Newport RFC vs Neath RFC – 25th March 2018 by John Evans
Spring appeared finally to have sprung in Newport as supporters watching this enthralling Principality Premiership game at Rodney Parade were able to sit in shirt sleeves and watch what was to prove to be a cracking advert for the division and something of a festival of try scoring and running rugby.
A minutes silence was impeccably observed for the recently deceased Newport RFC club stalwart Campbell Black. His club couldn’t have afforded him a better tribute.
Matt O’Brien kicked off proceedings, literally, as he booted Newport towards the school end. Neath flanker Aled Cockwell ran back at the Newport defence and tried to ship the ball out to his hooker Garin Lloyd but a deliberate slap down of the ball by Newport’s Adam Sabri earned the displeasure of the referee, Mr Gwyn Morris, who showed Sabri a yellow card with mere seconds on the clock. Neath kicked the penalty to the corner and, after a few phases of keep-ball, scrum half Reuben Morgan-Williams slipped through the defensive wall to scamper in for the opening try. Neath fullback Ed Howley made no mistake with the conversion to make it 0-7, not an ideal start for the Black and Ambers.
Newport responded immediately after a Neath infringement. Newport opted for a line out which took place on the visitor’s 22 metre line on the Hazell stand side. Henry Palmer threw in to line out accurately and looped around to receive the ball back in open play. Palmer drove hard at the black shirts before Alex Everett, in outstanding form at Number 8, carried the move forward and was halted near the Neath line. Henry Palmer, following up, fed the pass to Newport flanker Morgan Burgess who skipped through the attempted tackles to score. Matt O’Brien, still acting as captain, kicked the conversion to make it seven points apiece on five minutes.
The conditions lent themselves to Newport’s running game with some ambitious, not to mention audacious, passes being made. Matt O’Brien initiated some Harlem Globetrotter-like passes which drew the breath of the crowd at one point, while his teammates weighed in with talent of their own, prop Tom Piper especially noted as providing some super link work to keep the move flowing.
Visiting wing Geraint Llewellyn benefitted from an overlap as he kicked infield for his colleagues to chase. There was an unusual reticence about the Newport defence to smother the danger which the opposition didn’t share as the ball was whipped out to the opposite Neath wing, Alec Jenkins, who tried a dart at the line. Alex Everett was corner-flagging furiously and pulled off a try-saving tackle that was easily the equal of any better publicised tackle this weekend that the television were keen to show you. Jenkins did try to pass to a support runner but the ball went hopelessly forward. Neath kept the pressure on as a beautifully weighted pass from outside half Luke Price to centre Mike Evans saw the defence breached but the Newport rear guard worked effectively and cancelled out the danger.
Newport earned a penalty after a black jersey held on too long in a tackle. Matt O’Brien hoofed the ball up to halfway for the lineout. With the ball won, O’Brien passed the ball out wide very quickly while Jonny Morris came in off his wing to create an overlap. Morris passed right to the Wing Commander, Elliot Frewen, who stood up the Neath fullback, Howley, and sprinted away to the try line with black shirted defenders breathing down his neck. Frewen wouldn’t be denied his score and Matt O’Brien improved it by making it Newport 14 Neath 7 on 21 minutes.
Neath wouldn’t sit down though. Ed Howley spotted a mismatch in midfield and skirted around a Newport front five player easily while he had wing Alec Jenkins in support. The Newport defence were organised enough to appear to surround the right-winger but hadn’t reckoned with scrum half Reuben Morgan-Williams sprinting up in support. He took the lofted pass and raced in for another Neath try. The conversion went wide making the score Newport 14 Neath 12 on 23 minutes.
Neath knocked on the restart kick and Newport took play to right field where Jonny Morris could do the most damage but the pass, potentially try-scoring, was spilled. Neath tried to press themselves forward but knocked on again. The field was now as broken and open as it gets and this Newport team thrive on these conditions. Jonny Morris, ball in hand, ranged behind the defence looking for a gap. Once spotted, he went at it until closed down. Alex Everett punched his way forward and set up a ruck. Elliot Frewen, at full tilt, took the pass and split Neath in two. He was finally collared just metres short of the line with Adam Sabri on his right shoulder. Sabri stooped low to pick up Frewen’s pass and atoned for his earlier misdemeanour by crashing over for Newport’s third try of the afternoon. After some attention to his ankle, Matt O’Brien did the business and made the score Newport 21 Neath 12 on 29 minutes.
Neath restarted and the ball went straight to scrumhalf Owen Davies. The ball went through the hands until flanker Josh Reid set up the ruck. The ball went right to Sabri, a neat take and give moved it on to Chay Smith who easily drew his defender before passing to Jonny Morris. Morris was in a straight foot race to the line with the cover defence from halfway, which he won as an outstretched arm dotted the ball down in the corner in the shadow of the Roy Burnett suite. The conversion went wide so the score was now Newport 26 Neath 12 and the Black and Ambers had a try-scoring bonus point in the bag before halftime.
Mr Morris spotted an infringement as Morgan Burgess caught the restart. Neath opted to kick to the corner and, from a shortened lineout, tried to maul their way across the line. They tried to work the narrow channels around the maul, black shirts flailing at the Black and Amber line, but eventually flanker Ryan Bean forced his way over in the corner for a try. Ed Howley’s conversion drifted left of the posts to make the score Newport 26 Neath 17 on 35 minutes.
