Following on from the excellent win by the team up at Merthyr in their last Principality Premiership match much was expected for a visit to the Brewery Field. Bridgend RFC haven’t had the best of time in the league this season, languishing in the bottom third and on a losing streak nearly as long as Newport’s wining one, but while Newport were squeezing past the Ironmen, the Ravens managed to notch 37 points at Pontypridd and still lose. Confidence at the Brewery Field was clearly shaky but ability, evidently, was high.
It was a still, cool evening at Bridgend as the home outside half Jamie Murphy, who had a brief spell with the Black and Ambers a few years ago, kicked off. The ball was returned to the hosts as it was kicked back and Bridgend began to prod and poke the Black and Amber defence. They were keeping the ball quite well until a pass to centre Stuart Floyd-Ellis cannoned off his shoulder and Newport began to throw the ball around and look for weaknesses themselves. Very soon, Ravens flanker and captain, Adam O’Driscoll was penalised for fringing offside at a ruck. Newport’s Matt O’Brien lined up the 45 metre penalty shot and banged it over to open the scoring, making it Bridgend 0 Newport 3 on 2 minutes.
Newport were penalised for a high tackle soon after. Bridgend’s Murphy aimed for the corner but didn’t find touch. Newport worked their way out of defence until the hosts conceded a penalty themselves on the halfway line for trying to play the ball on the floor. Matt O’Brien booted Newport up to the 22 metre line and tried to launch an attack from there. The fingertip passing along the backline was pleasing on the eye until the pass to Tom Pascoe was too far in advance of him and the ball went to ground. Bridgend were onto the loose ball the quickest and built up phases of possession until wing Ryan Griffiths cut a line through midfield. He had full back Jonny Phillips rushing up in support but he was tackled on the Newport five metre line and the ball put into touch. From the lineout, Bridgend took the throw-in and set up the maul. Scrum half Connor Tantum peeled right but, somehow, managed to lose possession of the ball in the act of touching down. Newport were off the hook for now. A massive defensive effort was still required as the referee, Mr Gareth John, penalised Newport at the scrum for boring in. Bridgend hurled themselves at the Newport line but found nothing. Garin Harris flattened flanker Dafi Davies, John Lavender, playing his 50th game for Newport, flattened Tantum and, once Bridgend were forced to expand play, wing Jonny Morris flattened Jonny Phillips. Eventually centre Nathan Edwards was pressured into knocking the ball forward and Newport could start looking back up-field. The danger wasn’t quite over yet as Matt O’Brien’s attempted clearance was charged down by Bridgend’s Jamie Murphy but the loose ball bounced kindly for O’Brien and the ball was cleared at the second time of asking.
Kyle Tayler was doing the destructive unseen work that backrows are renowned for when ripping the ball clear from blue-clad arms in a maul and launching a Newport attack. Jonny Morris was sent chasing kicks to the corner and it almost paid off when Tom Pascoe found space on the right for Morris to chase in to. Unfortunately Jonny Morris managed to knock the ball forward as he tried to elude full back Jonny Phillips.
The game was developing into a hard attritional battle. Bridgend were defending with energy and numbers and it would take some effort to subdue the Ravens. A decent start was made when scrum half Ryan James used all of his wily, streetwise know-how to make sure that a pass from a ruck made contact with Bridgend flanker Dafi Davies’ backside as it protruded and gained a penalty. Matt O’Brien did the job with the goal kick to make the score Bridgend 0 Newport 6 on 17 minutes.
Another penalty attempt by Newport on 20 minutes was unsuccessful as it whizzed right of the posts after Dafi Davies had been pinged again for not releasing the tackled player on the ground. Newport tried to capitalise but kept floundering on strong Bridgend defence. Jonny Morris and Chay Smith were hurling themselves into contact like crash-test dummies but with little reward. On 24 minutes, Newport were found offside. Bridgend’s Murphy, playing the advantage, lofted the ball ahead. As Jonny Morris attempted to catch it he was clattered mid-jump by full back Jonny Phillips. Mr John had little option but to reach for his yellow card and invite Phillips onto the naughty step for ten minutes. Newport kicked to the corner and launched the ball from the tail of the line out. Matt O’Brien jinked around the first defender but was caught. The move continued until Elliot Frewen was left encircled by blue shirts as the Ravens defended vigorously.
Bridgend managed to burst the Black and Amber wall on 28 minutes as centre Stuart Floyd-Ellis sprinted away. He had Jamie Murphy in support whose stately running was always going to be caught by the Newport defence. However, Newport conceded a penalty when Dan Partridge, committed to a tackle, carried it through even though the ball didn’t reach its intended target. Jamie Murphy slotted the kick for the home side to make the score Bridgend 3 Newport 6.
Newport went looking for a prize to finish the half off but almost ended up giving one away. O’Brien’s feet twinkled through numerous half-tackles before being hauled down short of the line and as the ball worked left the pass to John Lavender was intercepted by Ravens wing Aaron Grabham. Grabham hared away leaving most of the Newport defence flat-footed and only really Elliot Frewen with any chance of reaching him. Frewen corner-flagged furiously, teeth clenched, as he attempted to stop the try being scored. The next sequence may well appear on the ‘What Happened Next?’ slot on A Question Of Sport at some point. Frewen bumped into Grabham at speed then bounced clear. Grabham continued his run then seemed to trip over his own boot laces and spill the ball with the try line beckoning and zero defensive cover. Absolutely remarkable. A certain try utterly butchered. It almost felt like a Newport try scored rather than one not conceded.
