Llanelli RFC v Newport RFC 30th September 2018 by John Evans
Following the somewhat unsatisfactory victory against Bedwas, Newport turned their attention to a Sunday trip along the M4 to visit Llanelli RFC in a Principality Premiership fixture. Llanelli have had an unhappy start to the season, losing all four games so far, but they have played four of the stronger teams in the league. In the knowledge that this situation wasn’t going to last forever the Newport coaches selected their strongest available squad with the intention of securing the win.
Haydn Simons had his first start at outside half for the season and it was him who got proceedings underway, Newport playing left to right in front of the main stand. The Black and Ambers began positively; a well-taken line out saw Jonny Morris loop around and enter the back line, breaking the defence before passing inside to Chay Smith. The ball moved on via the loose forwards but a penalty was conceded as Newport failed to release the ball in the tackle.
Llanelli were choosing some odd tactics initially, trying a rolling maul from inside their own half seemed a massive waste of energy which was ultimately pointless as Rhys Jenkins wrapped a muscular arm around the ball carrier, isolated him and turned him over. Sospan then had a bout of infield kicking, clearly showing great respect for the Newport lineout but simply inviting runners like Harri Lang, Jonny Morris and Chay Smith onto them. Newport powered forward but couldn’t quite cleave the home defence open. A neat grubber kick by Josh Skinner saw a footrace between Jonny Morris and home fullback Tom Rogers which Rogers narrowly won to touchdown behind his own line.
Llanelli conceded a fifth minute penalty for hands in the ruck which saw Haydn Simons kick for the corner. Newport whizzed the ball wide, lots of neat passing edging them closer to the try line. Ryan James brought runners onto him with deft passes before Llanelli conceded again for offside. Newport pressed hard, Garin Harris bullocked into the scarlet defenders before they conceded another penalty. Hooker Henry Palmer tagged onto the end of a dynamic rolling maul before stretching an arm out in an attempt to score. The referee, Mr Ben Breakspear, immediately awarded Newport a penalty try as Palmer appeared to have been illegally hindered in his touch down and coupled that with a yellow card for the Llanelli openside, Lloyd Pike. This made the score Llanelli 0 Newport 7.
With Sospan a player down, Newport tried to exploit the gaps that might be available. Harri Lang almost managed it with a sprint along the touchline but his pass inside to the supporting Chay Smith was judged forward.
An early injury to prop Dan Preece saw Lewis Smout take his place in the front row in the eleventh minute. The scrum had been solid so far and a good platform for Newport to attack from. However, it was Llanelli who launched the next attack when their captain and number 8, Nathan Hart, broke and found scrum half Gareth George. George nipped through a half gap and put wing Ryan Davies into acres of space. Davies made it into Newport’s 22-metre area but was gang-tackled and the Llanelli move ran out of steam as the ball passed languidly along the back line before it was dropped. Newport powered through the resulting scrum to win a penalty; Ryan James took it quickly before whipping the ball out to Harri Lang. The Black and Ambers kept the ball well, Henry Palmer burst through tackles before the ball spread wide. Sadly, the pass out to Josh Skinner was unsympathetic and he conceded the knock-on.
Lewis Smout attracted the ire of Mr Breakspear on eighteen minutes for apparently collapsing the scrum. Sospan outside half Ashley Sutton kicked his team to around 35 metres out. The Llanelli lineout secured possession before it went right. Chay Smith bought a dummy from their backs before Leon Randell raced through the Newport cover. Randell was tackled solidly just five metres from the Newport line and spilled the ball in contact. Lewis Smout atoned for his earlier penalty conceding by securing one back as the Newport front row blasted their opposite numbers making them stand to attention like squaddies on their first day of square bashing. However, the penalty missed touch and allowed Sospan to run back at Newport. They showed their abilities with much-improved passing, sharp and precise, combined with the energy to step around defenders. But for all that, it was the big tighthead prop. Richard Bassett, who made the ground as three defenders bounced off him. He made his way up to the Newport 22 metre line before setting up the ruck. The Newport defence settled with Llanelli exhibiting nice passing but unable to penetrate further, eventually fellow prop Craig Thomas was found wanting with ball in hand and lost it forward.
