Newport RFC vs Cross Keys RFC – 5th May 2018 by John Evans
Having suffered an unlucky reverse against Bedwas during the previous week the Newport RFC squad had a great opportunity to get the show back on the road, so to speak, against an unfamiliar looking Cross Keys backline but a quite familiar looking pack of forwards. Indeed, Keys had drafted in centre Scott Williams from Newbridge RFC, our former player who was voted Newport RFC Clubman of the Year in the 2010/2011 season.
It was a beautiful afternoon, perfect for Newport’s brand of running rugby. There was hardly a breath of wind and the playing surface looked as pristine as it could at the end of a long season with three teams using it.
Cross Keys outside half Foard Cooksley kicked off towards the north terrace, unusually wearing jersey 22, and immediately Cross Keys set about Newport with the special sort of vigour that they reserve for visits to Rodney Parade. The strong Cross Keys scrum won are rare strike ‘against the head’ and their backs set about working the ball around. A pass out to flanker Joe Thomas found him receiving Elliot Frewen and the ball at the same time resulting in another Newport scrum.
Newport struggled to break out of their own half and a Cross Keys scrum resulted in wing Nathan Trowbridge making a dart for the line. He was held up short but the ball worked right and Foard Cooksley found room enough to scamper around the cover and claim the opening try on just four minutes. Scrum half James Leadbeater, formerly of this parish, who had started at fullback but quickly moved forward to the Midfield General position when starting ‘9’ Owen Leonard was injured in the opening moments of the game, added the conversion to make it Newport 0 Cross Keys 7.
Cross Keys were increasing the pressure as Newport were penalised for collapsing a maul. No. 8 Ieuan Jones took the quick tap penalty and lunged for the line but was held up, centre Scott Williams carried the work on and got closer but captain Scott Matthews finished the job off as he crashed over under the posts making Leadbeater’s conversion a formality. The score now was Newport 0 Cross Keys 14 on 7 minutes.
Geraint O’Driscoll, in his customary full back berth for Newport, lofted a high kick that was slapped backwards towards the oncoming Newport attack. However, it was Keys second row Tom Lampard that came up with the ball who started a nice handling move that had hooker Darren Hughes going well before a kick was put in for flanker Joe Thomas to pursue. He was never going to beat Jonny Morris and Morris calmly gathered before setting off on a run from behind the try line, evading tacklers and moving his team out to forty metres before his run earned a penalty as Keys halted him illegally. Matt O’Brien kicked Newport forward for the line out. The ball went across the line briskly, in the face of some aggressive defence, but the last pass to Jonny Morris was adjudged to have been forward after the referee, Mr Gareth John, had consulted his Assistant Referee.
Cross Keys harassed Newport so effectively that they ended up retreating whilst retaining possession. Scrum half Tom Lucas managed to free Elliot Frewen up into space but the ball was lost in contact. Keys’ Scott Williams hacked the ball forward for his loose forwards to chase leaving Matt O’Brien with going for touch as the only viable option. The Keys lineout was thrown long resulting in prop Scott Evans catching it. Ieuan Jones and Scott Matthews again made hits at the Newport defence before outside half Foard Cooksley tried to move the ball wide. His long pass out was picked off by Jonny Morris, leaping like a stag, who turned possession over and snuffed that attack out.
Newport had a defensive line out on their own five metre line which was quickly moved along the backs for Elliot Frewen to set off. He reached just over the forty metre line but lost possession in contact. The ball bobbled back on the Newport side which resulted in a neatly taken break by Matt O’Brien. He made room on the right for Jonny Morris to come flying up but, sadly, the try-scoring pass was both high and forward, a gold-plated opportunity missed.
John Lavender made a Snow-esque bullocking run in front of the Hazell stand on 31 minutes, setting up the ruck for Geraint O’Driscoll to act as scrum half and keep the ball moving. Elliot Frewen and Jonny Morris were showing up well in attack before they drew a penalty. Scrum half Tom Lucas took it quickly and invited Keys to offend again as he entered their 22 metre area, which the duly did. Mr John had the choice of either Scott Matthews, with hands in the ruck, or Joe Thomas for lying over the ball. Thomas’ offence was the more obvious so Mr John chose him to have ten minutes on the naughty step. Matt O’Brien shunned the three points to go to the corner. From the lineout John Lavender went close, O’Brien himself went closer before the ball worked out left but the pass to Geraint O’Driscoll was behind him. Vital momentum was lost as Keys eased Newport away from the try line before Scott Matthews got a couple of fingers to hooker Henry Palmer’s attempted pass resulting in a Newport knock on and a Keys scrum.
It took until the 39th minute before Newport demonstrated the brand of rugby that has worked so well this year. Tom Lucas moved the ball from scrum half to Matt O’Brien who had Elliot Frewen going like a train on the angle. Frewen burst the black, grey and white line and found Chay Smith on his shoulder. Tom Pascoe was on hand further to carry the move into the Keys 22 metre area before making a delightful reverse pass to Geraint O’Driscoll who found Jonny Morris lurking on the wing. Morris took his try with aplomb but the conversion was missed making the score Newport 5 Cross Keys 14.
