RGC vs Newport RFC – 12th May 2018 by John Evans
Newport RFC brought their Principality Premiership campaign to an end for this season with a trip to the seaside; a first visit to Eirias Park in Colwyn Bay, to be precise. Newport have seldom travelled much north of Llandovery within Wales, this being the first visit north since November 1973 when they were drawn away at Ruthin in the Challenge Cup, as it was known then.
The conditions were perfect for running rugby, the sun shone and the sea breeze did just enough to keep the offshore wind turbines turning merrily all afternoon.
The disappointing late withdrawal of prop John Lavender gave an opportunity for Matt Prosser to start his 50th game for the club and it was he who had the honour of leading the team out onto the pitch.
The match got underway via the boot of RGC’s outside half Jacob Botica, son of legendary All Black Frano and bound to play his rugby for the Dragons next season along with centre partner Tiaan Loots. Newport won an early penalty award when the RGC hooker, Evan Yardley, couldn’t resist picking up a hack ahead from his fullback, Dion Jones, rendering him instantly offside. Matt O’Brien worked the touchline so that Joe Bartlett could claim the throw in. The ball passed across the line allowing Matt Prosser and Morgan Burgess to fling themselves at the home defence but a double knock on saw Newport awarded a scrum around 35 metres out. The referee, Mr Ben Breakspear, found fault with the RGC scrummage giving Matt O’Brien to the opportunity to kick for goal. The attempt was good, so the scoreboard read RGC 0 Newport 3 on 5 minutes.
Matt O’Brien placed a delicate kick after RGC had restarted, encouraging the home scrum half Alex Schwarz to knock on. Newport took the scrum on their forty metre line, the ball going out to centre Tom Pascoe whose kick bounced off the 22 metre line flag. RGC claimed the line out and put in a high kick which Jonny Morris fielded. The ball went out along the backline but RGC were a touch over-enthusiastic at a ruck and conceded another penalty, this time from around 43 metres out. Matt O’Brien lined up a second kick which was successful taking the score to RGC 0 Newport 6.
RGC’s restart flew directly into touch giving Newport a scrum over the circular dust bowl in the middle of the pitch. Newport went left but a slap down of the ball by Dragons-bound Tiaan Loots didn’t even earn him a talking to. Elliot Frewen gathered the ball, dinked ahead, gathered his kick with Matt O’Brien flying up outside him but Mr Breakspear had already blown for the knock on scrum allowing Newport no advantage whatsoever.
RGC managed to get into their stride and apply some pressure. Outside half Jacob Botica caught the ball in touch and quickly had his fullback, Dion Jones, on the move. He kicked ahead for wing Afon Bagshaw to chase but he spilled the ball in the tackle just five metres out. RGC kept the pressure on and it paid dividends when Newport were penalised for offside on sixteen minutes. RGC opted for the scrum to launch a set play from which simply had centre Danny Cross running at speed to break the Newport defence and hammer over for the try. Botica added the two points to make it RGC 7 Newport 6 on seventeen minutes.
Newport worked hard to make an impact on the game, Joe Bartlett making a big hole in the home defence on twenty minutes but his pass out was judged to be forward. However, Mr Breakspear felt it prudent to speak to both captains to warn about the amount of ball knocked on by tackling players becoming noticeable.
RGC were awarded a 23rd minute penalty for crossing, apparently, which they booted up to the Newport 22 metre line. Good pressure on a defensive lineout saw Newport retrieve possession and the ball passed quickly left. Jonny Morris rapidly looped around Geraint O’Driscoll and carried Newport up to halfway before RGC knocked on. Matt O’Brien burst into the RGC half before finding captain Rhys Jenkins who was tackled by winger Bagshaw. The ball worked back to Matt O’Brien who produced a trick shot with the boot to move Newport to around ten metres out with a line out. Super work by the lineout jumpers retrieved the ball allowing Morgan Burgess and Garin Harris to continue battering away at the defence. Almost in the shadow of the posts Ryan James broke right from a ruck but passed left into the path of Joe Bartlett who loped across the try line for a cleverly-worked try. Matt O’Brien added the extras to make it RGC 7 Newport 13 on 26 minutes.
Newport infringed from the restart allowing Botica the chance to pin the Black and Ambers in the corner. RGC bashed and crashed away at the Newport defence before an opening arrived but Botica’s pass to second row Robin Williams was forward. Mr Breakspear had spotted another penalty offence which the hosts took quickly. The Newport pack got in amongst them, to coin a phrase, very effectively but the referee spotted a knock on by the visitors. The RGC scrum worked well giving their backs a stable platform from which the decoy runners could launch angled runs at Newport and leave an opening for Tiaan Loots to surge through and score a try. Jacob Botica added the conversion to make it RGC 14 Newport 13 on 32 minutes.
