Following Newport RFC’s poor showing at Llanelli the previous Sunday, there was a prime opportunity to shrug off that malaise by putting in a performance against Aberavon RFC. The Wizards arrived at Rodney Parade on the back of a sparkling run of form having defeated Pontypridd, Merthyr and Llandovery in consecutive weekends. Indeed, their sole league loss this season was a narrow two-point defeat up at Eugene Cross Park, from being 0-17 ahead at halftime to lose 19-17. Newport would have to play well or face a potential demolition.
Matt O’Brien started the game by kicking towards the school end. Aberavon number 8 Ashton Evans caught the ball before being snagged by young Newport wing David Richards. The Wizards went through the phases, proceeding slowly until they reached the halfway line. Newport claimed possession before a clearing kick by O’Brien cannoned off a Wizard’s back and Newport took a line out on their forty metre line. Kyle Tayler was lofted to take Will Evans’ throw. The ball fizzed wide with Chay Smith hitting the line at a shallower angle to make some room for himself. Richards had looped around to make the overlap and found himself in a two-on-one with Jonny Morris to his left and the Aberavon wing, Stef Andrews, in front of him. Richards ordered Jonny Morris to stay wide before releasing the simple pass allowing Morris to stride home for the game’s opening score with just 100 seconds on the clock. Matt O’Brien couldn’t quite add to the score so it remained Newport 5 Aberavon 0.
Aberavon responded as one may expect. A penalty for a tackler lying over the ball, despite him making huge efforts to move with an Aberavon forward on top of him, saw Wizards full back Jon Phillips kick into Newport’s 22-metre area. Our visitors retrieved the ball and spread it left before lively hooker Luke Davies set up a ruck on the opposite side of the field. The ball worked right until second row Sam Williams punctured the Newport defensive line and popped a pass to centre Will Price who gleefully skated over the line to open his side’s account. Wizards captain James Garland added the conversion to make it Newport 5 Aberavon 7 on five minutes.
David Richards continued his pleasing start in Black and Amber by making a strong step off his right foot to take him into the visitor’s 22. A promising position was building until Geraint O’Driscoll received man and ball and couldn’t control either. Aberavon built patiently, working through the phases until they conceded a penalty on halfway. Matt O’Brien returned them to their own 22-metre line on the Hazell side. Newport failed to control the lineout allowing Aberavon to play with an advantage. They progressed patiently again but couldn’t really get past the defence on the halfway line. That was until a moment of magic from the hooker Luke Davies who found a gap on the far flank, raced through it before showing an old-school flash of the ball. The Newport cover defence bought the dummy, possibly not believing a tight forward would fancy running that far, and Davies was clean and clear to sprint in from forty metres for a try. James Garland added the conversion again making the score Newport 5 Aberavon 14 on 17 minutes.
Newport were hit with a sucker punch just two minutes later. Geraint O’Driscoll launched a towering kick before running and catching same excellently before setting up a ruck. Kyle Tayler opted for the direct route before being hauled down. Garin Harris acted as a ‘9’ to get the ball moving before Andrew Mann took a powerful lunge at the red and black defence. Joe Bartlett tried to keep the move going but the effect of a gang-tackle on him saw the ball spilt. Aberavon, on their toes, looked to play the ball. Fullback Jon Phillips stepped around Tom Pascoe before putting a smart kick into the area behind the Newport defence. The bouncing ball sat up beautifully for Wizards scrumhalf Iwan Temblett and he ran in for another try. All the corner-flagging David Richards could do was try to push Temblett further from the posts to make the conversion a little more difficult. This was to no avail as James Garland made sure again, making the score Newport 5 Aberavon 21 on 19 minutes.
Newport were reeling a little from that combination of punches but settled enough to be awarded a penalty which Aberavon made eminently kickable by adding ten metres onto for chopsing. Matt O’Brien nailed the shot at goal to make it Newport 8 Aberavon 21 on 22 minutes.
