Newport RFC vs Llandovery RFC – 7th April 2018 by John Evans
The Cup is always a little bit special, a frisson of excitement caused by the very nature of knockout rugby. Go big or go home. Sadly, for a first class club, Newport’s record in the cup isn’t an especially taxing read, more often tales of underachievement and chances missed. Thankfully this year the club had earned themselves a shot at a big day out in Cardiff and all that that entails. All they had to do was rock up at Aberavon’s Talbot Athletic Ground and beat Llandovery RFC. Simple. Only nobody thought to tell the Drovers their role in Newport RFC’s plans.
A wet and grey morning around Newport turned into a damp and overcast Port Talbot afternoon by the time that kick-off arrived at 2.30pm. It wasn’t so wet that these two rugby playing sides couldn’t display their talent but there was a bit of adapting to the conditions to be done which put more of an element of chance around the fixture than would have been ideal.
Matt O’Brien kicked off playing left to right in front of the stand with Port Talbot mountain looming through the mist above the nearby M4.A cagey opening few minutes ensued as both teams tried to figure each other out. Newport, as is now customary, looked to spread the ball wide and test the defences but Llandovery covered well leaving centre Tom Pascoe to punt the ball into the Drovers 22 metre area to gain a foothold.
A loose fourth-minute pass put Llandovery on the attack as prop Scott Jenkins attempted to hack the ball forward but it bobbled off the side of his calf instead. Matt O’Brien was quickly back to cover but was swiftly overwhelmed. Drovers outside half Jack Maynard kicked for the corner but only found Elliot Frewen covering back. Frewen’s clearing kick spiralled into touch on the Newport 22 metre line. Thankfully the throw in was marked as Not Straight and Newport were in the clear, even more so when Drovers no.8 and captain, Richard Brooks, couldn’t resist reaching through a ruck to try to disrupt Ryan James’ pass which the referee, Mr Adam Jones, spotted easily to award Newport a clearing penalty and put them on the attack. Joe Bartlett palmed the lineout ball down and it soon went through the hands to wing Jonny Morris whose dash for the line ended with him being barged into touch some fifteen metres out.
A ferocious Newport scrum saw John Lavender, Will Evans and Tom Piper up front almost march their opponents off their own ball but Drovers scrum half Lee Rees rescued their situation and then exploited space well. After his initial snipe around the scrum was repelled Rees was back on his feet to go again to exchange short passes and sprint away. He deftly chipped Geraint O’Driscoll at full back as the ball rolled towards the try line but in-form no.8 Alex Everett had spotted the danger and was back to touch the ball down and snuff the attack out. Newport tried to spring a surprise attack on the Drovers by taking the drop out quickly finally launching a kick to the corner for Jonny Morris to hunt down. Llandovery wing Aaron Warren was back to cover.
The Drovers were defending solidly as Newport probed the defence but got a bit over-excited on thirteen minutes when red and white hooped shirts began tackling players without the ball. Mr Jones awarded Newport the penalty which Matt O’Brien duly slotted from 23 metres to show the scoreboard reading Newport 3 Llandovery 0.
Matt O’Brien doubled the score just four minutes later when Llandovery were caught infringing again. Dan Partridge did just enough to upset the Drovers lineout jumper Joe Powell. The ball went to ground which was meat and drink to Newport flanker Kyle Tayler. Ball secured it was out to Elliot Frewen to take the contact before flanker Lennon Greggains carried the move forward, set up the ruck before the ball was kicked to touch. Newport then stole another Llandovery line out before the Drovers were penalised for not releasing a tackled player. A straightforward shot at goal made it Newport 6 Llandovery 0.
Play was beginning to open up slightly when Matt O’Brien jinked through a gap. The Drovers managed to win possession back but the clearing kick skewed into touch and gave Newport a lineout about ten metres inside their opponent’s half. John Lavender powered into contact before setting up a ruck but a pass out was picked off by Llandovery’s Jack Maynard who sprinted clear of the flat-footed Newport defence. Jonny Morris pursued and almost caught Maynard before he dived over for the first try of the afternoon. Maynard also added the two-pointer to make the score Newport 6 Llandovery 7.
