Christmas. It’s the time for families, friends and visiting your closest relatives. In Newport RFC’s case we visited Bargoed pre-festivities and now faced Cross Keys RFC in the regular ‘Boxing Day’, in a manner of speaking, game. Both sides are closely related to ours and, like real families, often have moments of bickering and rivalry, none more so than at Cross Keys, who have been the metaphorical thorn-in-the-side of Newport RFC for years and have, to be honest, enjoyed a degree of superiority in recent times.
Cross Keys have found progress tough this season and languish towards the bottom of the table. Like Bargoed, one could be sure that they would be targeting the visit of the ‘Townies’ as winnable and a possible springboard to get themselves away from the relegation mire that they currently inhabit.
There was a minutes silence for former Cross Keys and Newport player Gary Legge, who passed away recently. Newport RFC send their condolences to his friends and family at this difficult time. Gary played 35 times for our club between 1952 and 1957.
Cross Keys were in their usual black and white kit which featured a black chest panel and the traditional black and white hoops across the stomach. Keys kicked off with outside half Jacob Botica, the former RGC 1404 player who signed for the Dragons last summer and was permitted in to cover, doing the honours. Immediately Newport looked uncomfortable as Rhys Jenkins, so steady and reliable usually, snatched at the ball and fumbled it into touch. Keys second row Scott Andrews took the catch well and formed the rolling maul. Captain Damian Welch battered his way into the Newport 22 before Keys set up the short-pop-passes-to-big-runners game for which they are known. They worked the fringes of the mauls, going left and right, before spreading the ball wide. The pass from centre Dylan Fidler to wing Llywarch ap Myrddin, permitted in from Cardiff RFC, was judged to have been flat before ‘Larry’, as he was known to us Black and Ambers, jinked and swerved around the Newport defence and crossed for a try in the first minute. Jacob Botica was unsuccessful with the conversion making the score Cross Keys 5 Newport 0.
The restart didn’t go ten metres and the resulting scrum was penalised as Newport were judged to be collapsing it. Jacob Botica kicked to put Keys inside the Newport 22 for an attacking line out. Damian Welch jumped at the tail for Keys and set up the rolling maul. It swung right then left, looking for the soft underbelly in the Newport pack’s defence. The ball worked to the back of the maul until it reached Garin Price, playing at 8, but wearing jersey 25, for Cross Keys. Price burst from the back of the maul to dash the last two metres and dive across for a try in the corner at the clubhouse end. Jacob Botica added the conversion and made the score Cross Keys 12 Newport 0 on five minutes.
Five minutes played, twelve-nil down and Newport hadn’t laid a hand on the ball in anger. Added to that was the fact that Cross Keys were playing like the Cross Keys of around five years ago and, unless Newport settled down and played their game, trouble loomed.
From a scrum in the Keys half, Newport supporters could only look through gaps in their fingers as Keys scrum half Owain Leonard coasted through the Newport defence and sprinted clear eventually being caught inside the Newport 22 metre area. Cross Keys rampaged up in support but centre Dylan Fidler found himself being stripped of the ball and pressure relieved.
Newport gained a penalty of their own on twelve minutes, Matt O’Brien thumping the ball towards the corner. Cross Keys had other ideas and easily snatched the ball after the Newport pack had somewhat telegraphed their intentions at the line out.
And then, miraculously, Newport began to click. They strung together some phases of attack, played at their pace rather than Cross Keys’, and made the home team stretch and grunt in defence. The fact that the ball was spilled as Matthew Reed tried to take contact and juggle a pass was secondary. They were settling down.
Matt O’Brien had found his groove and began zipping the ball around. Chay Smith was the beneficiary as fullback David Richards made a scorching run through the Black and White defence with Smith, sprinting as hard as he could, to his right. Richards drew his opposite number, Will Kelly, before making the simple pass to Chay Smith to run in and turn to score under the posts. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make the score Cross Keys 12 Newport 7 on 19 minutes.
The ball was flashing around at speed between the Newport backs before Harri Lang chose to chip his opposite number, Wes Cunliffe, formerly of this parish. Jacob Botica jogged across to cover before he took the ball but then took Harri Lang piling into him. Botica spilled the ball forward giving the Newport scrum something to get their teeth into. The Black and Amber pack won a penalty and opted to scrum again. The scrum edged forward and the referee, Mr Mike English, awarded Newport a penalty try. This made the score Cross Keys 12 Newport 14 on 24 minutes.
The Keys forwards jogged back for the restart seemingly with heads bowed. Their main weapon was their belief in their forward superiority and that had just had a hole blown in it.
Cross Keys continued to attack and made Newport indiscipline pay. A perfectly kickable penalty was spurned in order to go for gold. The forwards faith in their rolling maul abilities was justified when Newport dragged the first one to the floor and conceded again. Keys opted for take two and made no mistake as the visiting forwards offered no opposition jumper, opting to push the rolling maul away. Newport pushed infield leaving the ball-carrier, hooker Ellis Shipp, alone with ball in hand and zero cover in front of him. Shipp dived across and will probably never get an easier try for as long as he plays rugby. Jacob Botica added the conversion to make the score Cross Keys 19 Newport 14 on thirty minutes.
Newport, if anything, upped the tempo further in response. Just as Cross Keys faith lay in their big tall forwards, Newport’s faith was in their own fitness and ability. A series of pop passes between Matthew Reed, Matt O’Brien, Geraint O’Driscoll, Geraint Watkin and David Richards took Newport to within touching distance of the Keys line but Harri Lang was ultimately isolated and the good work didn’t get the reward it arguably deserved.