Geraint O’Driscoll made a sumptuous, ambitious pass on 28 minutes which had the Aberavon attack bemused. They were becoming sucked in to the left hand corner of the pitch before the ball appeared with O’Driscoll. The pass spun wide to David Richards before moving onto Josh Skinner who found Matt O’Brien outside him again. O’Brien belted the ball forward up into the Aberavon 22 metre area. Following a line out, a knock-on from the visitors gave Newport a scrum platform on the 22 metre line. With the ball won, Lewis Smout set about working in the loose. He took contact before setting up a ruck. Geraint Watkin flicked the ball up to O’Brien who shimmied through a gap in defence before slipping a pass right to the supporting Chay Smith. Smith dived across the line for a well-taken try which Matt O’Brien converted to make the score Newport 15 Aberavon 21.
Kyle Tayler was working hard, as usual, but a contentious decision from the referee, Mr Tom Spurrier, had supporters scratching their heads. Tayler was clearly on his feet, over a tackled player, challenging for a ruck ball which was being clung on to for dear life by the Wizards. Mr Spurrier penalised Newport, puzzlingly, and Aberavon, alive to the possibilities, took the quick tap penalty before scrum half Iwan Temblett raced away into the corner for his team’s fourth, and bonus point-earning, try. The conversion was missed making the score Newport 15 Aberavon 26 with 33 minutes played.
A massive slap of the ball forward by an Aberavon player was called as ‘ball knocked backwards by Newport’ by Mr Temblett, putting the Black and Ambers in all sorts of trouble. Luckily, centre Will Price fumbled a pass before the level of opprobrium towards the referee from Newport supporters became uncontrollable.
Mr Temblett went some way to appeasing his critics when he penalised the visitors approaching half time for wheeling the scrum. Matt O’Brien slotted the conversion to make it Newport 18 Aberavon 26.
Halftime – Newport RFC 18 Aberavon RFC 26
James Garland restarted the fixture which Rhys Jenkins caught. Newport began the half playing with intent. Jonny Morris became the first point of attack, ploughing into a congerie of Wizards before the ball was spread wide to Josh Skinner. Skinner dummied before loping forward and gut-passing to Chay Smith before grabbing hold of Smith and dragging him through the contact. The ball was spilled allowing Aberavon to launch an attack of their own until flanker Lee Purnell spilt the ball. With advantage cancelled out Newport could go again but, sadly, Rhys Jenkins wasn’t expecting the pass and the ball bounced forward off his thigh.
A strong 45th minute scrum had Aberavon in trouble causing number Ashton Evans to lose control of the ball at his feet. Geraint Watkin, who had worked hard all afternoon, almost stole the ball but tripped and spilled it as he tried to launch a Newport attack.
A 49th minute collapsed scrum was, evidently, Newport’s fault as Aberavon’s Garland placed his side on the Newport 22 metre line. From the line out, the rolling maul inched forward until hooker Luke Davies had power enough to bustle past the covering defence and ground the ball in the corner. The referee consulted his assistant before awarding the try. Garland’s conversion sailed wide of the posts to make the score Newport 18 Aberavon 31 on fifty minutes.
A 54th minute penalty by Aberavon came to nought as James Garland’s kick went wide again.
Worse was to follow for Newport as some half-hearted tackling was punished with a sixth Aberavon try. Hooker Luke Davies surged towards the line only to be held up. Scrum half Iwan Temblett appeared in complete control as he could select his passes at leisure, eventually finding flanker Jac Morgan who powered across the line near the sticks. James Garland added the two to make the score Newport 18 Aberavon 38 on 57 minutes.
Newport made changes a-plenty on the hour; Tom Piper, Dan Preece, Matthew Reed and Tom Lucas all entered the fray for Lewis Smout, Garin Harris, Josh Skinner and Geraint Watkin. The impact was immediate. Newport, playing with the referee’s advantage had a Chay Smith-led dart for the corner but insufficient advantage came. Matt O’Brien went to the corner for the lineout enabling Joe Bartlett to climb high and set up the rolling maul. Will Evans made a burst for the line before Tom Pascoe attempted a grubber kick, knowing that another advantage had been gained as Mr Temblett had spotted both Aberavon second rows, Hughes and Williams, fringing the maul. O’Brien spurned the kickable penalty to go for the corner. A cute move took place as Andrew Mann, jumping front of the line, took the catch, flicked the ball back to Will Evans who crashed through the unguarded five-metre gap and scored in the corner. Matt O’Brien added the tricky two-pointer to make the score Newport 23 Aberavon 38 on 61 minutes.
