Aberavon RFC v Newport RFC 24th April 2022 by John Evans
After a season of splendid rugby, graft and endeavour, the season had boiled down to this – a one-off game against a talented Aberavon side at the Principality Stadium and then hoping that Cardiff slip-up to set up a potential league and cup double. With the week before free of competitive rugby, the squad could regather, shake off a few injury worries, and put out a highly competitive 23. The Reed-O’Brien axis, that has been a revelation this season, was restored, the iconic wing duo of Frewen and Morris were both declared fully recovered from injury whilst big players like Andrew Mann were restored, albeit covering a bench slot.
The Wizards, however, are no slouches; they have been consistent for several seasons, having a strong pack of forwards and some pace and talent behind them. This was to be their fourth Welsh Cup final over the years, and they had yet to take the cup back to the Talbot Athletic Ground with them. They would want to put that right. Newport and Aberavon have met twice since the restoration of rugby, the Black and Ambers coming away from both trips to Port Talbot with a ‘W’ in their back pocket. That would count for nought on this occasion.
Newport’s last appearance in a final was in 2018, a chastening experience for an exuberant Newport squad and support, who were given a solid lesson by a Merthyr team that, for my money, would have given a few professional teams a thorough workout. The 2022 hope was that many of those players, four years older and wiser, would use that disappointment as a spur to go on to better things.
Will Reed got things underway before a crowd of just over six thousand and live before the S4C cameras. Aberavon kick-returned the ball, but Dai Richards fumbled the ball in the air to give the Wizards an early scrum, from which they earned a penalty. Aberavon kicked to the corner through outside half Aled Thomas, who had a spell with Newport some years ago. Their lineout worked well but the defence proved solid until a tackle from Josh Skinner was deemed to have slid up around the collar of flanker Ashton Evans. The Wizards gestured towards the sticks to give Aled Thomas a shot at goal and put his side 3-0 ahead in as many minutes.
Aberavon gave their hard work away immediately when Elliot Frewen challenged for the restart. Second row Sam Williams blocked Frewen’s run, which was easily spotted by the referee, Mr Aled Davis. Will Reed took the kick at goal to equalise the scores at Aberavon 3 Newport 3 on 5 minutes.
Aberavon showed their attacking intent on 6 minutes when Aled Thomas wriggled through a tackle and spilt the Newport defence open. He was somewhat alone, and his speculative pass out was picked off by Lennon Greggains and Newport could mop the situation up.
Newport began constructing a move, Josh Skinner setting up a ruck before Will Reed took a tackle that was judged to have slipped up to the neck area. Playing with an advantage, Matt O’Brien cross-kicked to Jonny Morris. The Ninja Warrior took the ball cleanly before overcoming the two defenders to ground the ball in the corner. Mr Davis took a few moments to consult with his refereeing team; Morris was onside when the ball was kicked and was not in touch, having made no double movement and grounded, despite the attentions of wing Steff Andrews and scrum half Rhodri Cole. Will Reed couldn’t add the two-pointer, so the score now was Aberavon 3 Newport 8 on 9 minutes.
A kick ahead from Aberavon on 11 minutes was dealt with by Dai Richards at the second bite. Wizards’ flanker Joe Tomalin-Reeves took Richards out in mid-air. The game stopped while Mr Davis consulted again but, despite how awful it looked, apparently it was Richards’ own fault and Tomalin-Reeves visibly blew out through his cheeks as he realised that he’d got away with the offence.
With the game restarted, it was Jonny Morris’ turn to split a defence. Aled Thomas, as part of the tackle, tried to gather the loose ball and was immediately pinged for interefering. Will Reed took the kick, about 25 metres out, left of posts, and made the score Aberavon 3 Newport 11 on 14 minutes.
Newport were proving aggressive in defence, as they have all season, tigerishly tackling the Aberavon attackers but a 16th minute offence, where Ben Roach was deemed offside, despite a melee of Aberavon players playing the ball on the ground first. Aled Thomas took a swing at the ball and made the score Aberavon 6 Newport 11 on 17 minutes.