Deep into stoppage time, five minutes to be precise, and Bridgend were awarded another penalty, this time for the completely avoidable offence of chopsing at the referee. Jamie Murphy swung his boot at the goal kick but the ball bounced back in field off the left post at the Town end of the ground and down into Matt O’Brien’s arms who booted the ball clear to end the half.
Two Bridgend ‘tries’ not scored? Penalty kicks bouncing back off the uprights? Were the rugby gods putting a protective cloak around the Black and Ambers? It certainly seemed like it.
Halftime – Bridgend RFC 3 Newport RFC 6
Rhys Cresswell came out for the second half replacing the jack-in-the-box Morgan Burgess after Burgess picked up a knee injury. The big man from Chepstow was soon in the thick of things as a terrific charge with a powerful leg-drive made good ground into Bridgend territory with blue shirts trying to haul him down. John Lavender offered himself up next for a tilt at the blue line as the ball continued left to Chay Smith who found a welcoming committee waiting for him and was soon stripped of the ball. Newport regained possession at a scrum. Ryan James forced the ball wide by passing directly to Tom Pascoe in the centre who moved the ball wide, via Chay Smith with lovely handling, to Elliot Frewen. Frewen was tackled and the ball bobbled loose. Bridgend managed to knock on from the resulting scrum then were penalised for wheeling the Newport scrum that followed. Matt O’Brien pointed to the posts and made sure that Newport went into a 3-9 lead on 46 minutes.
Jonny Morris took the restart and sprinted back to halfway. John Lavender again punched a small hole in the Bridgend defence to form the ruck but the ball sprung loose again from terrific pressure from the home defenders.
The Ravens defence was resolute enough to start Newport into thinking about other ways to attack. First phase seemed to be the answer and it nearly paid off as Matt O’Brien dinked a delicate kick behind the Bridgend back line for Tom Pascoe, Kyle Tayler and himself to chase but the ball, somehow, was knocked forward and Newport were no nearer to scoring a try.
The Black and Ambers increased their lead on 56 minutes when Ravens flanker Adam O’Driscoll slipped his binding at a scrum. Matt O’Brien easily made the score Bridgend 3 Newport 12.
Bridgend got the break that they needed soon after. Aaron Grabham, the Bridgend wing, found a gap to break through and passed to Ryan Evans on his left who tore away towards the line and away from the rapidly diminishing Newport cover. Ryan Evans found fullback Jonny Phillips on his left again and passed to put his colleague away for a well worked try. Jamie Murphy added the extras to make the score Bridgend 10 Newport 12.
And all of a sudden, the Ravens were confident. Jamie Murphy began spraying passes around, those passes were going to hand and Newport were fire-fighting. Newport replacement Andrew Mann was penalised for going slightly high in the tackle. Jamie Murphy put his team into the lead for the first time on 67 minutes when he kicked the penalty to make it Bridgend 13 Newport 12.
They went further ahead again on 74 minutes when Dan Partridge was judged not to have attempted to move away from a tackle. Murphy lined up his kick, some 25 metres out and left of the posts and comfortably kicked it to make it 16 points to 12.
Bridgend’s confidence frailness almost undid them late in the game as an unnecessary pass out to wing Aaron Grabham fell loose. Elliot Frewen latched on to it, drove forward and caught Bridgend offside. Haydn Simons, on for Matt O’Brien, booted the ball up to the Bridgend 22 metre line. A good, driving maul was undone as Mr. John spotted a Black and Amber arm around a defenders neck and the possession was handed over to the hosts. A soft penalty to concede in a fairly promising position. At the very death of the game Kyle Tayler emerged from a ruck on the Bridgend side, ball in hand, a sprinted away. Klaxons sounded in the Ravens defence as they struggled to get back in position. The ball went right across the Newport line but the final pass to Jonny Morris was unsympathetic, to say the least, and he could not hold on to it. Thus, Newport’s last chance at salvaging four points from a game that they scarcely deserved to win vanished into the night air.
The Black and Ambers weren’t at the races on this occasion. They were up against a side seemingly fighting for their lives with bundles of energy and determination. Bridgend were deserved winners but Newport have little time for reflection as they go again on Tuesday night with the small matter of a National Cup quarter-final appearance away at Bedwas RFC to consider. With the trip to the Bridge Field out of the way it’s back to Principality Premiership action on Sunday March 25th when Neath RFC visit Rodney Parade for a 2.30pm kick-off.
Beyond that, the good folk at the Friends of Newport Rugby Trust are looking at organising a supporters bus to Llandovery for the Principality Premiership game there on Good Friday, March 30th. Kick-off is at 2.30pm and seat prices are still being finalised but will probably be around the £15 area with a departure at 1045 am and return around 5.30pm. All details to be confirmed soon.
Onwards and upwards, Newport, onwards and upwards.
Come on Newport! #cotp
Newport Man Of The Match – Kyle Tayler
FINAL SCORE _ Bridgend RFC 16 Newport RFC 12Match Pictures from Simon Latham: click