Matt O’Brien made a terrific break on 64 minutes, spotting thin cover in the corner of the Aberavon defence. The ball bounced with just Wizard wing Stef Andrews on duty. He was grounded but Iwan Temblett’s rescuing kick didn’t make touch. It made Matthew Reed instead. He caught the kick before blasting his way up field, swatting second row Rhodri Hughes away and breaking into the Aberavon 22. Tom Piper carried strongly before setting up a ruck. Tom Lucas nipped around the side of the ruck and scampered across for Newport’s bonus point try. Matt O’Brien added the two points to make the score Newport 30 Aberavon 38 on 65 minutes.
Newport’s sense of urgency was palpably rising and the intensity and execution seemed to be improving. The Black and Ambers played with a new-found freedom, but, as Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”. And there wasn’t. The try bonus point was in the bag, there were fifteen minutes, minimum, to play and just eight points adrift. Suddenly, this was do-able.
Aberavon appeared to have made changes to their personnel assuming the game was won. James Garland, impeccable at outside half, was taking a breather, while the scrum went backwards so quickly that they may have fitted their tight five forwards with roller skates. Number 8 Ashton Evans did well to break from a rapidly retreating scrum but his ‘no-look’ pass inside simply found Kyle Tayler who moved Newport forward. The ball spread wide but Chay Smith appeared to be thinking about getting past his opposite number rather than taking the ball and spilled possession forwards. Aberavon full back Jon Phillips was quick off the mark and away, but the pass to him was wildly forward so play was brought back.
Time pushed on and Newport were leaving it late. A 77th minute penalty to Newport for Aberavon fringing a maul led to Matt O’Brien kicking to the corner. Matthew Reed biffed forward before the ball went wide. Aberavon committed their defence before Matt O’Brien switched the focal point of the attack in a flash, passing wide leaving Jonny Morris to draw the defender and pass inside to Geraint O’Driscoll to cross for Newport’s fifth try and take his personal points tally for Newport RFC, quite an achievement. Congratulations Geraint! Matt O’Brien couldn’t improve the score making it Newport 35 Aberavon 38 on 78 minutes.
The excitement, not to mention the noise, reached new levels as Newport were just within touching distance of something that, just twenty minutes ago, looked dead and buried. Aberavon restarted and Newport punched away in search of that final score. Wizard Will Price had different ideas as he expertly stood over the tackled player and turned possession over for his team. The Aberavon penalty didn’t find touch, however, and Newport could build again from however deep. Newport temporarily lost the ball until Joe Bartlett dislodged it from a red and black-shirted arm and Newport could go again. Matt O’Brien’s kick, unfortunately, failed to reach touch allowing Aberavon to go through a disciplined series of drives, keeping the ball and running the clock down. Eventually, when Mr Temblett marked ‘time’, Aberavon’s Jacob Flynn gratefully slammed the ball into touch to secure the win for the Wizards.
This was a slightly disappointing end to the game but in a different manner to the Llanelli debacle. Newport were unfortunate not to win in the end from a position which, just twenty minutes earlier, looked hopeless. The two points gleaned in defeat were the least that they deserved. But congratulations to Aberavon. You have to acknowledge when you are beaten by a better side. They were disciplined, organised and very well-drilled; they didn’t make many mistakes at all. If they carry on like this then their place towards the top of the table will be merited.
Newport RFC are next in action on Saturday when they make the long journey to Colwyn Bay and Stadiwm ZipWorld to take on RGC 1404. They’re another ball-playing side and it should make for another thoroughly entertaining encounter. After that, Newport have a rare Saturday afternoon home fixture when Bridgend come calling for a Principality Premiership fixture.
Newport Man Of The Match – Rhys Jenkins
FINAL SCORE _ Newport RFC 35 Aberavon RFC 38