Newport RFC v Bridgend Ravens RFC 22nd January 2022 by John Evans
Rugby was back again. Following the Welsh Government’s latest “fire break” restrictions regarding Coronavirus, it was a pleasure to be back amongst an eager and expectant crowd at Newport Stadium to watch a game. The conditions were perfect for it, too. A dry day, little to speak of in wind strength and a firm pitch.
Although the enforced break gave a few players the chance to recoup, clear a few injuries and get up to full fitness, it did add the other imponderable of the player’s conditioning; five weeks without having an opposition flanker bash into you is going to make you more susceptible to injury when it does come for real. With this in mind, the club’s coaches arranged, in conjunction with our friends at Cardiff Met RFC, for a full-on, live firing training session between the two teams last Thursday. By all accounts, the Black and Ambers were very pleased with the run out. Naturally, the club would like to thank Cardiff Met RFC for their invitation and Newport RFC, naturally, wish them all the best for their season ahead.
Coincidentally, it was Bridgend Ravens who were our last visitors to Newport Stadium before the break, where the Black and Ambers eventually ran out 25-9 winners, but not without having to endure long spells of pressure from the visitors: indeed, Newport were 7-9 down at half time on that occasion. It would be interesting to see how both clubs emerged, blinking into the sunlight.
Will Reed started the game, kicking off as Newport attacked the SDR end of the ground. Bridgend no.8, Morgan Strong, took the catch and Bridgend could kick clear.
The Ravens were making the early running, attacking strongly as Newport conceded position. Bridgend no.10 Matthew Jones kicked to the corner and flanker, and captain, Zac O’Driscoll, rose at the tail of the line to set up an attack. Bridgend launched a series of phases in the Newport 22, but the home defence was absolutely solid. After three minutes of stout defence, the Black and Ambers slowly eased the Ravens away from the try line and back nearer midfield, amazing concentration which resulted in Bridgend being forced to kick for position when they eventually ran out of options.
Defence eventually turned to attack as Oli Andrew sprinted, ball in one hand, adjusting his balance as he ran, before visiting centre Tom Morgan conceded a penalty at the ruck. Newport tried to launch something but a good turnover by the visitors halted that. Indeed, play was fairly even, Bridgend retaliated, clawing their way up field via a series of set pieces before Newport conceded a penalty for not rolling away in the tackle. Matthew Jones gestured at the posts, lining up a successful kick to put his team 0-3 ahead with 12 minutes played.
Zac O’Driscoll, the visitor’s 7, was pinged for not releasing on 15 minutes allowing Newport the option of kicking to a corner. Josh Skinner took the lineout ball as Bridgend tried to close the Black and Ambers down quickly. Thankfully, the ball was quicker as it whipped across the Newport back line following a Cam Lewis ruck set up. Dai Richards entered the line at pace before feeding Matthew Powell on the wing. He cut inside his defender and scrambled his way across the line for a well-taken try in the corner. Will Reed added the extras to make it Newport 7 Bridgend 3 on 16 minutes.
Newport seemed to be having some difficulty at the scrum with the referee’s interpretation of binding, a problem that didn’t seem to resolve itself all afternoon.
Newport extended their lead on 23 minutes through Oli Andrew on the wing. The Black and Ambers effectively turned defence into attack, despite the setback of Dai Richards running into the referee, Mr. Gareth Newman, while counterattacking, leading to a scrum in the Newport 22, which could have been potentially tricky, but with that situation resolved, Newport pushed up field. A scruffy Ravens clearance gave Newport a line out on the 22-metre line. A neat pass to Will Reed saw him punt a perfectly weighted cross-kick which saw Oli Andrew run onto it at pace and cross unopposed in the corner. Will Reed added the two-pointer to make the score Newport 14 Bridgend 3.
Josh Reid seized loose ball on 26 minutes and battered forward. Will Griffiths carried the move on putting Newport on the front foot. The ball spread left then Luke Crane, dictating play, moved it back right. Cameron Lewis powered up to the five-metre line prompting Luke Crane to go right again. Matt O’Brien flashed the ball at the defence but went himself to bundle over for Newport’s third try. Will Reed added the conversion to make it Newport 21 Bridgend 3 on 26 minutes.
Getting into gear, the Black and Ambers could sense that more scores were available. Luke Crane spun away from a ruck and found hooker Will Griffiths rampaging up the right wing. He kicked ahead, with Crane giving chase too, before Bridgend full back Tyler Williams gathered and got nailed, conceding a penalty for no release while he was at it. Will Reed went to the corner for Rhodri Jones to take the catch at the tail of the lineout. Will Griffiths coupled onto the tail of the rolling maul and, after a few seconds of looking for the soft areas in the Bridgend defence, powered through for try number four. Will Reed added the extras to make it Newport 28 Bridgend 3 on 32 minutes.
Dai Richards was at his buccaneering best, rarely taking the easy option and kicking. His brave ariel catch launched another wave of attacks on the Bridgend line, culminating in the try of the day. Luke Crane seized the ruck ball and moved it on to Reed, to O’Brien and onto Matthew Powell. He lengthened his stride as he made observers of the Bridgend defence before inviting Cameron Lewis onto a scissors pass. Lewis continued his line before popping the ball to the omnipresent Luke Crane to gallop under the posts for a try. Will Reed added the conversion to make the score Newport 35 Bridgend 3 and effectively end the game as a contest. All Bridgend could do now was damage limitation.
