Newport RFC vs Llanelli RFC – 22nd February 2019 by John Evans
It was a big weekend of rugby for Newport RFC supporters. The undercard was the Wales versus England Six Nations fixture at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff while the main attraction was, naturally, Newport RFC hosting Llanelli RFC in a rearranged Principality Premiership fixture.
Immediately before the game was a minutes silence for Angus Evans who sadly passed away recently. Angus played a few first XV games for our club but mostly played for our United side. He went on to become the club dentist and was heavily involved with the Former Players Association whilst also being Vice President of Crawshays RFC, a club that we are proud to be associated with.
Llanelli wore the change version of their retro 1992/93 strip, navy blue with two broad white horizontal bands across the chest, a shirt that generally has Newport supporters sweating bullets after witnessing the humiliating batterings our club took at the Turks hands in that strip!
Matt O’Brien kicked off for Newport with the Black and Ambers defending the North Terrace end, now devoid of the temporary stand used for the football. Llanelli immediately fumbled the catch allowing scrum half Tom Lucas to use the ball to go right to Haydn Simons, rushing up from fullback. Simons passed inside to Dan Preece before the ball moved back to Matt O’Brien. O’Brien lost the ball in contact and Llanelli could clear their lines.
Tom Lucas inadvertently spilled an awkward lineout ball allowing a Llanelli scrum close to the touchline on the Bisley side some thirty metres out. The ball passed left to centre Ryan Davies whose stuttering misstep run deceived the Newport defence enough to carve through before passing out to onrushing fullback Kalum Evans to sprint in for a third minute try. Wing Tom Prydie (yes, that Tom Prydie) slotted the conversion to make it Newport 0 Llanelli 7.
No sooner had Newport supporters began to fear the worst, that the recent indifferent form of 2019 was hanging around like a bad smell, than the Black and Ambers assuaged us with a top drawer try of their own. Llanelli conceded a penalty tempting Matt O’Brien to kick to the corner. With the ball won Newport began hammering at the narrow side with thrusts by Dan Preece and Will Evans in particular. With patient phases being worked the ball started to creep wide until Sospan were sucked in enough to create the almost inevitable overlap allowing Haydn Simons to gallop along the touchline for a well-taken try. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make the score Newport 7 Llanelli 7 with five minutes played.
Llanelli were full of intent to attack, scrum half Gareth George looking particularly effective around the fringes. A loose ball had visiting flanker Joe Miles in a foot race with Haydn Simons to reach the ball first. Simons won the battle but Miles won the war as Simons was unable to ground the ball thereby giving Sospan a very handy attacking scrum five metres out. Llanelli knocked hard at the Newport front door but a promising situation was given up when prop Craig Thomas spilled the ball in contact allowing Newport to partly clear. Llanelli kept moving the ball until a Newport infringement gave them a chance of a penalty shot. Tom Prydie stepped forward to bang it over from 35 metres giving Llanelli a ten points to seven lead on fifteen minutes.
Newport won their own ball back at the restart and began to thump forward. A delayed pass brought Dan Partridge on to the ball. He broke their defensive line but was soon swallowed up. Chay Smith pierced the visitor’s 22 with a strong run while the Black and Ambers played with the referee’s advantage. None came so Matt O’Brien kicked to the corner. Andrew Mann took the aerial ball and set the maul up. Tom Lucas had wing Andrew Evans running an angle and delivered the pass. Evans nearly reached his target, being downed and crawling a few more centimetres on his knees and elbows. Lucas fired the ball out again to Tom Pascoe arcing around. Pascoe reached high, controlled the ball and dived across the white line for a try. Matt O’Brien had no difficulty adding the two points bringing the score to Newport 14 Llanelli 10 on 18 minutes.
The Black and Ambers were starting to impose their game on to the visitors. The tempo went up and the ball was beginning to do the work. Josh Skinner retrieved a ball charged down by Llanelli captain Nathan Hart and passed away smartly. Newport were soon on the attack and an opening for Haydn Simons along the Hazell flank was spoiled by the pass being forward.
