Newport RFC commenced the second half of the 2016-2017 season in Tier 2 of the Principality Premiership in the latest approach to the Welsh Rugby Union’s ‘It ain’t broke, so let’s fix it’ domestic league. After the dice had rolled, Newport had to travel to the Brewery Field to face Bridgend RFC on this weekend. This was a ground where Newport have always had mixed fortunes, having some decent results recently but having taken some fearful hammerings in the past. Indeed, this season at Rodney Parade, Bridgend’s visit represented something of a nadir for our team as they limped through a performance that was only saved from being a whitewash when Arwel Robson created a moment of magic to score a solo try.
Bridgend outside half Joseph Scrivens kicked off for Rhys Jenkins to receive. He passed to Owen Davies whose kick was charged down to put pressure on Newport from the off. A period of pressure followed for Bridgend only undone when centre Jamie Murphy collided with his colleague Gareth Beer in an accidental offside and Newport were allowed to relieve the situation. The Newport pack seemed especially ‘up’ for the contest today, John Lavender picking up loose balls and biffing his way through the defence before a gentle offload to Matt O’Brien who had the blue-shirted home team scurrying back to cover after his searching kick probed Bridgend territory. Bridgend’s half-hearted clearance kept the momentum with Newport. A good sequence of moves was killed off when a pass strayed forward.
With the Bridgend scrum marching backwards, home number eight Adam O’Driscoll did remarkably well to not only break away cleanly but make ground too, inviting Newport to go offside. Bridgend could clear to halfway with the penalty but made such a song and dance of the lineout that Newport claimed the ball back and marched back up to the Bridgend line. Newport opted for the scrum when awarded a free-kick by referee, Mr Ben Breakspear. The Bridgend tight five were about to have the screw turned against them. Garin Harris seemed to have his opposition, Ollie Evans, in all sorts of trouble causing Mr Breakspear to speak to Evans about turning-in at the scrum. Bridgend conceded penalty after penalty, either illegally halting rolling mauls or offences at the scrum. It was after the fourth scrummage reset that Mr Breakspear had seen enough and awarded the visitors a deserved penalty try. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make it Bridgend 0 Newport 7 on fourteen minutes.
Bridgend were struggling. Their ball-in-hand play was fine but getting ball in hand was problematic. Their lineout wasn’t functioning and Adam Brown and Dan Partridge got a hand, at least, to nearly every ball that they threw in. Newport were clearly dominant in the scrum. Things were not looking rosy for the home side even at this early stage.
Rhys Jenkins had a score chalked off in the 21st minute when he broke from a scrum on the Bridgend 22 metre line. The referee awarded Newport a penalty advantage but also spotted a Bridgend defender being dragged back by the jersey. As Jenkins hauled himself over the line, play was brought back for the first offence. Matt O’Brien went to the corner and, from the lineout, a powerful rolling maul paid dividends when Craig Attwell found himself at the tail with ball in muddy hand. O’Brien was unsuccessful with the conversion and the score was now Bridgend 0 Newport 12 on 23 minutes.
Bridgend were trying to drag themselves back into the game but to little avail. Jon Morris was committed in both defence and attack, frequently hitting blue shirts over then popping up, seconds later, to hit another blue shirt down in midfield. Joseph Scrivens tried to release wing Mathew Edwards on the 31st minute with a cross-kick around half way but Edwards had strayed offside. Matt O’Brien kicked the penalty down to the Bridgend 22 metre line. The ball went wide and appeared to break down but a toe-poke on the ball saw Haydn Palmer sprint after it and beat the defence to touch the ball down over the line as it bobbled loosely. O’Brien was unsuccessful with the conversion again and the score was now Bridgend 0 Newport 17.
Bridgend were patiently trying to find a way through the Black and Amber wall and, on 37 minutes, almost managed it when flanker Tom Morgan found a gap. His pass to a support runner, however, was picked off by Tom Pascoe who booted the ball and cleared the lines.
Newport hooker Will Evans was shown a yellow card on 39 minutes for an offence that Mr Breakspear demonstrated as stamping. Bridgend tried to find the obvious gap and almost did when Wes Cunliffe was dragged in to defend nearer midfield than on his wing. The pass out to Bridgend wing Powell was, if anything, too early so Cunliffe could get back in position and Geraint O’Driscoll arrived to support him. Bridgend ran out of luck when a piece of massive physicality from Reuben Tucker, hitting blue shirts as if his life depended on it, won possession back for Newport.
