Merthyr RFC v Newport RFC 20th November 2021 by John Evans
Following the disappointing result against RGC, the Newport RFC coaching team were forced to shuffle the pack again. Following injuries and unavailability, the squad was beginning to look rather thin, especially at centre and wing. Captain Matt O’Brien and Dafydd Smith started at centre whilst the Dragons provided wingers Owen Jenkins and Will Talbot-Davies to play on permit, for which Newport RFC thank them. Merthyr play a physical, confrontational game of rugby, so taking them on, at their place, with resources stretched, isn’t usually a good idea.
It was overcast with a light breeze when Merthyr outside half Gareth Thompson kicked the game off at 1pm. Newport managed to snaffle possession away from the Merthyr pack and start to counter. They were building nicely along the left flank, keeping ball in hand, until a no-look pass from Matt O’Brien drifted slightly ahead of the supporting Rhys Jenkins and harmlessly into touch. Merthyr contrived to lose their line out ball allowing Newport to build again. The Black and Ambers went through the phases neatly until a splendid ‘miss-two’ pass from Matt O’Brien to Owen Jenkins allowed the winger passage towards the try line. Sadly, the position was lost when a supporter at the ruck went off their feet, but this was looking promising for Newport.
Newport were playing lively, heads-up rugby, and Matt O’Brien was making it all tick. Again, he searched his box of trick-passes and came up with a beauty to put Will Talbot-Davies through the middle of the Merthyr defence. The home team were on the back foot as the Newport pack roared up in support and provided the ball for Dai Richards to take the pass and barge his way across the line for the game’s opening score. Will Reed added the conversion to make it Merthyr 0 Newport 7 with 7 minutes played.
Merthyr threatened and bashed their way into the Newport 22 but a fantastic tackle by Josh Skinner, stopping the attack and dislodging the ball at once, nullified that. Newport were quick to seize on the broken field, the backs going through the gears until Owen Jenkins did well to fight his way through defenders before offloading. The ball swung left reaching Will Talbot-Davies who strode forward. Newport had Merthyr stretched to breaking point in defence and it was only a matter of time until Dafydd Smith scorched across to score Newport’s second try. The conversion was missed, making the score Merthyr 0 Newport 12 on 10 minutes.
Newport were looking to build a lead. Merthyr conceded a penalty on 15 minutes prompting Matt O’Brien to go to the corner, the captain showing faith in his line out. Ben Roach delivered as the Black and Ambers built the pressure which almost paid dividends had a final pass from Owen Jenkins to Dai Richards gone to hand.
Newport were brimming with confidence. Hooker Will Griffiths was cantering around, ball in hand, like a centre, props Lewis Smout and Garin Harris were linking like flankers, Matt O’Brien was pulling the strings in attack, popping passes to support runners, Ben Roach was aggressive in contact, but a sublime one-handed reversed pass from Josh Skinner, roaming around like a Fijian 7s player, put Dafydd Smith into space to sprint in for try number three. Will Reed added the conversion to make the score Merthyr 0 Newport 19 on 20 minutes.
Merthyr tried to respond but it all seemed a bit half-hearted and very un-Merthyr like. Prop Chris Phillips barrelled his way into the Newport 22 but the Black and Amber defence dealt with him well. Newport could clear their lines but were penalised at the subsequent lineout. Textbook Merthyr, they opted to punt to the corner but even this was lacking, somehow. The claimed the lineout ball but had the ball wrestled away by second row Elliot Ferriman. Illegally so, said the referee, Mr Gareth Newman. Merthyr reset but hooker Dan Wall managed to clear his jumpers altogether and Newport could belt the ball away from danger. Bearing in mind that our hosts put 60-odd points on Pontypridd the previous weekend, this was a very odd performance from the Ironmen.
Will Reed showed his defensive qualities by making a wrap tackle on a Merthyr attacker, gaining Newport possession. Newport were ticking along nicely; the lineout was functioning perfectly while it was a joy to watch Matt O’Brien and Will Reed switch positions seamlessly in attack to ensure that there was always a decision-maker on hand.
