B&As march past Merthyr in monsoon conditions

Newport visited a very wet Wern on Thursday night in front of the S4C cameras looking for a seventh consecutive win at the hands of Merthyr.

Having beaten this evening’s hosts in October’s reverse fixture, the Black & Ambers were looking to secure another double over their League rivals and to cement their place in the Indigo Premiership’s top two.

This match would come in a week when Newport and eight other teams were accepted into the WRU’s new Elite Development Competition for next season, while the Ironmen confirmed their intention not to apply, meaning tonight’s encounter could be the last between the two sides for a while.
In their statement, Merthyr said they had “thoroughly enjoyed [their] place at the top table” and had formed “lifelong friendships”. We can certainly vouch for that last part.

Despite events off the field, there was a game to played and the visitors started the strongest. When Merthyr carelessly lost possession in their own twenty-two, Newport were awarded a penalty. Rather than take the easy three points, Matt O’Brien’s eyes lit up and saw an opportunity.
The future Hall of Famer took a quick tap to feed Josh Skinner who bulldozed over the goal line, however referee, Tom Spurrier, deemed the ball to have been held up.

The hosts also struggled to maximise their chances. Josh Lewis, formerly of the Dragons, failed to convert what looked like a simple penalty in front of the posts from thirty yards out.
Shortly after, the Black & Ambers made them pay. With a lineout on the opposition five-metre line, it was a simple catch-and-drive phase which powered over to give Newport, and Henry Palmer, their first try of the evening. O’Brien slotted home the conversion.

With only a solitary Josh Lewis penalty kick to show for their efforts, Merthyr soon found themselves two tries behind. Another catch-and-drive move came and, to no surprise, Palmer bagged his second of the evening. This time, ‘OB’ wasn’t so accurate with the extra points.
Soon after, Newport could have had a third. After the ever-youthful Elliot Frewen broke into the Ironmen’s twenty-two, the B&As had a penalty in front of the sticks with an opportunity to extend their lead to 12. However, as tempting as the three points were (or weren’t), they elected to kick to touch. Sadly, the ball was lost in the subsequent lineout.

Merthyr capitalised and after dragging Jac Lloyd into touch deep within Newport’s twenty-two, it was their chance to turn a catch-and-drive into a score. They succeeded through lock, Callum Bradbury, and with another missed effort by Josh Lewis, it was a slender four-point difference between the two teams going into the break.

HANNER AMSER: Merthyr 8-12 B&As

The opening phase of the second half saw Newport captain, Ben Roach, catch the ball from the restart and demolish any defender brave enough to go near him, eventually making a 30-yard run.
That proved the catalyst for the B&As’ next score soon after: the ever-dangerous catch-and-drive tactic, which many a team have found difficult to defend, gave the visitors their third try of the evening. I’m sure you can guess who the scorer was.

With their nine-point lead restored, Newport had further advantage when Merthyr second-row, Craig Locke, saw yellow for dangerous contact with Josh Skinner in the maul. Had there been the luxury of seeing a replay, the officials may have imposed a more severe punishment.
The reduced outfit seemed to have no effect on the hosts, however; in fact, it seemed to have aided them. With the B&As in great territory for another score, Cole Swannack, briefly a Black & Amber last season, raced away with an interception, destined to score a try, or so he thought.
Viewers of the newly-revived 1990s gameshow will know that even the largest of head starts can mean nothing to the Gladiators. As Swannack (the ‘Contender’ in this instance) proved too much for the helplessly chasing defenders, up stepped Lloyd Lewis (we’ll call him the ‘Gladiator’).
With four other chasers closer to the flying Contender, the Gladiator, from his right wing deep in Merthyr’s danger zone, defied the odds, made up an enormous amount of ground and caught the Contender from behind and force a knock-on with merely metres to spare. S4C called it ‘heroic’, and we concur.

The Ironmen did however get their reward. Having mounted pressure on their opponents and driven them into the red zone, Callum Bradbury eventually found the strength to cross over for his and his side’s second try. Josh Lewis’ conversion meant the lead was now only two points.
Almost as soon as they returned to full strength after Locke’s sin-binning, Merthyr were quickly down to 14 men again. This time the culprit was centre, Seb Ripley, who was asked to take a ten-minute break for a deemed deliberate knock-on.

Having conceded a try last time with an extra man, Newport did make the most of the advantage this time and secured their fourth try through Chay Foster-Smith. The officials agreed the centre’s downward pressure on the ball with the stretch was enough to secure the bonus point.
Remarkably, it took Tyron Morris 75 minutes to introduce his first substitute of the evening, which is testament to the incredible contribution of each of the starting fifteen this evening. Before the B&As emptied their bench late in injury time, Jon Morris made it five tries. ‘Jonny’ acrobatically passed the ball out wide in the previous phase, before finishing that particular run of play with a score in the corner. O’Brien’s conversion sealed the win to continue another fine run of form for his side.

SGÔR TERFYNOL: Merthyr 15-31 B&As

SEREN Y GÊM: Henry Palmer

We’d like to thank Merthyr RFC for their warm hospitality during the evening and throughout their time in Welsh Premiership. We wish them all the best for the next chapter in their proud history and look forward to meeting them again one day in the near future.

Next up for the Black & Ambers is another televised game on Thursday 29 February with kick-off at 7.30pm. Our hosts will be Pontypridd: another team who will ply their trade away from the new Elite Domestic Competition next season.

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