Merthyr RFC vs Newport RFC – 10th March 2018 by John Evans
It was nice to get some Principality Premiership rugby back after the recent
postponements due to the weather. First our fixture against Pontypridd was frozen off
and then the visit to Bedwas fell victim, as did every other game in Wales bar one, to the ‘Beast From The East’ weather system that left the country under a few inches of snow. The Newport squad were champing at the bit to get going again but their five match winning streak would be sorely tested at The Wern, home of champions Merthyr RFC. Heavy rain had flooded fields in the area so the hosts artificial pitch proved its worth by providing a super surface for both teams to play rugby on.
Matt O’Brien, Newport’s acting captain in the prolonged absence of Rhys Jenkins, opened proceedings by kicking off towards the Leisuretime Stand, a squat terrace backing onto the road alongside the ground. The heavyweight Merthyr pack took the ball and both sides set about feeling each other out, probing for weaknesses. Elliot Frewen served notice of his intentions by taking a catch cleanly and then dancing around five green, white and yellow shirts in roughly the same amount of ground taken up by a phone box. Geraint O’Driscoll settled matters down by kicking for touch, the ball rolling dead on the Merthyr 22 metre line. The Ironmen launched an attack but got no further than centre Arron Pinches before he met the beefy right shoulder of Tom Pascoe and the ball arced forward and into Newport’s possession. Owen Davies, starting at scrumhalf, salvaged a ball from a creaking Newport scrum and fed Matt O’Brien whose splendid touch-finder again put pressure on Merthyr. The home lineout was overthrown and flanker Kyle Tayler was first on the deck to salvage it. Joe Bartlett drove on and set up the ruck before O’Brien again took the pass. O’Brien’s kick selection was perfect as he gently tapped the ball behind the onrushing defence allowing Tom Pascoe to latch on and cross under the posts untouched on four minutes. O’Brien added the conversion to make the score Merthyr 0 Newport 7.
Merthyr RFC don’t do lying down, so waves of attack came back at the Black and Ambers. Home prop Joe Rees used brute strength to rip a ball away in a tackle and the Ironmen were off again. Outside half Gareth Davies tried an O’Brien-like kick to release his wings but Geraint O’Driscoll was on hand to clear away the mess. Even though he was partly snagged by home flanker Osian Davies he did enough to clear the lines. Ironman Ben Sier won the resulting lineout and the forwards biffed and bashed away at the Black and Amber wall. They got as far as Newport five-metre line before Jonny Morris was pinged for offside, such was his eagerness to make the tackle. Predictably Merthyr captain Craig Locke opted to go to the corner and barge their way over the Newport line. They spoiled their own build up when the ball went to ground and was knocked forward. Newport were off the hook for now. However, the Ironmen kept the pressure on, trying to twist and turn the Newport scrum until they were awarded another penalty. The option for the corner was taken again but their position was spoiled, this time by midfield inaccuracies that saw a pass cannon off a Merthyr shoulder.
The game began to open up a little during the second quarter, Newport were back in the Merthyr half for the first time in some minutes. A pass from Tom Pascoe, intended for a loop-around runner that never came, went to ground allowing home centre Tom Riley, formerly of this parish, to boot the ball ahead for wing Kristian Phillips to chase. Newport’s Jonny Morris was back covering and cleared the immediate danger. Merthyr’s Pinches ran back at the Newport defence and broke a number of attempted tackles before being halted around Newport’s 22-metre line. Newport were caught offside at the tackle so Merthyr opted to go to the corner again and trust their impressively powerful lineout to yield results. Craig Locke took the ball in mid-air for Merthyr and hooker Rhys Williams attached himself to the back of the juggernaut of a maul to score a try. Full back Matthew Jarvis kicked the conversion to tie the scores at seven points apiece and 28 minutes played.
Merthyr rode their luck a little as an overthrown lineout on the home 22 metre line was nearly snaffled again by Kyle Tayler but a boot snatched it away from him and improvised passes saw the ball reach the wider channels quickly. Merthyr seemed to be away before Newport’s Haydn Palmer read a pass well and intercepted before kicking the Ironmen back to their own 22 to start again. From the lineout Kyle Tayler and Merthyr’s Joe Rees didn’t see eye to eye about something. The referee, Mr Robert Price, consulted with his assistants but it couldn’t be ascertained who had done what to whom and in which order. Both captains were spoken to but it sent a message to Merthyr that Newport, too, weren’t about to roll over.
Elliot Frewen was again auditioning for a spot on ‘Strictly’ when he pinballed past defenders but he managed to get too far away from his support and was legally robbed of possession. His mates had other ideas though and Morgan Burgess and Frewen himself managed to isolate the speedy home wing Kyle Evans, gaining a penalty in the process. Matt O’Brien kicked Newport up into the Merthyr 22 and won the lineout cleanly. O’Brien was full of tricks, standing defenders up by showing the ball and moving elsewhere, his sprite-like running appearing to mesmerise the home defence. He was awarded a penalty when home flanker Nick White was adjudged to have not been supporting his own bodyweight at the ruck while trying to regain the ball. O’Brien jumped up, banged the penalty over and jogged back for the restart, Merthyr 7 Newport 10 on 39 minutes.