Newport were putting some real venom in their attacking in riposte. Elliot Frewen did very well to make a pass out of contact to Kyle Tayler who charged forward. The ball was stolen on the deck but Drovers scrum half Lee Rees got no further than John Lavender who bear-hugged him to the ground. The red and whites managed to scrabble the ball to touch on the terrace side of the ground. Newport surged on, Ryan Jones box-kicked forward and the ball took a fortuitous bounce off a Drover to give Newport a fantastic attacking platform. Joe Bartlett claimed the throw while Alex Everett picked it up and charged forward. Sadly the position was given away by a naïve error at the ruck which allowed Llandovery to kick to halfway. Joe Bartlett had other ideas, however, and climbed highest to steal the throw-in. Matt O’Brien picked out Elliot Frewen, going like a train, who jinked his way into the Drovers 22 metre area. John Lavender, remarkably, was first on hand to clear out before Will Evans arrived to carry the ball forward. Matt O’Brien propelled himself forward and went closer still. The ball went right to Chay Smith who was tackled but a monstrous clear out by Dan Partridge, whilst being effective at skittling Llandovery’s back row, appeared to manage to knock the ball forward too.
A 37th minute line out had Kyle Tayler being hoisted for the catch which Ryan James tried to box-kick forward for Jonny Morris to chase again but Llandovery had cover there to ‘mark’ the ball.
Llandovery were intent on keeping the ball as the half wore on, going through phases patiently before no.10 Jack Maynard received some good fortune when his kick to the corner bounced off the chest of a tumbling Elliot Frewen. The scrum was eased backwards again by Lavender, Evans and Piper and Newport defended aggressively as Llandovery were pushed away from danger. Jack Maynard finally booted the ball to touch to bring the half to an end.
Newport could be judged to have had the upper hand in the first half, despite the scoreboard. Conceding a try from a mistake was unfortunate but, as the half wore on, it felt inevitable that Newport would score next. The second half would prove enthralling.
Halftime – Newport RFC 6 Llandovery RFC 7
Llandovery restarted the game and eased themselves forward with solid possession. Drovers wing Aaron Warren stepped through a would-be tackler but failed to release the ball when a tackle was finally completed. Newport smashed the penalty away quickly for Jonny Morris to chase down. The idea of receiving Jonny Morris and the ball at the same time is nobody’s idea of fun and, so it proved as Llandovery knocked on. The powerful Black and Amber scrum worked well again as the Drovers splintered before Mr Jones awarded a penalty which Llandovery improved upon by chopsing, so Mr Jones marched them back a further ten metres to make the shot at goal slightly less tricky. Matt O’Brien slotted the 31 metre shot to make the score Newport 9 Llandovery 7 on 47 minutes.
Llandovery were quite efficient at keeping the ball but were often guilty of being overeager, none more so than flanker Duane Eager who launched himself at three Newport tacklers only to be stopped in his tracks while Dan Partridge ripped the ball off him to win possession back for Newport.
Drovers centre Ryan Evans worked a fabulous angle for himself on 54 minutes as Llandovery sought to penetrate the Black and Amber steel curtain. His back row soon caught up with him to drive on but the Newport scramble defence was back, reset and ready. The tackles rained in like miniature car crashes as Llandovery were not only stopped but driven back into their own half, a display of the hard work that the team have put into defence this season. Newport reclaimed the ball for Matt O’Brien to send a low kick skidding along the wet surface and roll into touch about 33 metres out.
On the hour mark Newport conceded a penalty which Llandovery kicked up to Newport’s 22 metre line. Newport swiftly gave away another penalty as Llandovery played with the advantage. Jack Maynard’s drop goal attempt was wide so the penalty was given. Thankfully for Newport Maynard was inaccurate with this kick too as it sailed across the face of the posts. The danger wasn’t over as Matt O’Brien’s drop out restart was charged down by the Drovers Lewis Ellis-Jones and cannoned back off O’Brien’s chest to give Llandovery an attacking scrum on the 22. The Drovers drove and Newport tackled to the point where Jack Maynard called for the ball for another drop goal attempt. This too sailed wide and the score remained Newport 9 Llandovery 7.