Newport gave themselves problems on 25 minutes when they had the scrum disrupted. Ryan James was tied in and options were limited. Rather than boot themselves away from danger, they opted to play some up-the-jumper rugby and blast their way out of trouble. It didn’t work for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and it didn’t work here either. Eventually Ryan James was dumped unceremoniously into touch.
Llanelli had their first opportunity for a shot at goal on 27 minutes which outside half Ashley Sutton pulled wide.
Newport won a penalty on the half hour when Sospan were found with hands in the ruck. Haydn Simons kicked for the corner but a Llanelli steal saw scrum half Gareth George sprint away, chip kick, leaving Jonny Morris to mop up the debris.
The game was already becoming very stop and start. Scrums weren’t settling with Mr Breakspear seeming at a loss as to who was at fault on any given occasion. Another setback for Newport was the loss of Harri Lang on 32 minutes with young Dai Richards replacing him. Newport eventually conceded their first points on 37 minutes when they failed to release an attacker in the tackle. Ashley Sutton judged the swirl of the wind perfectly and curled the ball around the uprights beautifully to make it Llanelli 3 Newport 7.
The penalty count against Newport was mounting and for a variety of offences; joining the ruck from the side, offside, pulling down in the lineout were just some offences noted. Mr Breakspear took captain Rhys Jenkins and Ryan James aside to explain something in quite forcible terms. His patience wore thin on 42 minutes when James was shown a yellow card, presumably for offering a constant volley of advice in Mr Breakspear’s direction.
It had to come, Llanelli had deserved a try for their persistence and, after battering away at the Black and Amber defence, it was number 8 Nathan Hart with crashed over. Ashley Sutton added the two-pointer to make it Llanelli 10 Newport 7 as the teams jogged down the tunnel.
A half of rugby to forget for Newport supporters. Still, the players had another forty minutes to put it right. Sort the discipline and attitude out and we could all troop back up the M4 happy. If not, it would be a long, quiet journey home.
Half Time Llanelli RFC 10 Newport RFC 7
Llanelli’s Ashley Sutton restarted the game. Joe Bartlett gathered the kick and set up the ruck but Geraint O’Driscoll’s kick went in on the full. Llanelli had a line out about fifteen metres out on the far side. Sospan second row Ashley Hyndman climbed for the ball but Newport conceded a penalty yet again. Sutton slotted the three-pointer to make it Llanelli 13 Newport 7.
Newport, stung by that penalty, went into a series of well-executed pick-and-go drives into the guts of the Sospan defence. Kyle Tayler, Rhys Jenkins and Garin Harris made themselves available before the ball spread wide. Joe Bartlett, lurking out wide, scooped up a pass from shin height before barrelling forward but was hauled down just short. Mr Breakspear went back for an earlier penalty that was spotted. Unfortunately, Geraint O’Driscoll’s kick was unsuccessful.
Newport tried again; they punched up through the middle of the field before spreading it wide. Jonny Morris took the ball on half way and sizzled along the touchline, finally being hauled down just feet from the tryline. Llanelli, puzzlingly, opted for a shortened line out. Predictably, it went wrong. The ball was palmed down and bounced loosely allowing Joe Bartlett and Andrew Mann to launch themselves at it simultaneously. It was Bartlett that was there first and he took the score to Llanelli 13 Newport 12.
Geraint O’Driscoll launched a quick-fire 49th minute line out at Dai Richards. Richards found Tom Pascoe who kicked the ball towards the far corner. Llanelli scooped the ball up but the kick to touch was screwed making a promising position for Newport. Sadly, Newport lost the ball in contact and Llanelli spread the ball quickly. Dai Richards committed himself in defence but Sospan simply passed their way around him.
From a line out, Llanelli attacked but met a solid Black and Amber wall. Scrum half Gareth George set up a ruck but no defenders committed themselves to guarding the back of the ruck. Llanelli fullback Tom Rogers simply picked up the ball and jogged across the try line for the simplest, and most frustrating, of scores. Ashley Sutton improved on the try making the score Llanelli 20 Newport 12 on 52 minutes.