Merthyr had the last word of the half as outside half Gareth Davies angled a kick for Kyle Evans to hunt. Owen Davies bundled the ball into touch on the five metre line. The same routine followed, Locke up, set up the rolling maul for Rhys Williams to join the tail end of and over for the try, almost a direct copy of their first. Matthew Jarvis skewed his conversion to make the score Merthyr 12 Newport 10 as the two teams left the field for half time.
Halftime – Merthyr RFC 12 Newport RFC 10
Merthyr restarted as Gareth Davies kicked right, towards the backs, rather than towards the forwards. Merthyr popped up with the ball but Elliot Frewen gained possession and moved the ball away. Newport were passing right to left under pressure but composed themselves well enough to get the ball away from trouble. Kyle Tayler carried on his good work from the first half and showed up well as the game opened up. The tweak in the Newport tactics wasn’t obvious at first but soon became apparent as the Black and Ambers seemed to don their best cavalier hats and run everything and anything from any point on the field. Newport no.8 Alex Everett put in a smashing tackle on Merthyr’s big second row Ben Sier that had him spill the ball and hand Newport possession back.
It was all-hands-on-deck at times as hooker Henry Palmer executed a Gethin Jenkins-esque turnover as Ironman Justin James hung onto the ball for a fraction too long in the tackle but it came to no avail as the resulting penalty saw the ball overthrown at the lineout and the next scrum splinter somewhat as the Ironmen tried to squeeze the life out of Newport RFC.
The two teams exchanged penalties on 61 and 63 minutes, Newport off their feet at a ruck allowing Matthew Jarvis a shot at goal then Merthyr offside. Matt O’Brien’s kick was excellent, low and hard into the gusting wind to make the score Merthyr 15 Newport 13.
Merthyr could have put Newport to bed in the 68th minute when Jonny Morris was caught defending a three-on-one overlap. The timing and execution of the tackle would be everything in this instance. Morris’ technique was perfect as he tackled the ball carrier and wrapped up the ball in one motion. Newport kept battling away as the clock slowly ticked down and were rewarded with a 71st minute penalty. Matt O’Brien lined up the kick, about 32 metres out and slightly right of the posts before it sailed over making it Merthyr 15 Newport 16.
Newport were throwing everything at Merthyr, keeping the ball doggedly until Kyle Tayler accidentally ran into big Dan Partridge giving the Ironmen the scrum. Ryan James, on for Owen Davies, hassled the Merthyr scrum half James to distraction and Newport, somehow, came up with the loose ball. Sadly the passes after were inaccurate and the ball was knocked on.
The Black and Ambers were riding their luck until Merthyr’s power and organisation seemed to catch up with them. Will Evans, on for Henry Palmer, became isolated and clung to the ball when tackled. A stone cold penalty on 78 minutes from a very kickable position, made worse for Newport supporters when the ball was handed to Merthyr replacement Richard Powell, previously at Bedwas, and well-known for being a deadly accurate kicker. Merthyr 18 Newport 16 and Newport supporters feared the worst.
Thankfully the Newport players have faith in their own abilities and took another roll of the dice. Andrew Mann, on early in the half for Joe Bartlett, set up a ruck, Ryan James made a kick along the touchline for Elliot Frewen to chase but the whitewash beat all of them. And that really did appear to be the end of Newport’s chances. Then, the miracle that Newport supporter’s had prayed for occurred. Merthyr knocked on from the lineout and Newport launched a determined set of attacks. Newport went through multiple phases while playing advantage until a Merthyr jersey appeared on the Newport side of the ruck, lying over the ball. What a cataclysmic error by Merthyr and what a gift for Newport. Mr Price had the easy job of awarding Newport a penalty which Matt O’Brien, seemingly the coolest head in the ground, slotted without fuss to make the score Merthyr 18 Newport 19 on 80+3 minutes. If you listen hard, around tea-time on Tuesday evening, you may possibly hear Merthyr coach Dale McIntosh giving his forwards a rocket that they may well never forget and he’ll be quite justified.
There was one last minute to play. Newport took the restart and set up the ruck knowing a single mistake could undo all of their hard work. John Lavender picked up the ball and carried it another metre forward setting up the ruck again before Ryan James picked up the ball and casually jogged into touch to bring the game to a close. The look of elation on the faces of the Black and Ambers, players and supporters alike, showed what a victory against the odds that was at the home of the champions. You can rest assured that the Ironmen will be in the final mix for honours again this season.
Newport have now won six games in a row, no mean feat, and it was Merthyr’s first home defeat since September 9th 2017 when Bedwas visited. That was quite a performance, one to be proud of. It was reasonably straightforward in awarding Matt O’Brien man of the match too. His tactical nous, execution of both simple and complex tasks and utterly nerveless goal-kicking was what saw Newport over the line.
Newport RFC are next in action on Friday March 16th when they visit the Brewery Field to take on Bridgend RFC. The Ravens appear to have had an epic performance at Pontypridd on Saturday and seemed very unlucky to come away with an ‘L’ in their back pocket. You can be assured that they will want to go one better next time and will see Newport RFC at home as just the place to start. Beyond that, Newport RFC’s next home game is on Sunday March 25th when Neath RFC visit in a Principality Premiership fixture.
Come on Newport! #cotp
Newport Man Of The Match – Matt O’Brien
FINAL SCORE _ Merthyr RFC 18 Newport RFC 19
Match Pictures from Simon Latham: click