After a good win at Swansea in the last round of the WRU National Cup on January 6th, Newport were rewarded with a couple of weeks away from competitive rugby before returning for this home draw against a powerful Aberavon RFC. The Wizards have been no mugs this season so a good all-round performance was required from the Black and Ambers if they wanted to progress in this year’s competition. Of course, Rodney Parade had played host to Newport County the previous evening in their FA Cup game against Tottenham Hotspur, a game that ended with a 1-1 draw. If ever there was a lesson in resolute defence and discipline, it was from our round ball cousins. There was also the unusual sight of a large temporary stand behind the North Terrace that had been erected to crowbar more spectators in for the football.
Both teams fielded as per program, the only change being the man in the middle where Mr Rhys Thomas was on whistle duty.
Newport scrumhalf Ryan James was captain for the day and led his team onto the pitch at Rodney Parade before Haydn Simons kicked off with Newport playing into the gusting wind as they attacked the North Terrace. Aberavon scrumhalf Jacob Flynn box-kicked the ball back to Newport from the back of the ruck for Geraint O’Driscoll, playing at centre today, to field. Newport began to piece together some phases of possession as they edged over halfway but the Wizards defence held firm and stayed patient. Haydn Simons resorted to putting a kick in to turn the defence, the stroke of luck coming when wing Shaun Pearce was judged to have carried the ball back into his own 22-metre area before punting for touch. The result was a Newport line out some twenty metres from the Aberavon try line. Dan Partridge rose highest to claim the throw before the ball was whipped left with Tom Pascoe adding some trickery in midfield before it reached Adam Sabri on the distant wing. Sabri was caught but the pass from the ruck was loose and bounced in front of Garin Harris. Tom Pascoe was quickest to react, toe-poking the ball through the flat Wizards back line, chasing up before the ball bounced kindly for him to score the first try of the afternoon. Haydn Simons’ conversion was wide so the score was Newport 5 Aberavon 0 with 2 minutes played.
Tom Pascoe showed good handling again just five minutes later and nearly put Adam Sabri away in front of the Hazell stand. Sabri was tackled but the ball was soon out to Garin Harris who set up the ruck. Mr Thomas declared that there were Wizard hands in there and offered Newport the penalty. The kick at goal went wide but Newport kept the pressure on their visitors. Elliot Frewen and Geraint O’Driscoll were causing problems for Aberavon and, just when the Wizards looked as though they may have halted another attack by legally winning the ball in contact, they spilled the ball forward. A retreating Wizard couldn’t resist catching the ball and conceding a full penalty. Haydn Simons nailed the kick to make the score Newport 8 Aberavon 0 on 9 minutes.
Aberavon were hitting their stride somewhat when Ryan James was penalised for a high tackle. Their number ten, Steff Williams, booted the ball to the corner for their most promising attack thus far. However, the Newport second rows spoiled their possession and burst forward, pushing the visitors back to the 22 metre line. Aberavon still kept hold of the ball but it was wing Shaun Pearce who eventually succumbed to organised Black and Amber defending and was robbed of the ball. Jon Morris, displaying his usual appetite for work, appeared on the ‘wrong’ wing to clear the ball to touch and out of danger.
Aberavon’s Steff Williams had his own shot at goal on 16 minutes after Newport had infringed but the kick went wide, the score remaining at 8-0.
Visiting flanker Joe Tomalin-Reeves worked a three-on-one overlap around the halfway line but forced the pass leaving the ‘one’, Elliot Frewen, to pop up with the ball and wrestle his way forward until halted by red shirts. The ball quickly went left, via Garin Harris lurking in midfield, to Geraint O’Driscoll who, in turn, found Adam Sabri itching for a dart down the wing. Sabri ran then kicked ahead in the face of cover but Aberavon mopped up the situation and worked themselves up field. The Wizards put in a pretty convincing set of phases where they powered into the heart of the Newport defence, flanker Lee Purnell in particular becoming a real nuisance. He ran hard and straight all afternoon and was, deservedly, Aberavon’s man of the match. With the red tide seeming to grind to a halt around the Newport 22, Steff Williams settled for a well struck drop goal to get his team’s score off the ground. On 23 minutes the score was now Newport 8 Aberavon 3.