As the teams left the field for the halftime interval, seasoned Newport supporters could only hope that the team wouldn’t relax and assume it was a match already in their metaphorical back pocket. As one Bridgend supporter shouted from the terraces “Come on Bridgend, you’re making Newport look good”. He was right.
Halftime – Bridgend RFC 0 Newport RFC 17
The Bridgend coaching team clearly threw a few cups and saucers around during the break as the Ravens were a much-improved unit in the second half. They tried to take the game by the scruff of the neck immediately, kicking a penalty up to the Newport five metre line. The Newport defence was resolute, Jon Morris again appearing determined to cover not only his work but that of the missing Will Evans too.
As Bridgend took their energy levels up a few notches Newport were conceding penalties more frequently. Luckily for Newport, Bridgend could rarely capitalise and the visitors saw out the yellow card period without giving a score away. Indeed, it was Bridgend’s turn to attract the ire of Mr Breakspear when hooker Iestyn Merriman was carded in the 53rd minute for being overly physical at a ruck, an approach that displeased Reuben Tucker immensely and that’s never a good idea.
Bridgend had now replaced their entire front row by now to Cai Lewis, Huw Wilkes and Garyn Daniel and their collective performance suggested that, quite possibly, these three should have started the game.
Bridgend wing Mathew Edwards might have had a try had he been able to gather a bouncing ball that Joseph Scrivens had speculatively punted towards him when Bridgend were awarded another penalty. Scrivens went for the more orthodox option by putting his side five metres from the Newport line. From the lineout second row Jon Kenny was over the line but a Newport hand was enough to prevent the grounding of the ball. The dam broke on the 61st minute when a free kick was awarded after Newport pushed too early at the scrum. Adam O’Driscoll took a quick tap and drove at the Newport line but it was centre Jamie Murphy, acting as a makeshift flanker who eventually got the touchdown. Scrivens added the conversion to make it Bridgend 7 Newport 17 on 61 minutes.
Newport hit back with the match-winning try instantly. The Black and Ambers set about dousing the Bridgend fire as Will Evans charged at midfield. He was tackled and instantly realised that he hadn’t been held so sprung up and carried on with the run. Craig Attwell gave support like a good openside should. Evans made the pass and Attwell sprinted to the line, just about evading the clutches of the Bridgend defenders. O’Brien’s conversion went wide so the score was now Bridgend 7 Newport 22 on 63 minutes.
Newport went for the corner on 77 minutes when Ravens centre Jamie Murphy failed to roll away from a tackle and blocked the ball. O’Brien went for the corner but, remarkably, Bridgend came away with possession and worked their way up field. Patiently going through the phases they edged closer, looking for a losing bonus point at best. Bridgend’s Ryan Evans was nearly through but replacement Newport scrum half Ryan Bates tackled him with such force that Evans resembled a crash test dummy. Their perseverance was rewarded two minutes into injury time as Chris Williams scrambled over for a try which Jamie Murphy hurriedly converted making it Bridgend 14 Newport 22.
The game was killed stone dead when Bridgend gave away a cheap penalty in the third minute of injury time in a very kickable position. Matt O’Brien snapped up the easy three points to ensure a bonus point Newport victory and deny the hosts any chance of a losing bonus.
It’s always nice when there is some debate about who is selected as Newport RFC man of the match and today was one such occasion. Craig Attwell and his two tries were an obvious starting point but Dan Partridge was exemplary at the line out, ensuring Newport a steady stream of ball. Tom Pascoe had possibly his best game in a Black and Amber jersey while the front row of Messrs. Lavender, Evans and Harris had their opposite numbers on toast for large parts of the game. But it was the Jack-in-a-box approach of Jon Morris that caught the eye the most.
Next Saturday’s league fixture away at Bargoed has been postponed until April 22nd so we now have a two week break until our next fix of Black and Amber rugby. The competition switches back to the National Cup and Newport visit Pontypridd RFC at Sardis Road in what should be an interesting game bearing in mind the outcome of our earlier visit there this season. It’s a chance to ‘right’ a ‘wrong’ and is eminently within our squad’s ability.
Come on ‘the ‘Port! #cotp
Man Of The Match – Jon Morris