came John Lavender, Will Evans, Garin Harris, Kyle Tayler, Owen Davies and Adam Sabri who were introduced to add a different dimension to the attack.
Merthyr, by now back to full strength, scored their final try of the day on 70 minutes. They were attacking strongly, Joe Bearman found a super angle to cut the Newport line with. It looked as though he might score again until Geraint O’Driscoll lined him up and sat him on his backside. The Ironmen huffed and puffed at the Newport defence until flanker Osian Davies crossed the line draped in Black and Amber shirts. Mr Evans clearly felt convinced that the try should be awarded. Matthew Jarvis added the conversion to make the score Merthyr 43 Newport 21.
There have been Newport teams of relatively recent vintage that would have folded at this point. They would have been 22 points adrift at the home of the league champions and would have run the white flag up the pole. Not this lot. The Black and Ambers kept at the job in hand. As the Merthyr forwards visibly tired, the Newport forwards held their heads up, breathed in, breathed out and ran harder.
There was a scare on 75 minutes when outside half Ben Jones cut the defence to ribbons with a beautiful line. He passed to supporting flanker Osian Davies who made a kick towards the Newport try line. Jonny Morris seemed to have it covered but the ball squirted backwards into the Newport in-goal area. Mr Evans debated at some length with his assistants as to whether a Newport or a Merthyr hand got to the ball first. The decision was that Newport had grounded the ball and the pressure was released.
Newport worked their way back up field and went looking for the bonus point try. Merthyr were penalised for flopping over ruck, so Newport, seeing that Merthyr were struggling to catch their breath, took the quick tap and ran. Chay Smith made good yards as Newport bashed away at their hosts. Soon Alex Everett made a break and created the overlap which Newport flanker Joe Cullimore was on hand to exploit. Matt O’Brien’s conversion drifted wide to make the score Merthyr 43 Newport 26.
Into injury time and Newport were committed to attacking. They pulled off what might well be the try of this, or any, season. It was a breath-taking display of high skill levels and good execution whilst fatigued and pressurised. Morgan Burgess had possession while a Merthyr player pulled his jersey over his head. Burgess extracted the ball from this situation for Matt O’Brien to pull off two audacious passes that might only usually be done while warming up for a training session. Jon Morris managed to pass the ball around his head before moving it on. It was like watching the Harlem Globetrotters playing rugby, terrific stuff. The move was finished by replacement wing Curtis Ayling for Matt O’Brien to convert. Seriously, if this try isn’t a contender for Principality Building Society try of the month, if not the season, then there is something badly wrong somewhere. If you do get to see it in full, try watching it and not whistling Sweet Georgia Brown to yourself.
A hugely entertaining game and, yet again, Newport RFC are involved in a fixture that is a superb advert for the Principality Premiership. The coaching team may feel that there are lessons to be learned by our young squad, and there surely are, but overall the performance must have pleased them. The determination to keep battling was outstanding and a single bonus point as a reward almost seemed harsh. Merthyr Tydfil RFC were good value for their win, mind, they were clinical at times and hugely efficient, particularly at rolling mauls from the line out while a strong scrum gave them a platform to launch all sorts of attacks from. They will be there, or thereabouts, come silverware time.
Next up for Newport RFC is the visit of Bargoed RFC to Rodney Parade. This is a Principality Premiership fixture and takes place next Sunday, October 1st and kick off is at 2.30pm. The club needs your support. Please try and come to the game, your support can make a lot of difference to your club.
Onwards and upwards.
Come on ‘the ‘Port! #cotp
Man Of The Match – Alex Everett
FINAL SCORE _ Merthyr Tydfil RFC 43 Newport RFC 33Match pictures from Simon Latham: https://simonlatham.smugmug.com/17-09-23-Merthyr-v-Newport/