Newport cracked on with attacking. A bouncing ball saw a training ground pass from Henry Palmer, backwards and between his legs, work like a charm as the ball eventually reached the powerful Adam Sabri who, sadly for Newport, put a foot in touch just ten metres from the Aberavon try line. The Wizards contributed to their own downfall as the safe, secure option with a defensive line out is usually to throw to the front jumper. Aberavon went long and it missed everybody except Newport back row Josh Reid, on as a blood replacement for the battle-scarred Kyle Tayler. Reid gave way to Rhys Cresswell who pushed forward. The ball went out to Geraint O’Driscoll who was stripped of possession in the tackle but Aberavon knocked on. A Newport scrum, five metres out in front of the posts, is a promising a position as one could hope for. The first scrum was reset after the Aberavon pack collectively slipped. The second effort was much better. The Newport eight squeezed their opponents and the ball went left from Ryan James. Tom Pascoe jinked into a quarter of a gap before passing to Haydn Simons. He found Adam Sabri who would not be denied a score this time. Sabri just managed to cross in the corner by the Hazell terrace on 29 minutes. There was a slight delay in taking the conversion while Henry Palmer was treated for injury and once Evan Whitson, his replacement, was on the field, Haydn Simons swung his boot at the ball. The conversion went wide so the score now was Newport 13 Aberavon 3.
The Wizards tried to kick-start themselves and played some excellent attacking rugby. They couldn’t quite string things together though and, even once they had found an overlap, Adam Sabri came sniffing and picked off the pass and sprinted forward. Aberavon rapidly piled back in defence and Sabri was ushered into touch some 27 metres out from the visitors try line. Aberavon built again but couldn’t really penetrate the Newport defence. Their sole reward for their efforts was a 38th minute penalty by Steff Williams after Mr Thomas had penalised Newport. This made the score Newport 13 Aberavon 6.
Another loose throw from Aberavon’s Ieuan Davies at a line out saw the reinstated Kyle Tayler barge forward up to the Aberavon 22 metre line with red shirts hanging off him but the pass out of contact was spilled. The Newport front row put a mighty surge in but Mr Thomas found fault with the dominant scrum and awarded Aberavon a relieving penalty. As half time was signalled, acting captain Ryan James could be seen irately questioning Mr Thomas about his interpretations of the laws. A decent first half by Newport, but there was still a long way to go.
Halftime – Newport RFC 13 Aberavon RFC 6
Aberavon’s Steff Williams restarted the game but the Newport forwards knocked on. The Wizards played advantage but none accrued until they knocked on themselves. From the Newport scrum Geraint O’Driscoll put in a beautiful touch-finder and took the Black and Ambers to about fifteen metres out on the Bisley stand side. Aberavon’s Ieuan Davies continued his off-day at the line out by not throwing in straight. The scrum tried to set but Aberavon didn’t seem to settle. Mr Thomas awarded Newport a free kick which led to Nicky Boyce, Tom Pascoe, among others, making a charge at the line. Just as an opening appeared to be coming, Aberavon’s Steff Williams stepped out of the line and tried to intercept the pass but only knocked it on in his own 22 metre area. A full penalty from Mr Thomas, but no yellow card for the Aberavon man. Geraint O’Driscoll had relieved Haydn Simons of kicking duty and slotted the kick making it Newport 16 Aberavon 6 on 45 minutes.