Newport won a scrum penalty themselves on 22 minutes when Aberavon were pinged for driving across the scrum. Will Reed went to the corner for Lennon Greggains to take at the tail. Cameron Lewis drove Newport up into the 22, Skinner and Greggains again drove on, but Matt O’Brien’s chip ahead was reached by wing Chris Banfield first and Aberavon could repel. Newport returned the ball, but number 8 Andrew Waite was penalised in the tackle allowing Newport another shot at goal. Will Reed didn’t hesitate to line up the kick and make it Aberavon 6 Newport 14 on 26 minutes.
Newport were intent on attacking and Dai Richards made good yardage from Elliot Frewen’s pass. He jinked his way through defenders before setting up position centre-field. Matt O’Brien had Jonny Morris on a switch before Lennon Greggains strode into the Aberavon 22. Louis Jones thumped close to the line before Henry Palmer got another few millimetres forward. Playing with an advantage, Newport boomed the ball out to Jonny Morris before it was picked off. Mr Davis brought play back for Will Reed to slot a simple three-pointer to make the score Aberavon 6 Newport 17 on 29 minutes.
Aberavon came close a minute later when wing Chris Banfield kicked a ball ahead and chased. Will Reed was in position to defend and, as the TMO proved, won the race and was shown to have grounded the ball first.
The Newport defence was on top form on 33 minutes when, following a penalty which went to the corner, hooker Ieuan Davies peeled off a rolling maul only to be picked off and turned over by Ben Roach and award Newport possession after several minutes of Wizards’ attack. The following scrum was a terrific effort by the Newport pack as the vaunted Aberavon scrum was shunted backwards and a relieving 36th minute penalty was awarded.
Aberavon went awfully close on 38 minutes when second row Sam Williams stepped out of a ruck and sprinted for the Newport line unchallenged. The defence streamed back, Dai Richards making the tackle, but Williams’ pass to supporting scrum half Rhodri Cole was unsympathetic and Cole couldn’t help but spoon the ball forward. With the 5-metre defensive scrum, the Aberavon scrum were over-eager in attack and shipped the penalty, allowing Newport to belt the ball dead for halftime.
Half Time Aberavon RFC 6 Newport RFC 17
Newport supporters would have been wise to have expected a strong reaction from the Wizards in the second half. Aberavon wouldn’t have been happy with the way the first half had gone for them and had only forty minutes to make up an eleven-point margin if they were to be victorious.
Aled Thomas restarted the game as the Wizards looked to overhaul that deficit. Newport concede a 42nd minute penalty when Mr Davis pinged Garin Harris at the scrum, Aled Thomas took the opportunity to begin the comeback with a successful kick making the score Aberavon 9 Newport 17.
Aberavon were clearly going to revert to the style that has carried them to a cup final. A 46th minute rolling maul was menacing before the ball was released to centre Will Price. He made good ground into the Newport half before Aled Thomas arrived in support. Newport had strayed offside, so the knock-on afterwards was irrelevant. Aberavon went to the corner, eschewing the simple three-pointer, and were rewarded when the rolling maul crossed the line with hooker Ieuan Davies, following the hooker’s handbook, coupled to the tail and claimed the try on 48 minutes. Aled Thomas pushed the conversion to the right of the sticks making the score Aberavon 14 Newport 17.
Newport launched a pressure spell of their own following a high tackle on Dai Richards. Newport punched forward via George Young and Garin Harris, Louis Jones made a metre before Aberavon were nearly split wide by Jonny Morris until Mr Davis spotted crossing in the build-up and the Wizards were off the hook.
