Ebbw Vale RFC v Newport RFC 7th September 2019 by John Evans
So. Here we are, then, back into league rugby! The league has a new title sponsor this year, the Indigo Group Premiership is what it’s called now. The league looks slightly different, too; some familiar names are missing. No Cross Keys, no Neath, no Bedwas. Bargoed have sunk down a level and Pontypool failed to come up again. There are now twelve teams in the division, theoretically giving more competitive games while making space for the regional ‘A’ sides to take part in their doing their thing.
The Black and Ambers team selected to start in this tough opening to the season had a familiar look with debuts for Luke Crane at ‘9’, Adam Jones in the centre, Ryan Gardner on the wing and a re-debut, if you like, for hooker Jamie Jeune. The experiment of playing Jonny Morris at outside centre has clearly been deemed a success as he was selected to start there. Frankly, though, the coaches could probably pick Jonny in any position and he’d have a damned good go at it.
Newport took to the Eugene Cross Park field donning their new kit supplied by Rhino and very good it looks too. I’m sure that Father Christmas is already considering placing an order with the club for his Lapland warehouse! Ebbw wore their familiar green, red and white strip. Kick off was put back to 5.30pm to take place after the Ireland v Wales World Cup warm up game in Dublin.
Ebbw outside half Ethan Phillips kicked off, his team playing towards the clubhouse. Luke Crane caught the ball cleanly and returned it to touch. Ebbw won the lineout and started working the ball around the middle of the park, popping passes up from rucks as their big forwards tried to soften Newport up. A firm tackle by Kyle Tayler was deemed illegal by the referee, Mr Ben Whitehouse, as Tayler was judged not to have released the player in the tackle. Ebbw full back Dan Haymond stepped forward to take the kick at goal from a central position, about 39 metres out. The ball sailed cleanly between the posts to give the hosts a 3-0 lead in the opening two minutes.
Newport looked to create a move from midfield. The idea seemed sound but an ambitious reverse flick pass went to ground and Ebbw were on the front foot again. They went through a series of drives, patiently bludgeoning their way into the Newport half until a pass out to prop Luke Garrett was fumbled and Newport were off the hook.
Newport had a stroke of good fortune on six minutes as Luke Crane’s feed into a scrum just sat in the tunnel as both sets of ‘heavies’ heaved at each other. Neither hooker dare lift a foot as that would be instant steamrollering. Instead, Garin Harris got the better of Luke Garrett on the Ebbw loose head as he conceded a penalty for collapsing. From the lineout on the 40-metre line, Luke Crane put in a pass as flat as a snooker table to bring Rhys Jenkins in at pace. Jenkins reached the Ebbw 22-metre line before being hauled down. The ball spread wide until it reached Ryan Gardner who made a sprint for the line but was bundled into touch some fifteen metres out on the terrace side.
Ebbw went into contact inside the Newport half on twelve minutes and, from my viewpoint, were holding onto the ball in the tackle, a view shared by Matt O’Brien as he challenged for it. The ball would not release, to O’Brien’s obvious frustration which only escalated when it was he who was penalised. Matt’s protestations did no good as Newport were ordered back ten metres allowing Dan Haymond, the Ebbw ‘15’ a simple shot at goal which he took comfortably. The score now was Ebbw Vale 6 Newport 0.
Newport re-focused. The restart was lost by Ebbw and Rhys Jenkins seized the loose ball allowing Newport a platform. Luke Crane quickly worked the ball right towards an overlap. Jonny Morris slipped between two defenders before passing out to the chasing Ryan Gardner, creating an easy gap for Gardner to run into for the game’s opening try. Matt O’Brien couldn’t add the conversion so the score now was Ebbw Vale 6 Newport 5 on fifteen minutes.
Jonny Morris made another surge at the Ebbw defence and drew a penalty for a high tackle. Newport played on but with no further advantage accruing, Mr Whitehouse called play back to the penalty offence. Matt O’Brien delivered Newport into the Ebbw 22-metre area with an attacking lineout. The rolling maul was strong and drew another penalty as prop Luke Garrett lingered offside. O’Brien kicked Newport to just five metres out but that chance was bombed as Josh Skinner struggled to control the ball and then Kyle Tayler having no chance of catching it cleanly couldn’t help but knock on. Newport weren’t done though. Ebbw prop Rob Sevenoaks was penalised for collapsing and the pressure remained on the home side. Spurning the three points, Matt O’Brien kicked to the corner again. Same again, Josh Skinner rose high at the tail, brought the ball down cleanly and gut-passed to Rhys Jenkins to get to four metres out. Skinner himself carried on to three metres until the Ebbw defence became frustrated and simply draped over the top of the ruck. Penalty. Matt O’Brien signalled at the posts and took the opportunity to put Newport ahead. The score now was Ebbw Vale 6 Newport 8 on 24 minutes.