Newport were playing advantage on 35 minutes when Matt O’Brien tried a cheeky chip and chase. He fumbled the catch but, with advantage having vanished like a cat at the first sign of rain, play went on regardless. RGC shipped the ball wide out to wing Afon Bagshaw who kicked ahead. Newport’s Chay Smith appeared to have the ball covered when it bounced horribly over his foot and back infield. RGC full back Dion Jones was alert enough to follow up and claim the touch down with Botica adding the two to make it RGC 21 Newport 13.
Newport took the restart and were awarded a penalty immediately as a stray RGC boot tried to interfere with the ball at the ruck. Matt O’Brien nailed the kick to make the scoreboard read RGC 21 Newport 16 on 38 minutes.
As the half crept to a close Chay Smith was penalised for a high tackle. Jacob Botica took the opportunity to move the Gogs upfield to the Newport 22 metre line. Newport pressurised the lineout again and came up trumps, an excellent pass by Alex Everett making space for Newport to go forward. Hard driving saw the Black and Ambers reach halfway before an opportunity to release Elliot Frewen was wasted when the pass out was too high for him to take.
This was a far more familiar Newport performance, one that resembled pre-Semi Final levels. It was only Mr Breakspear’s interpretations of the laws that were causing consternation, if only amongst the large and vocal travelling support.
Halftime – RGC 21 Newport RFC 16
Matt O’Brien restarted and RGC instantly obliged by knocking the ball forward into the path of Henry Palmer. The powerful hooker burrowed his way onwards before the ball was worked wide. RGC were tempted offside prompting Rhys Jenkins to signal at the posts for a kick which Matt O’Brien took from thirty metres out. The kick was successful making the score RGC 21 Newport 19.
Newport worked hard to retrieve possession and, once secured, Ryan James burst right from the base of the ruck and found Joe Bartlett who juggled the ball but retained it and set up a ruck. The ball then spun left but Dan Partridge lost the ball in contact. RGC responded quickly, Jacob Botica kicking long and wide for wing Afon Bagshaw to gather, sprint on and evade a desperate, last ditch tackle by Matt O’Brien to cross for a well-taken opportunist try. Botica added the conversion to make the score RGC 28 Newport 19 on 43 minutes.
Jonny Morris caught the restart kick from Jacob Botica and passed left. The ball found Chay Smith who burst through some paper-thin tackling by RGC to release Elliot Frewen on his left. Frewen sprinted in, outstripping the cover defence to cross in the corner. Matt O’Brien made the tricky conversion look straightforward as it sailed between the uprights, making the score RGC 28 Newport 26 on 44 minutes.
The loss of RGC prop Jordan Scott seemed to make a big difference at the scrums. Newport were no longer just seeking parity at this situation, they were starting to make themselves known. A 52nd minute scrum penalty to Newport saw the Black and Ambers go quickly wide and Rhys Jenkins’ pass to Jonny Morris saw the winger eased into touch inside the Gogs 22 metre area. Newport then undid the good work by conceding a penalty at the lineout by pulling an opposition jumper’s jersey, allowing Botica to dump the Black and Ambers back on their own forty metre line. Rhys Jenkins’ work for the day was done, a seeming reaction to his shoulder injury prompting the appearance of Dudley Stead in the back row. Sadly for Newport, RGC scored a try that was simplicity itself. Botica placed a little chip-kick in for Tiaan Loots to gather, scoot through, swerve around Geraint O’Driscoll and claim a try. Botica slotted the simple conversion to make the score RGC 35 Newport 26.
Will Evans entered the fray soon after to make his fiftieth appearance for Newport RFC when he replaced Henry Palmer.
RGC had a 59th minute scrum that, when won, they went wide rapidly from. Winger Iolo Evans, another big unit out wide, burst through and, with support, opted to take the contact with Jonny Morris. Morris did enough to bring his run to a halt while the eventual pass out to no. 8, Tim Grey, was knocked forward, a chance butchered for the home team.
Time Grey was in the news just three minutes later when Tom Pascoe put in a walloping kick downfield for home fullback Dion Jones to return. Jones ran, chipped Pascoe but couldn’t gather his own kick. Grey, however, couldn’t resist it. Matt O’Brien took the penalty quickly for Chay Smith to power into the RGC 22 metre area, but his pass was forward, a great opportunity for the Black and Ambers left out on the field. RGC scrum half did well to retrieve the ball from the retreating scrum and pass to Danny Cross in the centre to kick long. Geraint O’Driscoll took the catch cleanly and ran back at the defence. He took the tackle but his pass to Morgan Burgess was slightly in front of the supporting player and the ball bobbled harmlessly away.
