Following Newport’s early exit from the Cup competition, the team selected to face our oldest rivals and closest friends, Cardiff RFC, had a more familiar and settled look to it. It was important to test the team’s credentials against a side that are mining a rich seam of form at the moment. The sight of a blue and black jersey on the pitch at Rodney Parade always seems to bring out the best in Newport teams!
Gareth Thompson, Cardiff’s outside half, kicked the game off with Newport attacking the school end. The first couple of minutes were played wholly within the middle third of the field as both sides tested the others defence with aerial bombs and charges alike. Eventually, a knock on by Cardiff gave Newport a scrum near halfway to settle the game down and get on with playing rugby.
The first foray into either 22-metre area was when a pass from Cardiff wing Tom Williams had flanker Jim Botham gallop into Newport’s danger area. Strong defence from the Black and Ambers saw the danger pass as wing Elliot Frewen ripped the ball clear and forced the knock on. From the resulting scrum, number 8 Matthew Reed set off on a physical run before popping the ball into Chay Smith’s hands. Chay sprinted away to halfway before manufacturing a loose pass to Ryan James who fed Matt O’Brien. O’Brien then placed a well-aimed grubber kick for Harri Lang and David Richards to hunt down in the corner but the Blue and Black defenders had retreated enough to cover the position.
Newport retrieved possession and were banging away at Cardiff’s defensive door with little return. Joe Bartlett made a charge and almost broke the line but he did enough to draw in the defence and leave a gap out wide. Ryan James fizzed the ball out to Elliot Frewen who needed no second invitation to have a dart at the line. Frewen sprinted thirty metres clear with only Cardiff full-back Edd Howley to beat. Frewen feinted left and jigged right, wrong-footing Howley to dive across the line for the opening try which Matt O’Brien improved on to make the score Newport 7 Cardiff 0 on eleven minutes.
The Newport pack had their opposite numbers in trouble as early as seventeen minutes. Cardiff tight head Peter Lloyd repeatedly complained to the referee, Mr Nigel Owens, about Dan Preece’s technique. Mr Owens’ retort seemed, basically, to be to get on with it. What a surprise, then, when Lloyd buckled inwards and won his team a penalty for Dan Preece driving through the scrum at an angle. Cardiff kicked the ball up to the Newport 22 from where they launched a series of forward surges, inching closer to the line until Peter Lloyd himself had a drive under the posts only for Kyle Tayler to relieve him of possession and Tom Piper to clear up and work their way out of defence. The ball passed left where there was the speedy trio of David Richards, Elliot Frewen and Chay Smith. Richards hoofed the ball long and all three gave chase. As Cardiff’s Edd Howley was the sole Blue and Black in defence with those three bearing down on him, it looked for all the world as if it was about to happy days for Newport. Howley calmly, and completely improbably, stepped around all three and cleared the ball.
A Newport scrum on the Cardiff 22-metre line saw Ryan James try to mix the game up and get Cardiff thinking as he opted to chip and chase his own kick into the corner when Cardiff probably expected the ball to go across the line. Edd Howley was on the spot, though, and was first to the ball relatively comfortably.
It was Howley who glided through a crack in the Newport defence on 23 minutes to launch a Cardiff attack. The ball reached wing Joe Gatt who chipped ahead but David Richards, sprinting back in defence, overtook him and gathered the ball for Ryan James to kick infield. Cardiff took that as an invitation to try again but Newport were equal to it. Geraint O’Driscoll kicked the ball long and away to touch. Cardiff won the ensuing lineout and had a stroke of fortune when Gareth Thompson’s high ball bounced off the unsuspecting Andrew Mann, playing a stormer for Newport in the back row, and had the ball ricochet off him and into Thompson’s hands. Thompson simply had to sprint forty metres to the line for the Blue and Blacks opening try which he converted himself to make the score seven points apiece on 27 minutes.