Nathan Hart broke excellently from a 28th minute scrum before passing to wing Morgan Williams. Andrew Evans tracked back before collaring him. Chay Smith briefly regained possession for Newport but his kick went more “up and across” rather than “flat and straight”. Sospan prop Simon Gardiner caught the ball enabling Llanelli to carry on the attack but they met with stubborn resistance from Newport who were rewarded with a penalty to clear the defence and go on the attack themselves. Matt O’Brien booted to the corner to win the lineout. Andrew Evans made an angled run again before the ball worked left. O’Brien, faced with rapidly reducing options, sized up the situation before placing a neat grubber kick aimed at the corner of the dead ball area. Haydn Simons sprinted and managed to beat the covering defence and the whitewash to dab down in the corner on the Bisley side. Matt O’Brien, faced with his toughest kick of the evening, missed the conversion but not by much as the ball rattled the right hand upright. This made the score Newport 19 Llanelli 10 on 32 minutes.
Right from the restart Andrew Evans was in amongst the Llanelli pack making a nuisance of himself. Dan Partridge secured the ball for Newport before they pushed upfield. Matt O’Brien was playing with a smile on his face, figuratively speaking, and when he does Newport play with gusto and purpose. Elliot Frewen was wading through defenders, often dragging a back row forward with him. The ball zipped around at mesmerising speed. Matt O’Brien, known amongst the squad as ‘OB’, was more like Obi Wan Kenobi as he maintained a zen-like calm as Llanelli were pulled from pillar to post. The ball appeared to be using The Force to move around as Chay Smith popped a neat pass to Tom Pascoe who then juggled a pass on to Andrew Evans to glide in for a breathless, ecstatically well-received-by-the-crowd try and earned Newport the try-scoring bonus point. Matt O’Brien added the two point lustre to the score to make it Newport 26 Llanelli 10 on 34 minutes.
Newport were relishing the broken play and fast hands led to a clever pass from Matt O’Brien to release Andrew Evans to blast along the Hazell wing. With the line seemingly at his mercy, Evans only had a corner-flagging Tom Prydie to beat but the Wales wing timed his tackle to perfection to biff Evans into touch and deny him a quick-fire brace of tries.
It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Newport were shredding Llanelli. Will Evans went close on 38 minutes after Matt O’Brien selected the perfect pass to release him. Dan Partridge went closer, crossing the line and touching down. Sadly for Newport the referee, Mr Gwyn Morris, had spotted a forward pass and declined to award the try.
As the clock ticked past forty minutes it was left to Gareth George, the Llanelli scrum half, to boot the ball off the field and get his mates back in the changing room. Newport were very much in charge of the fixture and Sospan had ten minutes to work out a way to claw themselves back into it.
Halftime – Newport RFC 26 Llanelli RFC 10
Tom Pascoe caught the restart from Llanelli’s Stef Hughes at outside half. He spun through two attempted tackles before passing to his centre partner Chay Smith who was tackled man and ball and spilled it forward. Josh Skinner was back on the touchline to receive the kick. His interplay with Tom Lucas and Andrew Mann was dynamic with some excellent handling. Sospan were penalised for a high tackle on Andrew Evans and, with options vanishing, Matt O’Brien took a quick snap at a drop goal but that sailed harmlessly wide. With the advantage, Newport went to the corner again. Kyle Tayler made a burst through the line while Matt O’Brien was restored to full Matt Obi Wan mode as he prodded, poked, pulled and pushed the Llanelli defence. He eventually selected a cross-kick from his armoury out to the lurking Josh Skinner. Skinner, athletically and quite improbably, took the catch under pressure and made a pass back inside which wouldn’t have disgraced Meadowlark Lemon in his 70s heyday.
The ball was still wanging around furiously leaving Llanelli as little more than interested by-standers at times. Josh Skinner was raging around the field like a runaway bulldozer, leaving Llanelli defenders sore and Newport on the front-foot.
It took seven minutes of the second half before Sospan had any meaningful possession and then, when they did, the simply found roadblocks. Stef Hughes, the Llanelli 10, tried to conjure something but his pass out was picked off by Elliot Frewen. Frewen gut-passed to Dan Partridge as Newport worked to halfway before Llanelli conceded another penalty. Matt O’Brien kicked to the corner. The ball spun away to Chay Smith and replacement centre Josh Male before Andrew Evans made a tilt at the line, fending as he went, before being tackled just five metres out. Unfortunately for Newport, Tom Piper and Dan Preece had crossed wires in attack as they got in each other’s way, conceding possession for accidental offside.
