Newport RFC v Merthyr RFC 13th April 2019 by John Evans
The visit of a team who have won the Principality Premiership two seasons in a row, and look well capable of winning it for the third straight time this season, is always a good reason for Newport RFC supporters to be slightly wary but should also bring out the best in our capable squad. The performance against Pontypridd in the previous round did little to allay supporter nerves either.
The team selection had an unusual look to it. While the forwards looked pretty settled it was in the backs where eyebrows were raised – Geraint O’Driscoll dusted off his old “Outside half operator’s manual” for a rare start at 10, Jonny Morris was given even more licence to roam than usual at full back and some unfamiliar names alongside the familiar – Jack Wright at centre alongside the steady-as-a-rock Chay Smith and Sion Summers, a brief debutant last weekend, making his first start on the wing. It was also a first start as captain for Joe Bartlett.
Merthyr outside half Gareth Davies kicked off and showed their intentions, visiting flanker Andrew Murphy getting to the ball first. Newport repeated the opening of last weekend’s proceedings by knocking-on. The scrum was rock-steady as Merthyr launched a series of phases which culminated in winger Tom James, the former Wales player, being penalised for holding on to the ball in the tackle.
A long kick from James fell nicely for Jonny Morris to pick his angle to run. He scorched along the wing, ploughing his usual furrow, biffing scrumhalf Adam Hoskins from his path before being dragged into touch by centre Joshua Martin.
Newport got off the ground as a result of a high tackle on wing Andy Evans. The penalty, from around 47 metres was beautifully struck by Geraint O’Driscoll and sailed between the posts for a 3-0 lead on five minutes.
Merthyr had a line out around twenty metres out due to the ball being carried back into the Newport 22 before being kicked out on the full. The now-familiar Ironman routine started. Merthyr started battering away at the Newport defence, no attacking backline formed, just pods of players milling around waiting for a pop pass from the scrumhalf. Prop Chris Phillips was within touching distance of scoring, second row Ben Murphy even closer, but the overlap occurred on the left to allow room for Tom James to canter over for a try. Matthew Jarvis, the Merthyr fullback, scored the conversion to make it Newport 3 Merthyr 7 on nine minutes.
Jack Wright, the young Newport centre, burst upfield with flanker Josh Reid in close support. The ball worked across to the wing where Sion Summers only managed to spill in contact. Merthyr whacked the ball away upfield only for Geraint O’Driscoll to return the kick to the lightly defended corner in front of the Bisley stand. Merthyr centre Joshua Martin tried to cover, running with the ball dropping over his shoulder, but he knocked on and allowed Newport an attacking scrum in a promising position. The Newport scrum was strong as Merthyr infringed drawing another penalty opportunity. Geraint O’Driscoll lined up another kick to make it Newport 6 Merthyr 7 on 14 minutes.
Newport were showing a much-improved performance already as scrumhalf Geraint Watkin set off on a blazing run that took Newport deep into the Ironmen’s half. The support was quick in arriving but the Merthyr defence was proving tough to crack. A promising position was earned but Josh Skinner went into contact with too little support and was turned over by the visiting number 8, Hemi Barnes.
Newport weren’t disheartened though. Merthyr were going through their phases in midfield when Henry Palmer lined up a tackle on Merthyr’s Martin. Martin tried to keep the ball alive by passing right but the ball simply went to ground. Geraint O’Driscoll was onto it first as he hacked ahead. The ball rolled remarkably straight until around the visitor’s 22-metre line when it bounced up beautifully for O’Driscoll to take and sprint to the try line for a super score. Those of a certain age may know this phenomenon as the ‘Blanco Bounce’, where the ball would inexplicably sit up for the legendary French fullback. The tricky-looking conversion was missed making the score Newport 11 Merthyr 7 on eighteen minutes.
Geraint O’Driscoll had another chance for a shot at goal on 23 minutes when the Assistant Referee called Merthyr not driving straight at a scrum. Unfortunately the ball sailed to the left of the posts.
Newport were penalised by the referee, Mr Mike English, for not releasing in the scrum. Outside half Gareth Davies kicked to the corner for the usual irresistible routine. Second row, and captain, Craig Locke up in the middle of the line out, hooker Matthew Dwyer latched onto the back of the rolling maul and they barged over for a try. It’s entirely predictable, it’s not pretty but it’s hugely effective and very difficult to stop; the dividends it reaps entirely justify it. Matthew Jarvis added the conversion to get the Ironmen’s noses back in front at Newport 11 Merthyr 12 on 34 minutes.
But it was Newport that finished the half the stronger. Geraint Watkin tapped a quick penalty and set off, reaching the 22-metre line. Sion Summers reached as far as the football penalty box before being downed. Jack Wright, who reminded many spectators of the Newport legend Scott Williams, bustled forward and made the five-metre line before the action became frantic. Henry Palmer was acting as scrumhalf as he launched Joe Bartlett for a lunge forward. Finally, in the shadow of the posts, prop Garin Harris took a low pass as a pod of three just feet from the line. The big man wasn’t going to be stopped from that distance as the trio powered over the try line for a hard earned score. Geraint O’Driscoll added the conversion to make the score Newport 18 Merthyr 12.
