Newport RFC v Llandovery RFC 6th May 2023 by John Evans
The match was moved from the allotted 2.30pm Saturday afternoon slot, at the behest of S4C who were broadcasting the game on their Clic YouTube channel, to an unusual 7pm kick-off, for probably the first time since Newport were a semi-professional club. As Newport Stadium was unavailable for such a kick-off, it was moved to our ancestral home of Rodney Parade. With Cardiff demolishing fellow play-off aspirants Merthyr earlier in the afternoon, the game was effectively a dead-rubber, as neither team could move from their respective positions. Still, it was an opportunity for both teams to take a look at each other and size them up in the event of meeting in the Play-Off final!
May 6th, 2023, will go down in history as the day of the coronation of King Charles III in Westminster Abbey, but Newport supporters attention was diverted by the amount of rain that fell during the day. Would conditions be tricky for the game under floodlights? In the event, the weather cleared nicely. Seeing how Charles is a Royal patron of Llandovery RFC, he would probably be quite happy to see the Drovers overturn the Townies of Newport just to make his day complete. The Drovers had gone large in their selection, too, even securing the services of Scarlet, and current Welsh international, Samson Lee to add to their scrummage. It was Newport’s job, then, to try and spoil the party.
Drovers’ outside half Ioan Hughes got the game underway, Josh Reid catching the ball, Craig Hudd trucking it forward before Che Hope kicked the ball clear.
The first scrum really didn’t go to plan as the Llandovery front row piled on the power and the Newport pack spun clockwise like a Catherine Wheel. Ioan Hughes placed his team in the corner following the penalty for captain Jack Jones to catch the lineout ball, hooker Craig Thomas latched onto the rear of the maul before the big forwards went through the phases. Gap enough opened up for scrum half Lee Rees to skip through and score with just 3 minutes on the clock. Fullback Jack Maynard added the conversion to make the score Newport 0 Llandovery 7.
The Drovers fluffed the restart as it was knocked on. Newport’s Jon Verrier was first to the ball, securing it before it was moved away, but a pass out to Jonny Morris was laboured and the winger did well to retreat and regather, but the momentum was lost.
Che Hope was distributing beautifully from the back of the scrum, whilst Matt O’Brien was going through his repertoire of passes, flat to Craig Hudd, deeper to Ioan Davies joining the line at pace, but Llandovery were penalised for going off their feet at a challenge on Tom Workman. Newport went to the corner as Craig Hudd got fingertips to the ball. Ben Roach was on hand to clean up but, to be fair, Ben Roach is always on hand to clean up. Newport kept attacking but stiff Drovers resistance bottled-up Newport’s efforts and the Black and Ambers conceded a penalty.
Llandovery were pinged offside on 10 minutes. Jon Verrier jumped middle from the resulting lineout and the maul set around him. It rolled and rumbled, looking for the weak spots, and it was Jack Gillard who was the beneficiary on this occasion. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to equalise the scores at 7-7 on 12 minutes.
Newport were inventive at the restart and Aneurin Owen picked out Lloyd Lewis on the wing, who evaded the tackle and sprinted away with Che Hope in support. The two inter-passed before boot was put to ball, but the Llandovery cover was quicker, and they made themselves safe.
Our visitors were found to be offside on 16 minutes, so Newport went to the line again. Craig Hudd was up in the lineout. Aneurin Owen found Lloyd Lewis joining the line off his wing. The execution was ideal as the winger burst through and sprinted in to score. Matt O’Brien added the two-pointer to make the score Newport 14 Llandovery 7.
Llandovery replied instantly as Che Hope lost concentration on the restart, handing possession to our visitors. Lee Rees popped the ball away from the scrum but the pass on to Ioan Hughes fooled everyone except the red and white shirted 10, as he picked it up off his bootlaces and glided in for an easy score. Jack Maynard added the conversion again to make it all square at 14 points apiece.
