Newport RFC v Cardiff RFC 26th March 2022 by John Evans
This was a game that has been a long time in coming. A fourth fixture between two great clubs in a single season and Newport, who have never completed a clean sweep against Cardiff, were in position to be able to put that right. Following three victories, at stake was a chance to make club history, as well as bag a place in the Welsh Cup final. Nobody is kidding themselves that Newport v Cardiff is the same as in the olden days, back in April 1969, when eighteen thousand people paid to watch the two teams battle themselves to a 9-9 draw and end Newport’s chances of obtaining four victories, but it is that determination to hold on to our history that makes the fixture versus the Old Enemy so enthralling. Long may it continue.
Newport were wracked with injuries and unavailability; young prospect Will Reed was away with his parent team, the Dragons, to South Africa, while ball-winners like Joe Bartlett and Andrew Mann may, potentially, not pull on a Newport jersey again this season, unfortunately. The timing could not have been much worse for Newport, either, in that Cardiff Rugby’s tour to South Africa was over and their squad players, who had been missing for the 38-6 demolition two weeks ago, were back to bolster their squad. If Newport were to win, they would have to do it the hard way.
The game was hosted at Pontypridd RFC’s Sardis Road ground. The spring-like weather and firm surface would be well-suited to both team’s aspirations to play the ball. An entertaining game was in prospect.
Newport were playing from right to left in front of the main stand as Matt O’Brien got the game underway. Cardiff number 8, and captain, Morgan Allen, had a poor start to the game when he spilled his catch prompting openside Gwilym Bradley to dive onto the ball and instantly be pinged offside. Matt O’Brien booted the ball to the corner, but Cardiff second row Sean Moore intercepted the throw and Cardiff could clear their lines.
The game continued tentatively as both teams cancelled each other out. Dan Fish, the Cardiff ten, was having trouble settling down with his kicking out of hand. His punt to the corner was misjudged but improved on as Dai Richards’ clearing kick was charged down by the pursuing wing.
The defence was proving tough to crack again, as Cardiff tried to break it down, but Black and Amber jerseys seemed to be queueing up to knock a Blue and Black shirt down. Cardiff resorted to kicking, but, again, Dan Fish was wayward and powered the ball directly into touch.
Cardiff were enjoying plenty of possession but didn’t set any alarm bells ringing until the 14th minute as they broke along the left wing. Cardiff threw everything into the attack, but the defence flexed and moved in time with the attack until the Assistant Referee gave Newport offside in defence. With nothing doing with ball-in-hand, Dan Fish popped a shot at goal to put Cardiff 3-0 ahead.
Dai Richards was trying to pick out gaps on the right of field, but Cardiff were firm in defence themselves and no amount to quick-footed stepping was going to pierce the line at this point.
Cardiff scored the first try of the game on 19 minutes. Centre Mason Grady strode through the back line with alarming ease, drawing Dai Richards as the last defender, before unleashing Cameron Winnett, their fullback, to glide over in the far corner. Fish’s conversion was missed making the score Cardiff 8 Newport 0.
Newport responded in kind. Cardiff were penalised for playing the ball on the floor, prompting Matt O’Brien to kick to the corner. Ben Roach took the ball at the tail whilst Jack Brooks set the ruck up in midfield. Scrum half Luke Crane spotted an overload on the right and released Matt O’Brien and Will Talbot-Davies to cross out wide. Matt O’Brien added the two-pointer to make it Cardiff 8 Newport 7 on 21 minutes.
Cardiff extended their lead on 25 minutes when a mighty shove at the scrum had their Newport counterparts standing up. Dan Fish swung his boot at the ball to make it Cardiff 11 Newport 7 on 25 minutes.
Another powerful scrum by Cardiff had Newport in trouble again on 27 minutes as the ball squirted out of the right-hand side allowing the talented scrum half Ellis Bevan to seize the ball, sprint, turn the Newport defence inside out, causing Dai Richards to sprint across to bolster the cover. Cardiff set about battering the line, but the Newport defence was resolute again. Sadly, centre Ioan Evans was injured in the build-up and needed to be stretchered off. All at Newport RFC wish the lad well and hope to see him back playing rugby as soon as possible. After a six-minute delay, the game restarted with a penalty to Cardiff, kicked to the corner. Newport managed to snaffle the ball and Luke Crane could begin clearing the lines.