The attacking pressure from Llandovery was intense but it took a Newport defensive mistake for anything to happen. Jack Maynard speculatively kicked for the corner in front of the stand for his full back, Lee Williams, to chase. Owen Davies appeared to have the situation covered but only managed to knock the ball into Williams’ path making the touchdown comparatively easy. Maynard’s conversion smacked off the left hand post to make the score Newport 9 Llandovery 12 on 66 minutes.
Newport responded magnificently. Dan Partridge claimed a line out throw to feed replacement scrum half Owen Davies. He passed to Pascoe who had Chay Smith running at speed. The pass to Smith was perfect and the red and white line was broken. Black and Amber jerseys poured forward as Chay Smith set up the ruck within the 22 metre area. Matt O’Brien took the pass as the Drovers defence seemed to be drawn to the players that they were meant to cover rather than the ball-carrier. O’Brien skated through the defence and drew his man perfectly to release Geraint O’Driscoll on his left who crossed the line and ran towards the posts to make the conversion easier. Matt O’Brien obliged and the score now was Newport 16 Llandovery 12 on 69 minutes.
Llandovery, as aware of the clock as anybody in the ground, upped the intensity. Newport’s defence would be fully tested, almost to destruction. Henry Palmer, on for Will Evans at hooker, snaffled a ball on the ground to stop an attack but the infield kick was returned strongly by Drovers wing Aaron Warren. He threatened until Geraint O’Driscoll stopped him and tackled him into touch.
Newport conceded a 78th minute penalty for hands in at a ruck. Llandovery, clearly needing a try, went to the corner and Newport conceded another penalty for pulling down a jumper. The Drovers tried again, this time a maul peeled right of the melee and appeared to crash over the line only for Mr Jones to go on one knee and motion that the ball was held up off the ground. This led to an attacking scrum five with the game already in added time. Llandovery smashed at the Black and Amber steel curtain but were getting nowhere. The clock was still running as Newport’s players expended every ounce of energy in keeping their line intact buoyed by the large and vocal travelling support baying “Newport! Newport!”. With five minutes of added time played it appeared as though Llandovery had run out of patience as they opted to go wide on the left. They hadn’t allowed for the fact that Jonny Morris was circling his prey in those deep waters and, when the ball went wide, he launched himself like a Great White Shark goes at a seal pup. The ball was knocked forward and the celebrations began.
A dull, wet day in Port Talbot is nobody’s idea of a great day out, to be fair. For the massed ranks of Black and Amber shirts in the ground it was paradise and there was nowhere else in the world where they would rather have been. This was arguably Newport’s biggest game since reaching the Quarter Finals on the B&I Cup in 2010 when they lost in a chilly Camborne to the Cornish Pirates. There is unquestionably a bigger game to come; April 29th at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff when Newport RFC face Merthyr RFC, kick off at 5.35pm. The club needs your support. If they are going to beat an impressively well-drilled team then a big vocal support will go a long way towards it.
Back to the bread and butter of Principality Premiership rugby, Newport travel west to Carmarthen Quins next Saturday April 14th. If you would like to travel on the supporter’s bus run by the Friends of Newport Rugby then please get in touch as soon as possible. Following that we are back at the Talbot Athletic Ground on April 21st when Newport face Aberavon RFC. There are home fixtures against Pontypridd RFC and Bargoed RFC still to be rearranged so please keep an eye on the club website, www.blackandambers.co.uk for details.
The Black and Amber supporter’s Big Day Out in Cardiff is coming.
Onwards and upwards, Newport, onwards and upwards.
Come on Newport! #cotp
Newport Man Of The Match – Jonny Morris
FINAL SCORE _ Newport RFC 16 Llandovery RFC 12
Match Pictures from Simon Latham: click