Jonny Morris was sold a hospital pass on 22 minutes and was penalised for hanging onto the ball. Ioan Hughes punted Llandovery to the corner. Their lineout worked well as hooker Craig Thomas rumbled the ball forward. The play spread right but was fumbled allowing Newport to escape, and the did so with thrilling swashbuckling style. Matt O’Brien pulled off a magical cross-field kick-pass, as they’re now termed, to the Ninja Warrior, who was in acres of unguarded pitch. Josh Reid sensed it was on and ran hard in support, carrying the ball until Aneurin Owen arrived on the scene. Backing himself, Owen put boot to ball, won the sprint and touched down, only for the try to be ruled out by TMO Wayne Davies for a forward pass earlier in the move. The crowd were on their feet, but as disappointing as that decision was, the endeavour had to be applauded. Matt O’Brien’s highlights reel must be the same length as the first two Godfather films shown back-to-back.
With the scent of the whitewash in their noses, Newport were prompted to go for more. Ben Roach pickpocketed a Llandovery lineout, Josh Reid barged the ball forwards before play spread wide. Matt O’Brien spotted Lloyd Lewis lurking out wide in a one-on-one situation with his opposite number. Matt put his trust in the Cymru 7s wing who burned his opponent and raced in for his second try of the evening. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make the score Newport 21 Llandovery 14 on 29 minutes.
The Drovers were matching Newport try for try at this point, equalising just two minutes later when flanker Osian Davies scored. Llandovery attacked and went wide early. A beautiful tip-on by number 8 Iestyn Rees created a little space to stretch the Black and Amber defence. A quick pop-up and the big flanker dashed over. Jack Maynard added a conversion to make it 21 points each.
It was the hosts who had the final word of the half as a Llandovery attack broke down in midfield and the ball went to ground. Ioan Davies scooped it up as the Drovers defence were flat-footed. The wide-open spaces of Rodney Parade were in front of the flying full-back as he sprinted fully 60 metres, unchallenged, with only Lloyd Lewis running in support to encourage him. Matt O’Brien kicked the conversion to make the score Newport 28 Llandovery 21 and bring an end to a very entertaining half of rugby.
Half Time Newport RFC 28 Llandovery RFC 21
Matt O’Brien restarted the game and set about where they had left off, working the angles, looking for chinks in the Llandovery armour and playing heads-up rugby. Craig Thomas was penalised for holding in the tackle prompting Matt O’Brien to push the Black and Ambers to the corner once again with a monster of a kick to plonk them just 5-metres out. Newport played the ball, but a Llandovery defender knocked it forward awarding Newport an attacking scrum close in. The scrum, now Samson Lee-free after he was replaced at halftime, wheeled rapidly. The referee, Mr Dewi Phillips, awarded Llandovery a penalty. Quite why referees think an attacking team would wheel a scrum in this position is bemusing, but they usually seem to.
Newport regained their composure and were awarded a penalty themselves on 45 minutes as the Drovers infringed. Matt O’Brien gestured at the posts, drawing some good-natured boos from the crowd. The kick was sound, and the score now was Newport 31 Llandovery 21.
The Drovers were attacking with some intensity but with little penetration so, with a little patience, Kyle Tayler stepped in, got himself legally across the ball in a ruck, and relieved the pressure somewhat.
Matt O’Brien was in full performance mode as a cheeky, and very unexpected, reverse pass to Aneurin Owen drew gasps of admiration from the crowd, or should it be the audience? Llandovery were clearly struggling to read just what the puppet-master would do next.
Llandovery infringed again on 54 minutes, prompting Matt O’Brien to point to the uprights. The ball whacked against the left-hand post, prompting centre Adam Warren to emulate Newport’s attack earlier, but he was downed before he reached the 22-metre line, so the Drovers cleared their lines the conventional way.