The referee, Mr Simon Rees, finally managed to catch a Cardiff player infringing, when Welsh international prop Scott Andrews was pinged for obstructing Ben Roach. Matt O’Brien pumped Newport forward. Josh Skinner claimed the high ball while the big Newport forwards set up a platform. Jack Brooks took advantage of a half gap to edge Newport further forward. Max Williams was acting at scrum half to release the ball to Matt O’Brien whose delicate cross-kick bounced in front of Will Talbot-Davies who palmed the ball forward, caught same and dived into the corner for a well-taken try. Matt O’Brien’s conversion was successful, making the score Cardiff 11 Newport 14 on 40 minutes.
The Blue and Blacks replied almost immediately as the launched a series of heavy attacks on the Newport line. They patiently went through the phases with big forwards hitting up the middle, Allen, Moore, Andrews all driving at the guts of the Newport defence, but the Black and Ambers kept them at arm’s length. It wasn’t until a slight gap was spotted by former Newport flanker Alex Everett that anything changed as he took a pass out of contact and slid in for a score between a pair of disjointed Newport defenders. Dan Fish added the conversion to make it Cardiff 18 Newport 14.
Deep in stoppage time, and Cardiff flanker Gwilym Bradley was caught not rolling away from a tackle. With time up, Matt O’Brien gestured to the sticks and whacked across a three-pointer to take the score to Cardiff 18 Newport 17 with the half now over.
Half Time Cardiff RFC 18 Newport RFC 17
Dan Fish resumed proceedings, Jack Brooks taking the catch and setting up the platform for Newport to clear. Cardiff tried to move the ball, but it was loose. Will Talbot-Davies managed to get a boot to bobbling ball. With nobody at home for Cardiff, barring fast-retreating hooker Alun Rees, Josh Reid and Luke Crane gave pursuit but Rees did well to evade both and save the situation.
Newport had a stroke of luck for their next try; Matt O’Brien kicked the ball long, searching for touch, but the covering wing butchered his duties by knocking the ball into touch, giving Newport both possession and position. Ben Roach took the ball as middle jumper while Henry Palmer coupled onto the tail of the rolling maul. It edged forward to the Cardiff line and, as it appeared to have stalled as a ruck on the try line, Matt O’Brien appeared, picked the ball up and dived over for try number three. Matt O’Brien converted his own try to make it Cardiff 18 Newport 24. Sadly, Henry Palmer, our last remaining specialist hooker, took a knock in this movement and had to be helped from the field. Let’s hope he’s back to full fitness very soon.
The Cardiff scrum won another penalty allowing Dan Fish to kick to 15 metres out on the stand side of the field. The Blue and Blacks set up a rolling maul, but it was Ben Roach who emerged into the daylight with two strong arms clamped around the ball to earn Newport the turnover.
Cardiff continued to work hard in attack but were letting themselves down with loose passes and indecision. Luke Crane picked off one such pass but, with Cardiff having advantage, he was brought back. Even then, the penalty kick to the corner was short and bounced off Josh Skinner’s shins. Newport booted the ball infield and Cardiff continued to play, bringing big forwards onto the ball at pace, but it was meat and drink to the Newport defence who halted waves of attack. Eventually, two such forwards got in each other’s way and the ball bumbled harmlessly forward, to the evident pleasure of the Newport defence.
Matt O’Brien launched a 58th minute attack on the Cardiff line. Will Talbot-Davies was dispossessed, but the popped ball was picked off by Dafydd Smith who sprinted into the Cardiff 22. Newport sat back and looked for gaps but, instead, Mr Rees missed the obvious high shot at Jack Brooks by Cardiff and awarded a scrum to them once the move had broken down.
Cardiff were providing a stern test of the Newport defence. They were through again on 61 minutes but an arm from Josh Skinner managed to knock the ball free, thankfully backwards, for Matt O’Brien to plant a terrific 50:22 kick to put Newport into position. Unfortunately, the lineout was mis-read by Newport and the position was lost again.
The lead changed hands again on 64 minutes with a try from livewire scrum half Ellis Bevan. Cardiff managed to burgle the ball from Newport at a lineout allowing Nathan Hudd to power forward and pass the ball out of contact to the supporting Bevan. Juggling the ball as he ran, he took it and sprinted under the sticks with Dai Richards and Matthew Powell, both challenging him. Dan Fish was successful with his conversion to make the score Cardiff 25 Newport 24.