The work that Newport have done on defence in the close season is apparent; it was ruthless. Ebbw crashed and charged at the Black and Amber wall with almost no effect at times. It’s always heartening when you see the opposition outside half kick the ball away because you know that he’s run out of ideas. However, Newport strayed offside on 28 minutes. Dan Haymond, the Ebbw kicker, made an ambitious punt to put his side back in front, kicking from around 47 metres and, to be fair, not missing by much as the ball sagged under the crossbar. That was a message to Newport if ever there was.
A spot of aerial ping pong took place between Matt O’Brien and Dan Haymond until O’Brien kicked long and central. The cover defence had to deal with both a bobbling ball and the Luke Crane/Dai Richards pairing bearing down on him. He dealt with the ball but his kick was charged down by Crane. The ball spun wickedly but, with a second or two to compose himself, Richards let the spin run out and gathered the ball to canter across the line and round behind the posts for a simple try. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make the score Ebbw Vale 6 Newport 15.
Josh Skinner made a monstrous tackle on Ebbw hooker Joe Franchi, the kind that would usually leave a set of dentures chattering in mid-air if made on us mere mortals. The tackle drew a penalty as Franchi’s teammates waded in affording Matt O’Brien the chance to put Newport in position again. From eighteen metres out on the stand side Newport drove. Skinner jumped at the tail again and set up Rhys Jenkins. The rolling maul rumbled onwards, possession slipping to Jamie Jeune. Jeune had the classic posture of head down and ball on hip as Garin Harris took control of it. The maul was now irresistible as it approached the line. Ebbw Vale appeared to implode somewhat as the maul collapsed. Mr Whitehouse had seen enough; he awarded Newport a penalty try and Joe Franchi, having a torrid few minutes, was sent for a sit down on the naughty step. With no conversion required, the score now read Ebbw Vale 6 Newport 22.
Ebbw responded, of course. Flanker Dan Hill surged through a gap in the defence with Ebbw stalwart Cameron Regan just inches behind. They breached the Newport 22-metre line while the defence reset. Ebbw used their usual tactic, big runners onto short passes, but this stuttered when a pass went astray. The Newport defensive scrum was strong and steady giving Luke Crane a chance to create. He went right and swung the ball wide to Dai Richards. Richards was elusive, outstripping the defence and then finding Luke Crane running a line on his left. Unfortunately Crane became isolated as he approached the Ebbw 22. Ebbw partly cleared but only as far as a lurking Dai Richards on the terrace touchline. He ran back at the green, red and white shirts and motored infield. The ball reached wing Harri Lang whose dart ahead was ultimately smothered and brought play for the first half to a close.
Half Time Ebbw Vale RFC 6 Newport RFC 22
With no changes at halftime for Newport Matt O’Brien restarted the game. There was no drop in Newport’s urgency as Dai Richards caught a ball in mid-air, literally floating past defending wing Paul King. As Richards returned to terra firma, he found Ryan Gardner on his right. Gardner made a dash for the line but was firmly tackled into touch on the Ebbw 22-metre line.
Newport were offside on 43 minutes. Ebbw kicked to the corner. The resulting rolling maul was good but number 8 Lewis Young broke blindside with Cameron Regan in support. Ebbw spread the ball in search of scores but the Newport defence was strong, impressively so, and eventually forced a knock on. The ensuing scrum was infringed on by Ebbw and Newport were able to clear the danger calmly.
A 47th minute set play by Newport produced some sparking handling amongst the talented backs as the ball zipped around crisply, Sadly, Harri Lang became isolated and hung on a fraction too long whilst waiting for assistance. Ebbw proved smart here. As Newport waited for either the kick to corner or at goal the kick actually went cross field to wing Dafydd Thomas. Whilst he didn’t catch the ball cleanly, he certainly put the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons. The ball cannoned off Thomas’ knee, foxing Dai Richards somewhat and, as Thomas attempted to gather, Adam Jones dragged at his arm. Mr Whitehouse wasn’t impressed and had no hesitation reaching for his yellow card. With fire in their bellies, Ebbw went to the corner and the thoroughly predictable outcome was a well-worked rolling maul of which captain Ashley Sweet was the beneficiary. Dan Haymond added the conversion to take the score to Ebbw Vale 13 Newport 22 on fifty minutes.