Play opened up when Aberavon’s Joe Gage caught his own kick and found Lloyd Evans to his left. He had wing Stef Andrews outside again, but the move stuttered, and Newport came away with the ball. Matt O’Brien booted it long, Dai Richards chasing before Chris Banfield ran it back. However, Newport were there in greater numbers and earned a penalty as the ball was held in the ruck too long. Will Reed took the distance shot at goal to put Newport ahead further, making the score Aberavon 14 Newport 20 on 58 minutes.
Aberavon retorted with some intent. From the restart, the Wizards won the ball, popped it out to scrum half Rhodri Cole who sprinted and chipped. Sadly, for him, it was slightly too far ahead and Cole spilled the ball with the line at his mercy. However, the Aberavon scrum were determined to capitalise, and a series of resets ultimately saw fresh Newport prop, Dan Suter, yellow carded as they failed to manage the snorting Wizards pack. After Rhodri Cole went awfully close again the scrum had another reset Suter was sent to the bench and Aberavon were awarded a penalty try on 64 minutes. This made the score Aberavon 21 Newport 20.
The Newport response was immediate. Dai Richards ran a long kick back, Luke Crane kept the ball moving, Rhys Jenkins and Lennon Greggains sucked defenders in before Will Reed made a half gap, found Henry Palmer who passed out to Dai Richards, juggled the ball, scythed through the gap before feeding Matt O’Brien into score, also taking him over the one thousand points tally for the club, and what an occasion to do it. Will Reed couldn’t add the two-pointer, so the score now was Aberavon 21 Newport 25 on 66 minutes.
Aberavon had to roll the dice. Newport were still down to 14 and they were adrift. A 69th minute penalty for a knock on by Elliot Frewen had to be managed carefully, whilst Aberavon upped their intensity and sought opportunities to employ their big forwards. Newport dug in and relied on the defensive systems that the players have clearly bought into and has proved successful all season. Aberavon’s patience finally snapped when a booming pass out to Aberavon’s Luke Davies was forced and drifted forward, winding the clock down nicely, thanks very much.
The crowd grew quieter as the game seemed winnable by both teams still. Aberavon had to create something while Newport had to rely on that defence again. Jamie Jeune bundling ‘Avon’s Joe Gage into touch on 79 minutes should have closed the game out – a simple take, hold and boot to touch would have won the game. However, it wouldn’t be Newport if they didn’t make it hard for themselves. The ball was nicked away from Ben Roach offering Aberavon the final opportunity to work for a miracle. The Black and Amber wall stood firm, even pushing the Wizards backwards until Lloyd Evans found himself isolated with Will Reed over him challenging for the ball, prompting Mr Davis to blow for a Newport penalty and a Black and Amber cup final win.
The Newport section of the crowd erupted, the players and management, once they had had their medals presented to them by Gerald Davies, the former Wales wing and now WRU President, congratulated each other while Dai Richards made sure that they all got sprayed with the champagne from his Player of the Match award.
Full Time: Aberavon RFC 21 Newport RFC 25
The celebrations went on until late in the evening at Barocco bar, on Wharton Street, the adopted Black and Ambers ‘fan zone’. The chance to meet the players and have photographs with the cup were taken, the singing was loud and raucous before people drifted away for last trains and lifts. It was a night to remember, for sure.
There is still one more game to play in the Indigo Group Premiership, when Newport travel to play Carmarthen Quins on Sunday May 1st, kicking off at 2pm. The importance of this game won’t be known until the end of the game between Merthyr and Cardiff, at the Arms Park, on Thursday. Newport could be going for a League and Cup double, or an end-of-season knockabout with tackling optional. Hopefully, it is the former.
There is one other occasion to tell you about; The Newport RFC End of Season dinner is coming up on Saturday June 11th. This will be held at the Tony Brown Suite at Rodney Parade and is always a great night. It should be something a bit special this year! For ticket details, please email Kevin Jarvis on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Onwards and upwards, Newport.
Your City. Your Colours. Your Club
Newport RFC Man of the Match – Dai Richards
Final Score – Aberavon RFC 21 Newport RFC 25