Newport were keeping possession quite well on 70 minutes but they were not really making much progress as RGC closed down fairly well around them. The Newport forwards offered themselves as willing workhorses, carrying hard into the guts of the RGC defence, prop Matt Prosser showing up especially well here. It took a Gog with a boot offside to break the deadlock. Matt O’Brien kicked Newport to the corner in front of the main stand. Newport won the lineout and executed a good rolling maul. Dudley Stead thrust forward, going very close indeed, but it was replacement scrum half Owen Davies who claimed the try as he dummied his way into position to score. Matt O’Brien did the business to make the score RGC 35 Newport 33 on 71 minutes.
Jacob Botica’s restart kick went into touch with a single bounce. Newport won the lineout and moved the ball along the backline prompting RGC to concede another penalty, this time for not releasing a tackled player. O’Brien, now in his role as Captain, chose to kick and put his team a point ahead with seven minutes, plus stoppage time, to go, RGC 35 Newport 36.
Both teams were battling hard for the victory. RGC flanker Will Bryan was nearly through but Jonny Morris tackled him, sprung up and robbed the ball off him, almost in one movement, allowing Newport to clear their lines. RGC kept the pressure on when a Black and Amber arm attempted to intercept a pass and knocked the ball forward. Mr Breakspear declared that this incident was a penalty, unlike any earlier slap-downs, and Jacob Botica blasted a magnificent kick over from 45 metres out, making the score RGC 38 Newport 36.
Us travelling supporters sensed that whatever happened next, Newport were not going to win this game. And so it proved. Newport battled hard and carried the ball into the RGC half. Gog replacement Cam Davies flagrantly lay across the back of a Newport ruck earning himself a yellow card from Mr Breakspear. At this point an Assistant Referee jogged onto the pitch, obviously telling Cam Davies to stay where he was as he had seen an offence earlier in the play. With little in the way of notification, Joe Bartlett received his marching orders and his game was over. Bartlett later told us that he was yellow-carded for use of the knee, which, while not making contact had shown intent. It’s a real pity that the same Assistant Referee didn’t see the couple of smacks in the mouth that Bartlett had to contend with first.
RGC kicked the penalty deep inside the Newport half. They spun the ball right but Elliot Frewen was doing heroics by driving over the tackled player and releasing the ball for Newport to attack with. What happened next was really ugly. Matt O’Brien, spotting Jonny Morris lurking out wide, put in a cross kick for him to run on to; it was a last roll of the dice, in truth, death or glory. The kick was a little too far ahead of Morris, putting it almost equidistant between Morris and RGC wing Iolo Evans. Watching the two men run at each other, fully committed and at top speed wasn’t going to end well. Iolo Evans, I believe, caught the ball on the full when his forearm caught Jonny Morris in the face. The sickening sound of the collision, skin, bone and mud, is not a sound that one forgets easily. The magnificent Newport medical team were on hand instantly, Jessie Evans running towards him almost before he had landed on his back. Iolo Evans sprinted on to touch down while the Newport team were in uproar that their mate had been felled like an elephant to a hunter’s rifle. The fact that Mr Breakspear allowed the score to stand appeared to cause some genuine upset amongst the players, Matt O’Brien earning himself a yellow card for showering the referee with opprobrium. Nobody would have blamed him for going back on to make it a red card.
After several minutes delay, Mr Breakspear sounded urgent blasts on the whistle, almost suggesting that the match had been abandoned, while RGC apparently declined to take the conversion to which they were entitled. An odd state of affairs, which left a vaguely bitter taste in the mouth, leaving the final score of RGC 43 Newport 36.
Happily, after visiting a local hospital, Jonny Morris was released with a clean bill of health. This was in no small part due to the expertise of the medical team, of which Steve Prosser has played a large part for the last sixteen years. ‘Pross’ has decided to call it a day. The club would like to thank him for his service and wish him all the best for the future.
This result left the Black and Ambers finishing the season in ninth position, slightly disappointing when one looks back to early April and the possibility of the ‘Double’ was still in the air, however unlikely. But ninth is very acceptable when you look at how far the club has come in twelve months. Aside from the hard work put in by our playing staff and coaches, the medical staff and the Board of Directors, this is due to you, the supporters, our magnificent volunteers who work so hard and our sponsors. Newport RFC is very grateful to each and every one of you. You’re awesome.
Have a great summer, keep an eye on social media for announcements about season tickets and pre-season friendlies. See you in August!
Onwards and upwards, Newport, onwards and upwards.
Come on Newport! #cotp
Newport Man Of The Match – Matt O’Brien
FINAL SCORE _ RGC 43 Newport RFC 36