Dai Richards was selected by Matt O’Brien as the player to do most damage in a 67th minute attack. Will Talbot-Davies smashed the ball on as play spread back infield. Playing with an advantage, Newport rolled the dice, but nothing came. Going back to the penalty. Matt O’Brien weighed up the options and opted to go to the corner. Rhys Jenkins took the ball at the front, set up the rolling maul. As it edged forwards, Luke Crane, Will Talbot-Davies and O’Brien all joined the back of the maul to ensure it plunged over the Cardiff line and that Jamie Jeune, on for Henry Palmer earlier, scored the try. Matt O’Brien added the two-pointer to make the score Cardiff 25 Newport 31 on 70 minutes.
Cardiff were throwing everything into attack now. The Newport defence was resolute, though and several minutes of Cardiff attacks were nullified when a heavy tackle knocked the ball loose.
The pace of the game had been tremendous, as had the last encounter two weeks prior, and was superb entertainment for the neutral. However, the spring warmth and frenetic tempo saw the game crash a little as both tens looked to utilise long kicks for position, trying to nurse their forwards to a big finish. Thankfully, for Newport, Matt O’Brien proved better at it as a clumsy kick from Dan Fish rolled long and, ultimately, dead and placed Newport with a scrum in the Cardiff 22. Ben Roach’s boots were just over the 22 line as the scrum went down and Mr Rees’ arm shot up in Newport’s favour. With it now being four minutes inside stoppage time, Matt O’Brien opted for posts again. He was the coolest man in Pontypridd as he languidly struck the ball for a three-pointer to make it Cardiff 25 Newport 34. That had to be it, didn’t it? Surely?
No, still time to play. Dan Fish’s restart was poor, barely going 8 metres, let alone 10. However, Newport chose to play it but got it wrong when they were penalised for holding on in the tackle. Dan Fish quickly took the shot at goal to make it Cardiff 28 Newport 34 and, crucially, within one score.
With 88 minutes now on the clock, Newport were throwing everything into defence. Cardiff had to go for gold. They biffed and bashed their way forward, Morgan Allen being front and centre of their attacks, but Newport conceded again. Fish pumped the ball upfield for a last, last roll of the dice. The kick was tremendous, right into the Newport 22, but the Black and Amber forwards wrapped their opposition up totally. Cardiff couldn’t release the ball from the maul, and it was Ben Roach who emerged as the hero again, arms clamped around the ball, ensuring that Cardiff couldn’t go forward, and that Newport would progress to the Cup Final, against Aberavon RFC, on April 24th at the Principality Stadium.
High up in the main stand sat Mr. Newport, Brian Jones. His group had moved to lower levels leaving Brian alone with his thoughts. For all the things that Brian had seen, and experienced, in rugby, he hadn’t seen or done this. He looked emotional, dewy-eyed. When approached and asked how he was feeling, he looked up and flashed that wide, impish grin that suggested that he was absolutely delighted and thrilled that this group of players had done something for the club that he and his generation had never quite accomplished.
This was history.
Full Time: Cardiff RFC 28 Newport RFC 34
The next Newport RFC home fixture is on Sunday April 3rd when we face RGC at Newport Stadium. Kick off is at 2.30pm and we’d love you to join us! This is an Indigo Group Premiership fixture. Following this, Newport host Merthyr RFC on Thursday 7th in another Indigo Group Premiership game. This will also be held at Newport Stadium and will also be broadcast live via S4C’s Clic YouTube channel. Watching on telly is great, but there’s nothing like being in the stadium and cheering on the Black and Ambers.
Obviously, it’s still too soon to know ticketing details for the final itself but these will be broadcast to supporters as soon as the club is informed. We hope that as many of you as possible join as for a terrific Sunday out and that the Black and Amber army can replicate the fantastic support that the team received at Sardis Road from the travelling support that made the journey to Pontypridd. They were like a 16th player.
Onwards and upwards Newport.
Your City. Your Colours. Your Club
Newport RFC Man of the Match – Matt O’Brien
Final Score – Cardiff RFC 28 Newport RFC 34