Newport were pressing hard for more scores, the ball zipping around from side to side before Llandovery shipped a penalty for a late challenge. Matt O’Brien went to the corner, Ben Roach took the lineout ball and Henry Palmer, on for Jack Gillard, tagged onto the rear of the maul. However, it was loose and, after some phases, was spilled. Llandovery had the opportunity for a miracle try of their own, and they took it. Wing Harri Doel hared down the right wing as the Newport cover tracked back. He kicked ahead for Lee Rees who won the race and touched the ball down in front of the North Terrace. Jack Maynard added the conversion again, making the score Newport 31 Llandovery 28 on 56 minutes. This was turning into a terrific game for the neutral at home watching the game on Clic.
The Drovers emptied their bench on 65 minutes, and it seemed to make an immediate impact, in more ways than Llandovery might have wanted. Che Hope broke while Chay Foster-Smith bustled up in support on his right. Newport seemed likely to score until replacement Dafydd Land got boot to ball and disrupted the attack. He tore away with Lloyd Lewis tracking him before Che Hope appeared to hack the ball into touch. Llandovery powered on, spreading the ball wide before wing Aaron Warren snuck in at the corner. Mr Phillips had enough doubt to consult his TMO, but the try was good. The score now was Newport 31 Llandovery 33 with 68 minutes played.
However, the downside of the replacement effect on Llandovery was represented by Lloyd Pike. With the ball loose, Lloyd Lewis was back dealing with the situation, until Pike slid in, football-style, and upended the winger. A ridiculous challenge that was only ever going to end one way. Pike was shown the yellow card by Mr Phillips, and the Drovers were down to 14.
Newport sensed a way through this. Newport were attacking fluently and threatening Llandovery’s lead. Aaron Warren brought it all crashing down around them when he held out a despairing hand and knocked the ball forward. Mr Phillips didn’t hesitate in awarding Newport a penalty try and dismissing Warren to the bench for ten minutes. This made the score Newport 38 Llandovery 33, and our visitors were down to 13 players.
In a game littered with highlights, the best may have come in injury time. Luke Yendle rampaged forward with ball in hand before Matt Bancroft set up a sympathetic pass for Geraint O’Driscoll, on for Ioan Davies, to slide in for a try and put Geraint into tenth position on the all-time highest scorers for Newport RFC. Geraint has scored 790 points for our club and has overtaken the legendary Fred Birt. Llongyfarchiadau, Geraint! Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make the score Newport 45 Llandovery 33 on 84 minutes.
With the clock running down, Llandovery managed to escape Newport’s clutches, but back there was replacement back-rower Rhys Jenkins. He caught the Llandovery attacker, hauled him down and forced the knock-on on 87 minutes, and that’s why he is in the Newport RFC Hall of Fame.
The Black and Ambers weren’t done yet as Jonny Morris burst into midfield, breaking the Llandovery line as he went. Josh Reid was on hand to bustle and barge forward before Luke Crane, on for Che Hope, popped up in support and waltzed under the posts for a try of his own. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to end the game at Newport 52 Llandovery 33.
Full Time: Newport RFC 52 Llandovery RFC 33
Newport have beaten each club in the play-off berths at least once this season which just goes to show that they can beat anybody in a one-off, winner-take-all game. The players believe, now we supporters must believe too. If Cardiff think they have a foot in the final already, they’re wrong. This is on.
The Play-off semi-final will now be held next Sunday, May 14th, with Newport travelling to Cardiff, the game kicking off at 5.15pm and, again, being aired live on Clic. After the disappointment of losing the cup, albeit to a miracle try, it would be amazing to have a good lash at the league. We can be assured that Ty Morris and his coaching team will have our squad in absolute top form for these games. Get there, if you can, and cheer on the Black and Ambers!
Onwards and upwards Newport.
Your City. Your Colours. Your Club
Newport RFC Man of the Match; Che Hope
Final Score – Newport RFC 52 Llandovery RFC 33