Aberavon had to step up their efforts now and, of course, they did. Newport remained strong in defence and Aberavon were forced to kick for position. Geraint O’Driscoll played the ball nicely and set Newport off on a series of phases. However, one loose pass was seized upon by Aberavon’s Ben Thomas who whacked the ball up field. Jon Morris was quickest back to mop up but he was overpowered by the advancing Wizards. The red shirts banged at the Newport front door but were awarded a penalty as Newport strayed offside. Aberavon opted to kick to the corner but the sturdy Newport defending ensured that came to nought too. Aberavon kept asking questions and Newport kept coming up with answers. The deadlock was broken when, following an Aberavon knock on, the dominant Newport scrum was penalised again. Steff Williams accepted the three points on offer to make the score Newport 16 Aberavon 9 on 53 minutes.
Newport were soon back attacking with Elliot Frewen storming the touchline in front of the Hazell stand. The ball soon went left as Haydn Simons picked out an arcing run across the face of the Aberavon defence. As soon as Simons straightened up his run, Aberavon flanker Joe Tomalin-Reeves was penalised for a high tackle against him. Newport played through and actually crossed the line as Dan Partridge dotted down but Mr Thomas ruled that the pass to him had been forward and offered Aberavon a scrum five. To be fair to Mr Thomas, running a game at this level, with this competitiveness and with neutral touch judges must have been very tricky. It took the intervention of Newport’s Mark Workman, running the line in front of the Bisley stand, to remind Mr Thomas that a foot in touch had occurred and play should restart from that offence. Referees receive huge amounts of opprobrium but it is a difficult, thankless job. Newport took the line out and bashed away at the Aberavon defenders. Eventually Geraint O’Driscoll attempted a drop goal that he would sooner forget.
The rhythm of the game was starting to break up as injury after injury seemed to take place, followed by replacement after replacement. Newport were awarded a 61st minute penalty for yet another high tackle but the kick was pushed wide.
Newport changed their props on 70 minutes, the hard-working Nicky Boyce and Garin Harris giving way to Tom Piper and Matt Prosser but still the scrum penalties kept coming. The Newport tight-heads were having real difficulty adapting to Mr Thomas’ translation of the laws, a situation which had Newport supporters quizzing each other on the rules of the competition. If Aberavon scored a converted try then Newport would still go through on the ‘tries scored’ ruling, but that was very unsatisfactory.
Aberavon’s Jacob Flynn darted down the blind side of a ruck in the 73rd minute towards the waiting Geraint O’Driscoll. O’Driscoll’s tackle unbalanced Flynn and the loose pass was mopped up by replacement second row Andrew Mann. Newport were surviving several Aberavon bursts before a loose ball was scooped up and Haydn Simons could unleash his three-quarter line. Jon Morris and Adam Sabri led the charge up to the Aberavon 22 before Newport were awarded a scrummage. The Wizards pack went down under the pressure and Geraint O’Driscoll stepped forward to slot the three-pointer and make it Newport 19 Aberavon 9 on 80+1 minutes.
There was time for one last push as Haydn Simons booted Newport back into the Aberavon 22 metre area. Another surge at the line saw Dan Partridge cross the line again but he couldn’t ground the ball this time. Aberavon had been nabbed for offside prior so Mr Thomas awarded Newport a final penalty for Geraint O’Driscoll to widen the margin to Newport 22 Aberavon 9. The final whistle blew as the ball sailed handsomely through the uprights for a very pleasing win against a tough, well organised team.
Newport RFC are next back in Principality Premiership action on Sunday, 4th February at Rodney Parade when Ebbw Vale RFC visit. Kick-off is at 2.30pm. In another variation to the published kick-off, Newport’s fixture away at Bedwas now starts at 1pm on Saturday February 10th. The draw for the next round of the WRU National Cup takes place on Tuesday 30th January with the next round of games, the quarter finals, taking place around the weekend of March 3rd and 4th. This makes for a relentless spell as Newport are in action every weekend for virtually three months. We wouldn’t want it any other way.
Onwards and upwards, Newport, onwards and upwards.
Come on Newport!
Newport Man Of The Match – Kyle Tayler
FINAL SCORE _ Newport RFC 22 Aberavon RFC 9