It felt as though Newport were rushing things a little but soon settled back down as the breeze strengthened. David Richards received the ball with just Cardiff’s Edd Howley to beat but the Cardiff man manoeuvred Richards into touch. Cardiff managed to misjudge their lineout as it sailed over the top of everyone into the hands of Kyle Tayler who charged, head down, at the Cardiff line. He was held up but the ball worked out to Will Evans who knocked on under pressure. However, the resulting scrum was a thing of beauty as the Blue and Black pack splintered. They retained possession though and kicked away to David Richards. Richards ran back at the Cardiff defence but they were penalised. Matt O’Brien jogged to the spot as if to kick to touch but instead tapped quickly and passed to Dan Preece who stomped towards the line. Will Evans was next up but he was held short. It was left to Matthew Reed to pick up from the base of the ruck and charge left and crash over for a hard-earned but well deserved try. Matt O’Brien couldn’t improve the score so it was now Newport 12 Cardiff 7.
Dan Partridge set up a ruck having secured a bobbling ball in midfield. Matt O’Brien set off on a run before flicking an outrageous reverse pass to Kyle Tayler who had a yawning gap to run into. He was tackled and Matt O’Brien opted to kick towards the line. David Richards gave chase but with two Cardiff defenders covering a try looked unlikely. Both Cardiff defenders attempted to smother the ball but both evidently failed as it was Richards who got a hand to it first. Mr Owens had no hesitation in awarding Newport the score but, sadly, Matt O’Brien fired the conversion wide to make the score Newport 17 Cardiff 7 on 38 minutes.
Cardiff did launch a final attack of the half but it petered out harmlessly when Newport scrambled the ball into touch.
It had been a super half of rugby for Newport; they had been playing with confidence and no little ability and absolutely deserved to be ahead. However, Cardiff would make use of the breeze in the second half. It would be interesting!
Halftime – Newport RFC 17 Cardiff RFC 7
Matt O’Brien restarted the game but it wasn’t long before Cardiff were on the attack. A gap appeared in the Black and Amber defence for Gareth Thompson to exploit. He had Edd Howley running in support who managed to wriggle free from David Richards’ tackle. Howley had scrum half Martin Roberts running in support whom he found easily for Roberts to scamper in for a try. Gareth Thompson added the conversion to make the score Newport 17 Cardiff 14 on 44 minutes. Game on.
Cardiff handled the restart clumsily as the ball bounced into Newport’s lap. Matthew Reed made an attacking charge but Cardiff were up quickly in defence, forcing Newport to do things quickly. Cardiff’s Gareth Thompson managed to intercept a pass before the ball reached centre Ben Thomas who kicked his side into a promising position. Promising for Cardiff it was as they snaffled the line out before going infield for a series of drives before Morgan Allen, son of former Newport player Andy, barged over for a 48th minute try which Gareth Thompson converted. This turned the scoreboard on its head as Cardiff now lead 17-21. Newport would have to dig deep.
Newport suddenly looked slightly shaky. It was down to the talismanic Elliot Frewen to settle everybody’s nerves as Ryan James gave him a pass from a ruck leaving Frewen the narrowest of margins to run in. Like a tightrope walker, Frewen tiptoed along the white line until he could find more room to operate in, carrying Newport from 22 to 22. Kyle Tayler was first on the scene but Cardiff infringed as they tried to get back into defensive positions while Geraint O’Driscoll was looking for the killer pass. Matt O’Brien opted to kick for goal which was successful, making the score Newport 20 Cardiff 21 on 51 minutes.
The Newport back row were getting through a prodigious amount of work, Matthew Reed having possibly his best performance so far in Black and Amber, Andrew Mann, playing out of position, was tireless but Kyle Tayler was little short of jaw-dropping at times. His appetite for work was astonishing. But that’s not to denigrate the tight five’s efforts; Tom Piper looks like a different player these days while Dan Preece was like a one man wrecking ball.
Newport retained possession well but Cardiff were very quick in stepping forward to defend. A flat pass from Chay Smith to Matt O’Brien picked Cardiff’s lock as the ball cannoned off O’Brien’s knee. O’Brien raced after it as the Cardiff backs seemed to assume it was a knock-on. However, Cardiff replacement Steffan Jones was on it first and Newport, in the desperation to retrieve the ball, conceded a penalty for going off their feet at the ruck.
Matthew Reed was charging onwards again, biffing Blue and Blacks out of his way like a kid hearing the ice cream van. The Cardiff defence snapped into action though and the effort soon petered out.