In an effort to right the sinking ship, the coaches threw on Matt O’Brien and Ryan Bates at half back replacing Haydn Simons and Ryan James on 55 minutes. Tom Piper also replaced Garin Harris.
A Llanelli scrum spun around in circles on 59 minutes allowing Matt O’Brien a shot at goal from 43 metres out. Newport were two scores behind so this could prove useful. It sailed wide. Llanelli conceded again for deliberate knock on as they seemed to take time adjusting to the change of pace brought on by Bates and O’Brien. Matt O’Brien took the penalty quickly before colliding with defenders who looked suspiciously short of ten metres away. But Newport had become predictable and the result was that Jonny Morris was left isolated on his wing as he received both the ball and a clutch of scarlet jerseys at the same time. The counter-ruck was simple and effective by Llanelli.
Will Evans came on for the injured Henry Palmer and his first action was to throw in at a line out just five metres from the Llanelli line. Sospan had conceded a penalty for playing the ball in the tackle and Matt O’Brien had efficiently kicked Newport to this position. Newport took the ball and drove hard but were lost possession just at the vital moment. A mighty Newport scrum made a mess of the Llanelli pack but they managed to clear well. The ball was angling to touch as Dai Richards tried to scoop the ball back into play. He managed it but the ball just fell into the path of home wing Liam Hutchings. As Newport scrambled back to defend it was Will Evans who was singled out for tackling a player off the ball. For the second week running, Evans came on off the bench and got himself yellow carded. Luckily for Newport, Llanelli’s Ashley Sutton was inaccurate with the shot at goal.
Then came the farcical element to the game. With Evans in the bin and Henry Palmer injured, Newport were out of hookers. Due to a technicality with Newport nominating their players simply as ‘front row’ rather than specifying ‘hooker’ on the team sheet, Garin Harris came back on to play at number two but the scrums were passive, therefore, under the current laws of the game, the team calling for passive scrums has to take another player off, meaning Newport were down to thirteen players. It took a good few minutes to sort that one out.
As the clock ground on Newport began to get desperate but it was ineffective. Loose passes to random players and Llanelli were almost turning possession over at will. The sense of frustration was palpable in the players as well as the supporters, culminating in Josh Skinner receiving Newport’s third yellow card of the afternoon when he was deemed to have not used his arms when clearing out at a ruck.
Newport were in disarray when Leon Randell scored his try on 88 minutes. A ray of hope shone for Newport from the restart when Joe Bartlett picked up the bouncing ball and passed to the sprinting Ryan Bates, head back and sprinting for all he was worth. Matt O’Brien scarcely bothered with the conversion making it Llanelli 25 Newport 17.
The game was still going on when Llanelli scored their fourth, and bonus point earning, try on 93 minutes. Sospan kept biffing away at the Newport defence until wing Liam Hutchings managed to wriggle under defenders, stretch out an arm and score the try. Ashley Sutton missed the conversion to make it a final score of Llanelli 30 Newport 17.
It would be unfair to say that this performance was humiliating. Llanelli’s jersey was a retro design shirt from the 1992-1993 season when Newport were thrashed 10-79 at Rodney Parade and 72-10 at Stradey Park. That was humiliating. This was just frustrating as we all know that the squad are capable of much, much better performances than this. Whether the players believed the league table, with Newport potentially going third with Llanelli flat last, we’ll never know. By all accounts the post-match huddle on the pitch was not a pleasant place to be while the changing rooms were said to be funereal. It doesn’t take a deep knowledge of rugby tactics to imagine that training this week is going to be jolly uncomfortable for everybody.
And it needs to be. Newport face a resurgent Aberavon next Sunday, October 6th at Rodney Parade. Aberavon faced down Merthyr at the Wern recently and beat Llandovery at home in their last outing. They’re no mugs. They’ll be confident. We need to support our team, shout as loud and as long as we can and put this performance behind us. After all, we’ve got a league to make sure that we stay in.
Onwards and upwards Newport.
Your City. Your Colours. Your Club
Final Score Llanelli RFC 30 Newport RFC 17
Newport RFC Man of the Match – Jonny Morris