Newport restored the sixteen point gap just three minutes later when Dai Richards scored a beautiful try. Newport were purring in midfield, Luke Crane was fizzing between breakdowns as Newport’s eager backs looked for openings. Prop Louis Jones, a 47th minute replacement for Garin Harris and another making his debut after joining from Merthyr in the summer, looked for work and ran hard at the opposition. Eventually the Ebbw defence gave as Dai Richards slashed through and made a final jink around the last defender before dotting the ball down. Matt O’Brien added the two points to make the score Ebbw Vale 13 Newport 29 and the try-scoring bonus point was in the back pocket.
From attack to defence, Luke Crane was at the forefront again. A free kick following a scrum had Ebbw’s Cameron Regan run along the touchline. Crane ensured that the big Vale forward not only got no further but Newport gained the lineout too. It got better as Ebbw had arms all over Andrew Mann as he jumped at the front and gained a penalty. The game was entering a bit of a doldrum as Ebbw couldn’t quite break out of their half and Newport couldn’t do quite enough to capitalise. Jack Wright came on in the centre and went off again with an injury and suddenly Newport looked slightly makeshift in the backline. Haydn Simons came on to play at fullback meaning that Dai Richards and Jonny Morris, newly converted from wing remember, were at centre to defend an increasingly determined set of Steelmen. Ebbw gained the upper hand around the seventy minute mark. From a penalty they launched a rolling maul again. Newport countered it well, at first, and, as it collapsed, the Black and Ambers had some difficulty clearing the ball away. Ebbw resumed the big runners, short passes game but the runners were tiring and easy enough for Newport to pick off. Newport then conceded a penalty which was serious enough for Mr Whitehouse to show the yellow card to Josh Skinner for. Down to fourteen players, Ebbw opted for ‘same again’ and, same again, got no reward for their endeavours.
Newport were defending vigorously but Mr Whitehouse kept finding fault with them. Ebbw opted for a scrum penalty near the posts and, as the scrum needed several resets and the odd penalty against Newport, Black and Amber supporters were thinking about a penalty try being conceded. But it wasn’t to be as, with Newport seemingly struggling to contain the Ebbw eight, the Steelmen opted for a five metre lineout. Supporters looked at each other in disbelief. Ebbw huffed and puffed as the plan that had delivered so little for them all game continued to deliver little. Newport snarled and snapped in defence and, eventually, flanker Garin Price, on for Kyle Tayler carried the ball clear to the 22 metre line. He was turned over, though, so the pressure remained.
As the eighty minutes ticked over, Ebbw had a scrum on the Newport 22-metre line. With Josh Skinner still cooling his jets on the touchline it was a great opportunity for Ebbw to create something. With the scrum nearer the touchline than the centre, Cameron Regan broke and made a simple pass to replacement wing Sam Ireland to stride across the line for, frankly, a score that their efforts probably deserved. Dan Haymond added the conversion to make the score Ebbw Vale 20 Newport 29.
It was 7.05pm now and the sun was going down on the game literally. Mr Whitehouse made it clear that there were four more minutes to play. Ebbw, in the hunt for something, anything, out of the game carried on with their plan. Newport were guilty of a high tackle on 80+3 minutes giving Ebbw the opportunity to go to the corner. They made a series of unsuccessful drives and, as it was now five minutes extra played and Newport conceded again, Ebbw opted to kick the penalty ensuring that they would lose the game but gain a valuable losing bonus point. Dan Haymond sealed the deal as Mr Whitehouse brought the game to a close.
That was a convincing performance by Newport, the forwards looked powerful and purposeful whilst the backs, at times, sparkled in the late afternoon sun. It promises to be another exciting season at Rodney Parade as Newport RFC chase honours. We start our cup run, hopefully, next Friday, the 13th September, when we host Carmarthen Quins RFC in the first round of the Welsh Cup. Remember, as it’s a cup game, it is ALL PAY. Season Tickets should be available for collection too. There are some super offers and savings with the Season Ticket this year. Please familiarise yourself with them and use them-our sponsors want to know that supporting Newport RFC makes sense for them. Please support our supporters!
Onwards and upwards Newport.
Your City. Your Colours. Your Club
Newport RFC Man of the Match – Luke Crane
Final Score – Ebbw Vale RFC 23 Newport RFC 29