Merthyr put a meaningful attack together on the half hour when wing Ashley Norton cut through midfield with Jarrod Cushion in support. The centre just had to time his pass to wing Sam Jones to give him a clear run to the line, making the score Merthyr 5 Newport 19.
Newport claimed the try-scoring bonus point on 35 minutes when Ben Roach scored. Will Talbot-Davies was nerveless under the high ball, even managing to spark the attack. Newport were moving forward, exchanging passes between backs and forwards beautifully. Lewis Smout, who had clearly had an extra pint of Gold Top before he left the house that morning, put in a neat pass to Roach, lurking with intent on the wing, who could skip past the defensive cover and touch down. The conversion went wide, making the score Merthyr 5 Newport 24.
Merthyr demonstrated how off the pace they were on 38 minutes when Newport were pinged offside. Outside half Thompson kicked them to 15 metres out but Newport managed to nick the lineout. Merthyr’s Craig Locke wasn’t to be shaken off his tackle and Newport conceded again for holding on. Merthyr repeated the sequence but, again, fluffed their lines. Newport conceded yet another penalty, for changing a binding. Merthyr repeated, only for Josh Skinner to get a hand to the ball in flight and steal possession. Luke Crane simply jogged into touch to bring an end to a very satisfying half, from a Newport perspective. One suspects that Merthyr head coach, Dale McIntosh, would take a different view.
Half Time Merthyr RFC 5 Newport RFC 24
Newport supporters, as is our wont, were fully expecting trouble in the second half. Merthyr couldn’t play as poorly again, could they? The Chief would surely have put a rocket under them in the changing rooms, wouldn’t he?
Will Reed started the second half but Merthyr appeared to not have reacted. Craig Locke was penalised for a late hit on Luke Crane following a lineout near halfway. Will Reed put in a super touch-finder which place the Black and Ambers 10 metres out on the terrace side. Rhys Jenkins jumped at the front while Garin Harris peeled away down the blindside. Newport set up phases of attack before Luke Crane could simply gather the ball and dummy his way across for a try. Will Reed added the conversion to make it Merthyr 5 Newport 31 on 43 minutes.
Ben Roach was outstanding again as he pinballed through would-be tacklers to place Newport centre-field and 30 metres out and playing with the referee’s advantage. Matt O’Brien searched his box of tricks again, but the neat chip kick was fumbled bringing play back. Will Reed booted Newport close to the Merthyr line. Ben Roach took the lineout ball and set up a maul. Will Griffiths had the ball on his hip as the maul rumbled and rocked but, just as it started to lose power, Luke Crane relieved Griffiths of the ball and pounced for his second try. Will Reed again added the two-pointer to make the score Merthyr 5 Newport 38. Newport supporters began to allow themselves to think that we’d be ok for the losing bonus point as well now.
The Merthyr scrum remained dominant, despite coming second best in virtually every other area of play. A 49th minute set piece splintered Newport and attracted a penalty. Merthyr played to their, usual, strengths but this wasn’t functioning well at all. Newport were penalised for not releasing the tackle player, so Merthyr kicked to 5 metres out. Merthyr’s Callum Bradbury caught the ball and launched the inevitable rumble towards the line. Josh Reid did well to get himself under the ball and prevent the try, celebrating like he’d scored a try himself. But it was short-lived as the Newport scrum creaked again and conceded a penalty. Scrum half Justin James tapped quickly and dived across to score his team’s second try which Gareth Thompson converted making the score Merthyr 12 Newport 38.
The Newport players were, evidently, more confident than their supporters as they tried to take advantage of Justin James’ screwed kick into touch inside his own 22. Matt O’Brien appeared to be through for a try until Mr Newman judged that Will Reed’s pass was forward
It took 57 minutes before the first piece of ‘classic’ Merthyr play appeared. They were going strong into contact, repeating the phases but the Black and Amber wall stayed complete, eventually regaining possession when Ben Roach wrapped up Masa Tutaia in a tackle.