Cardiff went back on the offensive as centre Ben Thomas made an excellent run and got close to the Newport line. Cardiff battered away, Morgan Allen coming particularly close, but the Newport defenders seemed to have it covered. As the Black and Amber wall strung out across the line, scrum half Martin Roberts spotted the only inch or two of grass without somebody posted on it. He dived in from close range to score the try which Gareth Thompson converted to make the score Newport 20 Cardiff 28 on 59 minutes.
Newport were determined to try to not let the game slip away from them. Kyle Tayler led the way again and sprinted with ball in hand into the Cardiff 22-metre area. Matthew Reed, Elliot Frewen and Will Evans all took turns at trying to puncture the Blue and Black defence. Joe Bartlett nearly crept through but was tackled by his bootlaces, his attempt at offloading the ball to David Richards sadly unproductive as the ball bounced off Richards’ shoulder. Thankfully, the Cardiff scrum was in disarray so they were pushed off their own ball. Matthew Reed picked up from the base of the scrum and thrust at the line but it was Will Evans who picked up and crossed the line for Newport’s try-scoring bonus point, a just reward for a solid afternoon’s scrummaging. Matt O’Brien nailed the conversion making the score Newport 27 Cardiff 28.
The Cardiff scrum took a 69th minute battering, Mr Owens awarding Newport advantage. When none came Matt O’Brien opted for the kick to the corner. Unfortunately the line out wasn’t straight but it was notable that Cardiff opted to take the line out again rather than risk another scrum being smashed to bits, unusually intelligent decision making.
Cardiff were awarded a 71st minute penalty for a line out infringement which Gareth Thompson kicked to make the scoreboard read Newport 27 Cardiff 31.
Newport sensed that time was running out. Kyle Tayler, again, sprinted clear with ball in hand up into the Cardiff 22 but was isolated. Cardiff booted the ball long to David Richards who took the ball in mid-air and returned to halfway. Frustratingly he, too, was isolated and Cardiff could launch a last, late, attack. Ben Murphy took a line out ball and had the maul set up around him. It creaked forward, edging closer to the Newport line before it splintered and sent Morgan Allen across the line to score the try to kill Newport’s hopes of victory. Steffan Jones kicked the conversion which took the score to Newport 27 Cardiff 38.
Newport had a try-scoring bonus point in their back pocket already but a second point was on offer for finishing within seven points of Cardiff. The Black and Ambers threw the kitchen sink at Cardiff in search of the losing bonus point. Tom Lucas, on at scrum half for Ryan James, broke on two occasions but was swallowed up. Morgan Burgess appeared to have a good chance of a try on the left flank but, with just one defender to beat, made a pass infield to nobody in particular. With 82 minutes played, Newport had a penalty when Cardiff were nabbed offside. Three points were clearly insufficient so Newport would have to roll the dice. Matt O’Brien kicked to the corner for Henry Palmer, on for Will Evans at hooker, to throw into the lineout. Chris Williams jumped at the front allowing Morgan Burgess to peel around the lineout and crash across for the bonus point securing score. Matt O’Brien couldn’t add the conversion so the final whistle sounded with the score at Newport 32 Cardiff 38.
One talking point among supporters after the game was the manner in which the referee, Mr Owens, let the game flow and breathe. It was notable that the man who is possibly the most famous referee in the world, was one of the least noticed on the field. The game is for the players, not the referees. Another point was that Cardiff were, easily, the best team that Newport had faced all season and the Black and Ambers had matched them try for try.
Newport are back in action next Saturday when they travel to the Bridge Field to meet Bedwas RFC in a Principality Premiership game. Bedwas are in some trouble towards the foot of the table but you can be sure that they will target Newport RFC as a winnable game. The next home fixture is on February 2nd when Llanelli RFC visit Rodney Parade for another Principality Premiership game. After Newport’s poor show at Parc Y Scarlets earlier in the season there is a feeling amongst supporters that Newport own Sospan a performance. Let’s hope we get to see one.
Onwards and upwards Newport.
Newport Man Of The Match – Kyle Tayler
FINAL SCORE _ Newport RFC 32 Cardiff RFC 38
Report: John Evans