The first half scoring wasn’t over yet as Matt O’Brien angled a kick towards the corner for Jonny Morris to chase. He covered the ground rapidly as Neath scrum half Reuben Morgan-Williams appeared to have the situation covered. Morris, though, was quicker than he thought and was on to him. Morgan-Williams failed to release the ball in the tackle and Newport were awarded a penalty. The lineout was the preferred option as Joe Bartlett secured possession just five metres from the Neath line. The maul set up and started hunting for weaknesses. Neath’s Ryan Bean handed Newport an advantage as he tried to collapse the maul. Newport pushed at the margins but it took a ruck, a dummy and a dart from scrumhalf Owen Davies to secure the score. Matt O’Brien topped off a breathless half of rugby by adding the extra points making it Newport 33 Neath 17 at half time.
Halftime – Newport RFC 33 Neath RFC 17
Luke Price, the Neath 10, kicked off the second half of this enthralling Principality Premiership clash. Neath appeared to adjust their tactics slightly at half time as the bustling centre Keiran Williams was called upon to do some block-busting running at the heart of the Newport defence. They kept the ball reasonably well until Price spilled the ball in the tackle on the Newport 22 metre line. The Newport scrum creaked slightly but Alex Everett rescued the situation by clearing the ball efficiently from the base of the scrum. Matt O’Brien boomed a pass direct to full back Haydn Simons, motoring onto the ball at pace, but the pass out to Elliot Frewen was spilled and Newport were still not clear of danger. Neath continued to batter away and the try came in the 45th minute as Ed Howley, talented player that he is, surged through and bounced off some attempted Newport tackles to score. He converted his own try to bring the score to Newport 33 Neath 24.
Matt O’Brien took the opportunity to put a little more daylight between Newport and the visitors with a well struck penalty on 48 minutes which took the score to 36-24.
By now a change of front row for Newport had taken place, off went Boyce, Palmer and Piper and on came Lavender, Evans and Harris. The impact was immediate as Newport were awarded a penalty. O’Brien went to the corner for second row Andrew Mann to claim the ball in mid-air. Will Evans opted for the shortest route to the line but was downed just short. Garin Harris, following up, gathered the ball and powered over for a try, something of a collector’s item. The conversion was missed leaving the score at Newport 41 Neath 24.
From a ‘not straight’ Newport line out Neath looked to play the advantage. They moved it wide but a pass by centre Mike Evans was spooned horribly forward. Matt O’Brien seized the opportunity and went for the half-gap but it soon closed on him. The ball went wide again and replacement scrum half Ryan Bates found a gap. He raced forward with Morgan Burgess in support. Burgess took the pass and played the looping Bates with the ball back to him. Bates was without support, showing the ball to any would-be runners, but none were quick enough so he took the tackle. Mike Evans, scrambling back in defence, couldn’t resist getting his hands on the tempting ball at the back of the ruck. Mr Morris spotted this and invited Evans to ten minutes reflection on the sidelines. Newport took the attacking scrum five and squeezed the Neath pack. Alex Everett broke right and was rewarded with a touchdown in the corner. Matt O’Brien improved it to make the score Newport 48 Neath 24 on the hour.
The Welsh all blacks stuck at their cause. Outside half Luke Price executed a stunning kick to the corner, laser-like in its accuracy, after Newport had conceded a penalty for offside. Visiting captain Leon Ward, playing at number 8, had a tilt at the line but the ball squirted out of the side of the ruck for Will Evans to claim and Haydn Simons to clear.
Garin Harris put an end to his try-scoring cameo appearance when he went off on 66 minutes allowing Tom Piper back onto the field. Newport were under some pressure but brought even more on themselves when replacement second row James Little was yellow carded for attempting to collapse an ominous Neath rolling maul. The visitors went to the corner again but found no change from the resolute Newport pack in defence. They were forced to go wide, Ed Howley threatening again before centre Keiran Williams scored while on his back with the ball just on the line as a bloodied Chay Smith endeavoured to prevent the grounding. Howley added the two points to make the score Newport 48 Neath 31.
Neath were still on the hunt for more scores. Ed Howley, a constant thorn in the Newport side, made inroads along the flank before passing to Chris Morgans in support but Adam Sabri’s tackle was a certain try-saver. A 77th minute three-on-one overlap, created when centre Keiran Williams added his weight in support, was butchered when the pass was virtually howitzered in to the stand and probably did more damage to somebody’s pint than the Newport try line.
Newport had defensive alarm bells ringing after some slick handling by the blacks saw them within striking distance again. A penalty was conceded for offside again as Neath darted from quickly taken tap and, bizarrely, appeared to ground the ball in the corner flag marked area for the football pitch. Mr Morris awarded another penalty but Newport had almost, almost, bolted the door. Neath were getting nowhere even after Jonny Morris was shown a barely believable third yellow card for Newport RFC for kicking the ball away from the back of a Neath ruck. Neath’s Mike Evans was held up over the line but, with the ‘Port down the thirteen players, Neath were able to capitalise and it was Scott Gibson who barged over from the scrum five, despite the attention of Geraint O’Driscoll. The conversion, the last action of the game, was missed bringing the final score to Newport 48 Neath 36.
Newport are next in Principality Premiership action on Good Friday, March 30th, when the visit Church Bank, home of Llandovery RFC. The next home game is also in the Principality Premiership when Swansea RFC visit on Tuesday April 3rd for a 7.30pm kick off. Beyond that is the excitement of a National Cup semi-final, our first since 2003, when Newport RFC again play Llandovery RFC at the Talbot Athletic Ground, home of Aberavon RFC. If you would like to travel on the supporter’s bus, organised by the Friends of Newport Rugby Trust, please get in touch with them as soon as possible.
Onwards and upwards, Newport, onwards and upwards.
Come on Newport! #cotp
Newport Man Of The Match – Alex Everett
FINAL SCORE _ Newport RFC 48 Neath RFC 36