This was breathless rugby from Newport as wave upon wave of attacks seemed to rain in on the Llanelli line, but the precision finishing of the second quarter of the game was slightly blunted. It was very entertaining though! Llanelli turned a ball over in the 53rd minute but Stef Hughes simply found Elliot Frewen getting in the way again. Haydn Simons took a pass and tried to pick a route through midfield before Newport eventually conceded a penalty allowing Llanelli to clear their lines.
Llanelli were galvanised to make more of a fist of their game. A lineout ended with Josh Skinner and visiting second row Chris Long involved in a scuffle. It seemed for a while as if Skinner might have been in trouble with Mr Morris, however Skinner used all his charm and personality on to make Mr Morris keep his card in his pocket. For now. He had spoken with captain Rhys Jenkins about a series of penalties conceded by the Black and Ambers and his patience was clearly wearing thin. Newport’s defensive structures were now given a thorough examination and they were not found wanting. A Llanelli lineout was pushed away from the line while hooker Greg George was unceremoniously dumped on his backside as he tried to break from the blind side of the maul. Newport conceded a penalty again, on 62 minutes, Stef Hughes kicking Llanelli to a line out, fifteen metres out on the Hazell side. Newport defended valiantly until Mr Morris tired of Newport infringing. He singled out Rhys Jenkins as the offender on this occasion and invited him to take ten minutes on the naughty step. Stef Hughes set up the lineout option for his forwards again but the throw was picked off by the challenging Newport lineout jumpers and it was left to Josh Male to charge away from under his own posts to set up a ruck to try to clear.
Newport were being challenged themselves now. A promising Sospan attack was spoiled when Josh Skinner picked off a pass from wing Tom Prydie and then hoofed the ball upfield. Llanelli began to whizz the ball around themselves but with little end product. Prydie looked dangerous at times, as he should have, but he couldn’t do it all himself.
A super 72nd minute touchfinder by Matt O’Brien put pressure on the Sospan hooker, Greg George. Newport almost capitalised when Andrew Mann won the lineout ball but the ball dropped quickly and steeply onto Geraint Watkin’s boot, Watkin coming on for Tom Lucas previously, and Llanelli could gather and clear.
The final nail in Llanelli’s metaphorical coffin came on 78 minutes when a juggernaut Newport scrum, with Messrs. Smout, Palmer and Harris up front smashed their opposite numbers. Geraint Watkin sprinted away from the base of the scrum before he was dragged back by his shirt. Watkin, though, had Morgan Burgess striding away on his left. Burgess took the pass and rolled over the line to score. Matt O’Brien added the two-pointer to make the score Newport 33 Llanelli 10.
Even in added time Newport were looking for more. Super handling from the players manoeuvred the Black and Ambers into a decent position but the pass to Matt O’Brien was laboured. He was snagged and set up the ruck. Geraint Watkin, spotting a gap behind that ruck, tried to collect the ball and sprint into the gap but sadly fumbled bringing the game to a close.
This was a super performance by the squad, deservedly achieving their first win of the calendar year in style. It was an excellent evening’s rugby entertainment before the Six Nations game on Saturday. The club still need your support, however. It is their ambition to achieve a finish in the top six of the Principality Premiership this season which is still well within their grasp. The next two fixtures may go a long way towards doing that. Next up is a tricky visit to the Brewery Field in Bridgend on Saturday March 2nd, kick off at 2.30pm. Following that is the visit to Rodney Parade of Neath RFC. That game is on a Friday night, March 8th. It would be great to see a healthy contingent of Black and Ambers at both of these games. The Friends of Newport Rugby Trust are running a bus to Bridgend, if you would like to travel with them please get in touch to book your seat.
Finally, April 5th sees the latest Hall of Fame dinner in the Bisley Suite. These are always excellent occasions and well worth attending. Tickets are £40 each and are available from Kevin Jarvis. Please get in touch to reserve your place as soon as possible.
Onwards and upwards Newport.
Newport Man Of The Match – Josh Skinner
FINAL SCORE _ Newport RFC 33 Llanelli RFC 10