There was time for a restart but Newport managed to retrieve the ball before wing Andy Evans booted the ball to touch to bring the half to an end.
Half Time Newport RFC 18 Merthyr RFC 12
Geraint O’Driscoll restarted the game but the Ironmen soon set about the Black and Ambers. Newport were tackling well, pushing Merthyr out slowly but surely, until a half-tackle allowed Gareth Davies to wriggle through and put in a grubber to the corner. Merthyr went on to disrupt the Newport lineout and reclaim the ball, battering away and getting closer to the Newport line. Eventually, it was left to Tom James, the wing, to crash in on an angle, take a short pass and cross near the posts despite the attention of two Newport defenders. Matthew Jarvis added the simplest of conversions to make the score Newport 18 Merthyr 19 on 42 minutes.
Merthyr centre Teri Gee was allowed too much room on 48 minutes and ran deep into the Newport half, Mr English not spotting a cheeky block on Andrew Mann by Merthyr flanker Jack Perkins preventing the tackle. Merthyr were ominously close to the Newport line before an accidental offside was either a let off for Newport or natural justice taking its course.
With 61 minutes played, Newport were putting in a tough shift. Super patient play by the Black and Ambers saw them progress into the Merthyr half. Josh Skinner ran into brick walls, Henry Palmer was back to his old busy style with Geraint O’Driscoll pulling the strings and Geraint Watkin making it all tick. They reached the Merthyr 22 until a stray hand from Tom James caused a knock on and a Newport scrum. Newport were going through a promising period when Geraint O’Driscoll managed to escape from a half tackle and pass to replacement prop Dan Preece to charge, bull-like, deep into the Merthyr 22 but that broke down when Preece was penalised for holding on to the ball. The Merthyr defence were proving to be tighter than a door on a submarine.
The frustration levels amongst Newport supporters rose on 67 minutes when Josh Skinner was penalised for not supporting his own weight at a ruck, which may have been true enough, but when the Merthyr ball-carrier isn’t releasing the ball in contact when does one penalty outweigh the other? Merthyr went to the corner to execute their routine but the Newport pack disrupted the maul effectively making the Ironmen crab across field where Craig Locke was isolated and conceded a penalty, ironically for not releasing the ball in the tackle.
During a 73rd minute ruck, and with Merthyr prop Louis Jones pinned to the floor, Jones could clearly be seen handling the ball, rolling it back to the Merthyr side. Geraint O’Driscoll kicked for touch but missed. As Merthyr went to clear Sion Summers caused chaos by charging down the attempted clearance. Panic ensued as Merthyr eventually got the ball away, but only to Jonny Morris. Licking his lips at the prospect of a lovely broken field, Morris set off. Newport were going well. Dan Partridge took a pass and broke the Merthyr line, Dafydd Buckland, on for Geraint Watkin at 9, kept the moves ticking over until Tom James almost handed Newport the game on a plate by conceding a penalty for offside in his eagerness to defend. Geraint O’Driscoll lined up the, potentially, match-winning kick. Sadly, the ball hung in the air and drifted right of the posts. The groan from the supporters was probably audible right across the 01633 dialling code area.
As the denouement of the game approached Newport supporters were hopeful that a score might come from somewhere, anywhere. Newport had shown that they had enough talent and ability to match the Champions and cup finalists. They deserved at least the losing bonus point if not all four for the win. It wasn’t to be as Newport imploded again. A needless 78th minute penalty was conceded as a Merthyr jersey was pulled back in pursuit of Dafydd Buckland’s charged down kick. This was compounded by a yellow card for Josh Reid, who had battled hard all afternoon, for a technical infringement at a ruck on the Newport line. The result was predictable. Merthyr line out, replacement Phil Rees up at the front, rolling maul, fresh hooker James Howe scores a try out wide, Matthew Jarvis converts to make it Newport 18 Merthyr 26 with very little time to go. That was the game lost.
As stoppage time crept on the level of opprobrium levelled at Mr English rose, unsurprisingly. Some of his decisions were baffling to say the least as whole new definitions were cast on what was ‘forwards’ and what was ‘backwards’. Head coach Craig Warlow, a model of composure, could be seen animatedly discussing some of these points at the end of the game.
Six minutes of stoppage time in and Jonny Morris was still attacking, running from deep, trying to earn Newport at least a point but nothing came of it, the Ironmen defence throwing up a wall that Newport couldn’t breach again. Eventually, Merthyr substitute James Soames wrapped the game up by kicking the ball dead to leave Newport empty-handed while Merthyr made off with all five points.
Newport RFC are next in Principality Premiership action next Saturday, April 20th, when Cross Keys RFC are the visitors. Keys are having a wretched season and right amongst the relegation mire. You can be sure that they will be targeting this fixture as a ‘must-win’ if they have any ambitions to play Premiership rugby next season. The club needs your support now. Why not come along, enjoy some fast, running rugby, wear your Black and Amber jerseys and shout Newport on to a win!
Onwards and upwards Newport.
Your City. Your Colours. Your Club
Final Score Newport RFC 18 Merthyr RFC 26
Newport RFC Man of the Match – Geraint O’Driscoll