Cross Keys approached the half time with a foray into the Newport half. Prop Tom Piper emulated his back-row mates by making a quality turnover which went out to Matthew Reed. Reed bumped and bashed his way forward, getting through three would-be tacklers before making a one-handed offload to the flying Elliot Frewen who was screaming up the tramlines. Frewen, head back and nostrils wide, took the pass and sprinted in forty metres for a fantastic try which Matt O’Brien improved upon making the score Cross Keys 19 Newport 21 at half time.
Half Time Cross Keys RFC 19 Newport RFC 21
Matt O’Brien restarted the game and, straight away, Cross Keys conceded a penalty for a careless physical challenge against a Newport player. Matt O’Brien kicked to the corner on the main stand side for the line out, just seven metres out. Joe Bartlett claimed the throw and Newport set up their own rolling maul around him. The ball was whipped wide before Matt O’Brien boomed a pass out to David Richards who took the contact and set up the ruck. Matt O’Brien opted for a delicate chip kick to the corner which had Elliot Frewen in pursuit. Frewen caught the ball and grounded it for a good try which had his mates delighted as they congratulated him. Matt O’Brien added the tricky conversion making the score Cross Keys 19 Newport 28 on 42 minutes.
Newport were notably doing better in the contact areas and were growing in confidence. Anything Tom Piper could do, Dan Preece could do just as well. Preece burgled a Cross Keys ruck and won Newport a penalty just as the hosts threatened to string some phases together.
Fifty minutes saw changes in the Black and Amber personnel-Matthew Reed, Tom Piper and Will Evans were replaced by Huw Taylor, Nicky Thomas and Henry Palmer. This allowed Josh Skinner to return to his favoured backrow berth from where he could do more damage.
Cross Keys frustration with the situation shone as brightly as the floodlights on this grey afternoon as centre Srdan Majkic swung David Richards to the floor after he had kicked the ball away on 54 minutes.
Newport had a scrum inside the Cross Keys half on 59 minutes which Mr English began to become frustrated at. His insistence that Cross Keys bind properly ended with him awarding Newport a penalty which Matt O’Brien slotted to make the score Cross Keys 19 Newport 31. This penalty kick also took Matt O’Brien through the 700 points barrier for our club, a great achievement for which he should be congratulated.
Jacob Botica kicked somewhat aimlessly which David Richards took spectacularly as he caught and spun, leaving himself tons of room to run into. Josh Skinner worked hard to run in support before making a looping pass out to the onrushing Geraint O’Driscoll to score a marvellous try and send the travelling Black and Amber support into raptures. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make the score Cross Keys 19 Newport 38 on 61 minutes. David Richards was having an exemplary game at full back, covering well in defence and adding quality to attacks.
Matt O’Brien and Josh Skinner were relieved of duty on 64 minutes, Haydn Simons being put in control and Chris Williams joining the back row. Also on was Haydn Palmer who was making his fiftieth appearance in Black and Amber, congratulations to him for this achievement.
Cross Keys were still in position to claim a try-scoring bonus which they had an opportunity to go for on 67 minutes. A scrum penalty had Jacob Botica kick to the corner. Keys second row Harvey Reader took the catch and the rolling maul rocked and rolled without really going anywhere. There was still danger until Henry Palmer stepped in, ripped the ball away from the forwards and Ryan James, on for Geraint Watkin, made a pass directly to Geraint O’Driscoll. There was a gap for O’Driscoll to wriggle through before sprinting away and passing to David Richards who switched on the afterburners and led Newport back to attack. It was Barbarian-style breathless, entertaining rugby by Newport which, further, resulted in a yellow card for Keys Dylan Fidler for, what Mr English demonstrated to be ‘pushing’. Newport showed a desire for more scores as they whizzed the ball across the backline and were possibly too ambitious when a few ‘miracle’ passes didn’t come off.
Newport had a stranglehold on the hosts. Huw Taylor was able to disrupt nearly every opposition line out, the new front row of Smout, Henry Palmer and Thomas had the upper hand at scrum time and the backs were almost free-running.
The game was noticeably slowing down and breaking up on 76 minutes. Haydn Simons injected some pace as he sprinted off along the right side of the field but had little support, Rhys Jenkins eventually caught him up and battled his was onwards. There must have been a stray Keys hand as Newport were awarded a scrum. The Newport pack heaved their opponents backwards making room for the backs to run at their opponents. Haydn Palmer went very close, almost with his back on the Keys try line as he formed the ruck before Mr English called play back for another scrum to Newport. The ball worked across the line with Cross Keys showing some stubborn resistance in the tackle before a short pass to Chris Williams had the back-rower charge across the line for a try near the posts. Haydn Simons added the conversion to make the score Cross Keys 19 Newport 45.
Newport are back in action on Saturday January 5th 2019 when they face RGC 1404 in the Welsh Cup. Due to Newport County getting a plum FA Cup draw against Premiership team Leicester City on the Sunday, Rodney Parade is not available to us for this game. Therefore the fixture will take place at Cardiff RFC’s Arms Park ground and kick-off is at 6.30pm. As usual with cup games, this game is all pay, Season Tickets are not valid for entry.
After that Newport RFC are back at their home ground for the visit of Cardiff RFC in the Principality Premiership. This takes place on Saturday January 12th and kick-off is at 2.30pm.
Newport RFC would like to wish Black and Amber supporters everywhere a Happy and Prosperous 2019 and, if New Year Resolutions are your thing, why not promise yourself to take in a few more Newport RFC game in the flesh this year?
Onwards and upwards Newport.
Your City. Your Colours. Your Club
Final Score Cross Keys RFC 19 Newport RFC 45
Newport RFC Man of the Match – David Richards
Report: John Evans