Into stoppage time and Tom Lucas broke from the base of a scrum and passed directly to Tom Pascoe. Pascoe raced off but not before Keys captain Scott Matthew had pulled his jersey back. Pascoe carried on up to the Keys 22 area but was found lacking support. Mr John took play back for the penalty offence and issued a yellow card to Matthews. Newport continued to attack but a loose pass was picked up by Keys second row Josh Skinner who then kicked the ball long down field and gave chase. Elliot Frewen threw himself onto the loose ball just inches from the Newport try line. With the ruck set, Tom Pascoe set off on another lung-busting run from under his own posts up to the half way line. Now this was the ultimate in broken play, Cross Keys were down to thirteen players, there were gaps all across the park, just the sort of environment Newport should thrive in. It wasn’t to be, even with superiority in numbers. Cross Keys held firm, made their tackles and hassled Newport into mistakes resulting in a pass to Jonny Morris, potentially with a spectacular sprint to the try line ahead, going forward and Keys were off the hook.
There appeared to be a Principality Stadium-sized ‘hangover’ among the Newport players, as if they couldn’t shake off the effects of last Sunday. That was history and the players needed to rid themselves of it quickly.
Halftime – Newport RFC 5 Cross Keys RFC 14
Newport exchanged Morgan Burgess for Alex Everett at half time, a switch that paid dividends straight away as Everett secured Matt O’Brien’s restart and powered Newport forward. The Black and Ambers passed the ball left then right before Joe Bartlett made a neat sidestep before launching a pass to Jonny Morris. Morris was overpowered in the corner but had the wherewithal to pass the ball at Keys’ Tom Lampard’s chest and ensure Newport had the throw at the line out. Line out won and Henry Palmer claimed his spot at the tail of the maul. Garin Harris made the first launch at the line before Joe Bartlett had a shot. Tom Lucas paused for half a second before firing the ball out to Matt O’Brien who had Chay Smith powering onto the ball to bisect the defence and skip over for a well-worked try. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make the score Newport 12 Cross Keys 14.
Newport damaged their own cause when no. 8, and captain, Rhys Jenkins was sent to the naughty step on fifty minutes. His tip tackle on Keys centre Matthew Powell was deemed dangerous. Powell managed to slip a couple of liveners into Jenkins, which went unpunished, before the debilitating effect of the tackle took hold as he lay prone. Thankfully, the injury was nowhere near as bad as it appeared as Powell was quickly up once the penalty had been awarded. Keys kicked for the corner and set up the rolling maul. Ieuan Jones and Scott Matthews worked in concert again in the Keys back row, making drives at the Newport defence before prop Gary Carpenter picked up the ball and found that the Black and Amber defence had split allowing him plenty of room to dive over and claim a simple try. James Leadbeater added the conversion to make the score Newport 12 Cross Keys 21.
From the restart, Keys hooker Darren Hughes knocked on. The Newport scrum, about 35 metres out and centre-field was firm as the ball worked out via Geraint O’Driscoll to Elliot Frewen, Frewen put in a useful grubber kick and moved his team up to ten metres from the Keys line. Rather than challenge Newport felt it more useful to pull on the collar of the Keys jumper and concede the penalty and field position.
Cross Keys conceded a 58th minute penalty for crossing in midfield. Matt O’Brien kicked Newport to around fifteen metres out. Dan Partridge claimed the line out but good work by the Keys forwards dislodged the ball onto their side. A kick was lofted high which Geraint O’Driscoll took bravely before passing to Chay Smith who bustled into contact. He, in turn, found Tom Pascoe who took the ball forward into contact again. Tom Lucas was on hand at the back of the maul and sensed space on the blind side. He sprinted off but Keys prop Gary Carpenter did just enough to force Lucas into touch.
If Newport already had their neck in the noose, it was on 66 minutes that they kicked their own chair away. Cross Keys were beginning to dominate the contact areas again. A ball bounced loose before an unseen Black and Amber arm tried to slap the ball back on their side. The grateful recipient was Keys wing Nathan Trowbridge who scooped the ball up and strode away under the posts without a hand being laid on him. James Leadbeater added the straightforward conversion to make the score Newport 12 Cross Keys 28 and Keys had secured their try-scoring bonus point.
Newport responded with a try on 71 minutes. From a scrum, replacement scrum half Laurie Essenhugh went right. Chay Smith burst through the tackle with Harri Lang, on for Jonny Morris, chasing. Newport claimed the ball and Alex Everett managed to stretch out and touch down. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make it Newport 19 Cross Keys 28.
Haydn Palmer came on for Tom Pascoe and he made a super 78th minute break to try and restore some respectability to the scoreline but, again, the try scoring pass went forward making three, potentially four probable tries left out there.
Newport had, effectively, unravelled and this was demonstrated by the manner in which they conceded their fifth try. The Black and Ambers were trying to move the ball around in midfield before a heavy tackle dislodged the ball. Most alert was Keys centre Matthew Powell who picked it up and, again, scored the try without a hand being laid on him. James Leadbeater added the simple conversion to make the score Newport 19 Cross Keys 35 as the fulltime whistle blew.
Newport RFC have an opportunity to put this poor performance behind them very quickly as they host Pontypridd RFC on Tuesday May 8th in a Principality Premiership fixture. Pontypridd have lost their dominance of old but are still a potent attacking team. Newport will have to play well to beat them. Following that is the final fixture of the season when Newport head north to Colwyn Bay where RGC 1404 lie in wait at their Stadiwm Zip World.
Onwards and upwards, Newport, onwards and upwards.
Come on Newport! #cotp
Newport Man Of The Match – Joe Bartlett
FINAL SCORE _ Newport RFC 19 Cross Keys RFC 35