DOUBLE DELIGHT OVER THE IRONMEN Report by Rhys Jones
The Black & Ambers’ quest for a play-off spot continues after a hard-fought bonus-point win against Merthyr on a sunny Easter Saturday afternoon at Rodney Parade.
The 33-27 result secured their fourth consecutive win at their historic home and maintained their 100% record at the ground since relocating to Newport Stadium.
Third-placed Merthyr came to town on an impressive run themselves: since a home defeat to Cardiff to kick-off 2023, the Ironmen had won their subsequent eight League matches, all bar one with a bonus point.
However, Newport had already beaten today’s visitors on their own patch earlier in the season and were looking to complete their fourth League double of the season.
Merthyr opened the scoring with a Josh Lewis penalty kick before the B&As’ captain, Matt O’Brien, equalised with one of his own soon after. The first try, though, was to come to the hosts.
Ioan Davies, the Dragons’ full-back who has been on scintillating form for the ‘Port, caught a high ball and casually beat the helpless defender to ignite a dangerous attack for his team.
The move ended with Joe Westwood, another youngster on impressive form, kicking a loose ball forward which eventually reached the hands of Lennon Greggains to touch down under the posts. However, his celebrations were short-lived, as referee Craig Evans brought the play back for a Newport penalty after a knock-on earlier in the move halted their advantage.
Their efforts, however, soon paid off with the resulting lineout. Dafydd Buckland got the ball out of the rolling maul to Westwood who squeezed through a gap to bag his team’s first try of the afternoon.
Newport then capitalised on Paddy McBride’s sin-binning for a no-arms-tackle, bagging another two tries to extend their lead. The first came for Buckland, picking the ball from a ruck on the Merthyr try line to dive over for his second try in as many weeks.
The second came before the half-hour mark when Lloyd Lewis collected a loose ball just outside his own twenty-two, before passing to Ben Roach then Ioan Davies, who eventually gave the ball back to Lewis to cross over for his fourth score of the calendar year. With O’Brien kicking both conversion, Newport held a healthy 19-point lead. However, Merthyr weren’t done just yet.
With their team in the Black & Amber twenty-two, former Dragons half-backs, Josh Lewis and Tavis Knoyle, teamed up well to create a try for the latter, before Lewis found some space in the B&A backline to dive under the posts. With Lewis converting both tries, and Matt O’Brien slotting over a penalty in between, Newport held an eight-point lead going into the interval.
HANNER AMSER: B&As 25-17 Merthyr
Both teams were desperate to score first in the second half and both teams indeed came close. Chay Foster-Smith, playing in an unfamiliar wing position, was unlucky not to catch a bouncing pass metres away from the end-zone, before his dazzling run later was diverted into some punishing Merthyr traffic where he was eventually forced into touch.
Phil Rees of the Ironmen broke through to gain some valuable territory for his side, which eventually led to Dafydd Thomas coming close to a score on his wing. Ioan Davies, impressive in both attack and defence, made sure the door was firmly slammed shut on his try line.
That gave the B&As a much-needed boost, and the bonus point was secured soon after. Lloyd Lewis bagged his second of the day and fifth of the campaign, picking up a loose ball in Merthyr’s half before racing along his right wing, jumping over the final defender, and crossing over. O’Brien missed the tricky conversion but soon added another penalty kick to take Newport three scores clear of their opponents.
Dafydd Thomas did finally get a try of his own after numerous desperate attempts in the first 60 minutes, and Foster-Smith came agonisingly close again to a score. The ball reached his wing and he did manage to touch down, however the assistant referee’s flag was quickly raised to deny him his 30th try in the famous Black & Amber jersey.
Edging near the final ten minutes of regular time, Newport substitute, James Benjamin, was shown a yellow card for stopping a Tavis Knoyle quick tap, thus giving Merthyr an advantage to come back and potentially add to their incredible winning run.
After a Merthyr cross-kick to the left wing with its recipient in acres of space, his pass in-field to a fellow Ironman did lead to touch down, although the referee deemed the pass to be forward, much to the relief of the home faithful.
The visitors, though, did secure a try with the 80-minute mark nervously approaching. Substitute Dan Wall crossed over, however Lewis’ missed conversion here and for Thomas’ earlier try, cost his team dearly.
Merthyr were six points down, and a fifth try for them was needed with very little time remaining. They piled on the pressure to get that final score, but the Black & Amber defence proved too strong. Newport saw out the game to record their fifth consecutive win (sixth in all competitions) and end their opponents’ impressive run.
SGÔR TERFYNOL: B&As 33-27 Merthyr
SEREN Y GÊM: Ryan Woodman
The result sees Newport maintain their push for a play-off spot and they now sit only three points behind rivals and fourth-placed, Ebbw Vale, with a game in hand.
A win on Wednesday (12 April, 7.30pm) against Bridgend at Newport Stadium will take the Black & Ambers into the top four with three games remaining. The Ravens, however, will be a difficult opponent, having earned the bragging rights in the reverse fixture in January.
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