Newport extended their lead on 59 minutes when a smart floating pass to Dai Richards unlocked the home defence again. Will Talbot-Davies was on hand to take the pass but still had two tacklers to beat. Using his strength, he powered through and dotted down out wide. Will Reed added the tricky conversion to make the score Merthyr 12 Newport 45.
The hour mark saw mass changes for Newport as the bench was emptied, some players deserving of a rest, others had no need to remain in harm’s way.
Merthyr wing Ashley Norton had a stroke of fortune with a bounce on 62 minutes. It looked as though the Newport defenders assumed he’d knocked on and stopped. Mr Newman, both arms aloft, thought otherwise. He got close to the Newport line before he was held up. Paddy McBride lunged at the line but he, too, was held. Merthyr recycled the ball allowing Gareth Thompson time to put a grubber kick in for wing Sam Jones to score his second try. This made the score Merthyr 17 Newport 45.
Newport hadn’t finished scoring just yet. Matt Dwyer, playing against one his former clubs, scored a classic hooker’s try from the tail of a lineout from Rhodri Jones’ take. Merthyr had been forced into this position by a deft chip over the top of their defensive line by Will Reed and a poor clearance. Will Reed added the conversion to make the score Merthyr 17 Newport 52.
Newport received a yellow card, coincidentally on 67 minutes again, the same as last week, when Clayton Gullis was picked out for the technical offence of not being back ten metres in defence. Thankfully, Newport were more dominant on the scoreboard than last Saturday, so the risk of implosion was reduced. However, Merthyr were still profligate in attack as Masa Tutaia failed to control a ball at the base of the scrum allowing Josh Reid to get a toe to it and hack away. Merthyr’s Adam Hoskins ran the ball back and set up a ruck from which hooker Dan Wall scored a try, almost unseen by the crowd. Gareth Davies added the conversion to make the score Merthyr 24 Newport 52.
Merthyr were playing with freedom now, but, as Janis Joplin sang, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. Their endeavours were rewarded when wing Sam Jones scored again. Ashley Norton strode hard in attack, passing the ball out and, ultimately, finding Jones with space to sprint in. Gareth Davies added the conversion to make the score Merthyr 31 Newport 52 on 76 minutes.
The Black and Ambers were still intent on defending. Dafydd Smith hacked a loose ball dead, giving Merthyr an attacking scrum, five metres out. Young prop Dylan Kelleher-Griffiths did well to hold his footing and keep the scrum steady. Merthyr were forced to play but a hit from Viliame Kotobalavu on Merthyr’s Callum Lewis stopped the attack in its tracks. Ashley Norton almost scrambled over but was, again, held up before Newport could strip him of possession and gleefully put the ball dead for the win.
Full Time: Merthyr RFC 31 Newport RFC 52
The decision about the Man of the Match was long and complex. It was easier to discount who wouldn’t get it. Ben Roach and Josh Skinner could get it most weeks anyway, such is their standard of performance, as could Matt O’Brien. The Smout/Griffiths/Harris combo were excellent when they were on while Dai Richards was almost the epitome of a swashbuckling fullback, but Will Reed provided a cool head during some of the more frenzied attacks. Well done to him.
Newport are back in action next Saturday, November 27th, when they face Ebbw Vale RFC. This game will take place at our new home, Newport Stadium. That concludes the Indigo Group Premiership Cup rounds. After that is a rest week then the league begins, in earnest on December 11th when Bridgend are our guests at Newport Stadium.
Onwards and upwards Newport.
Your City. Your Colours. Your Club
Newport RFC Man of the Match – Will Reed
Final Score – Merthyr RFC 31 Newport RFC 52
Pictures from Simon Latham: 21-11-20 Merthyr v Newport – WRU Premiership Cup, East – Simon Latham (smugmug.com)