Into added time and the instinct to attack by Newport was still there. A late hit on Matt O’Brien awarded Newport a penalty. Will Reed kicked to the corner for the last play of the half. Rhodri Jones took the ball at the tail again before the ball went right. There was a remarkable piece of skill by Matt O’Brien that possibly went unnoticed by many, as he put in an unconventional kick, more Alan Shearer than Dan Biggar, that put a lower trajectory on a cross-kick to Oli Andrew. Andrew was tackled, but Rhys Jenkins’ pass to a looping-in-support O’Brien was forward, prompting Mr Newman to call for halftime.
That was as dazzling a twenty-minute spell of attack seen by Newport supporters in a long time, prompting a standing ovation, literally, as the players left the field for their break.
Half Time Newport RFC 35 Bridgend Ravens RFC 3
There was a halftime change for Newport as Dan Suter replaced Garin Harris in the front row. However, that didn’t solve their scrum difficulties as a 41st minute set piece collapsed leading to a Ravens penalty. Matthew Jones kicked to the corner, second row Matthew Davies claimed the lineout and a decent rolling maul set up. The melee of Bridgend shirts flopped over the line making it impossible to pick out the try scorer, but Bridgend’s social media credited the score to hooker Lee Murphy. Matthew Jones added the conversion to make it Newport 35 Bridgend 10.
Following an offence by Bridgend prop Cai Lewis, Will Reed kicked to the corner. Joe Bartlett took the lineout and set up a maul. Will Griffiths went close, Joe Bartlett had a drive himself, before Will Griffiths tried to score by planting the ball against the base of the post protectors before realising that law was now obsolete. Newport gained another penalty on the five-metre line as Bridgend attempted to flood the tackle area. Luke Crane steadied himself before launching Josh Reid headlong into contact then Cameron Lewis stampeded in on the crash ball to burst over for another Newport try. The conversion was missed making the score Newport 40 Bridgend 10 on 45 minutes.
Bridgend made some tactical alterations, mainly by taking Matthew Jones off and moving centre Jamie Murphy from 12 to 10. Indeed, they looked a better unit with Murphy in control.
The game went through periods of instability as wholesale personnel changes were made and any kind of flow went missing, which was understandable with a score line like this; why risk injury to players when you can give other players game time?
Bridgend mounted a direct attack from a lineout on 58 minutes when Carrick McDonough scored a nice try. The Ravens had been sucking in the Newport defence before a weak tackle on Jamie Murphy saw him skip through an otherwise solid defensive line and make a beautiful pass out to his supporting winger. Paul Short added the conversion for the visitors to make the score Newport 40 Bridgend 17 on 58 minutes.
Newport were still able to produce moments where they could slice Bridgend open at will. A pop from Dan Suter to Luke Crane put replacement wing Elliot Frewen into space. Following a knock on, Newport powered through the scrum to regain possession. George Young broke from the base of the scrum before Josh Skinner battered forward. Henry Palmer had a lunge but Louis Jones, on for Lewis Smout, must have been laid on the ground with his back on the Bridgend try line. Newport recycled as the ball whizzed left before Dai Richards managed to cross while being tackled. The conversion was missed making the score Newport 45 Bridgend 17 on 63 minutes.
Deon Smith, so impressive for the Black and Ambers earlier in the season before injury, replaced Matt O’Brien but was soon in the wars as he stayed down, motionless, after tackling Bridgend’s Tom Morgan. Newport physio Emily O’Driscoll was on like a flash supporting his neck but, thankfully, Deon got up and walked off unaided. Hopefully we’ll see him back on the field soon. Thanks must go the club’s medical team who do a superb job in patching our players up to go again.
The match really was staggering to a conclusion now as inaccuracy dogged both teams. It didn’t really matter; it was cup rugby, and the game was all but won. Bridgend did launch a fairly serious attack on 76 minutes, but it was all a bit plodding. Ravens wing Caine Woolerton lost his footing as he ran, Jamie Murphy slipped the ball out to full back Tyler Williams, but he was dealt with comfortably. Reuben Tucker made a ponderous charge but was dumped on his backside and spilled the ball, allowing Matt O’Brien to pop a reverse pass to Geraint Watkin to thump it clear.
One pleasing aspect of this part of the game was that despite having a 28-point buffer, during the closing moments, when Bridgend had put themselves in a position to score a third try, the tenacity and determination to stop that was commendable. There’s a pride in defence amongst this group of players that is encouraging to see. Viliame Kotobalavu stopped a rolling maul illegally, drawing another penalty but that gave Rhodri Jones the opportunity to get a hand to Bridgend lineout ball and scoop it dead giving Newport the win and a place in the cup semi-final.
Full Time: Newport RFC 45 Bridgend Ravens RFC 17
Newport RFC are next in action on Saturday January 29th when they travel to Church Bank to take on Llandovery RFC in an Indigo Group Premiership league fixture. This is always a tough game and next Saturday should be no different. The next home game is on Saturday February 19th when Pontypridd RFC visit the Newport Stadium in another league game.
Understandably, the club suffered three postponements over the festive period. The game away at Swansea is still to be announced regarding rescheduling, but the home game against Merthyr RFC has been arranged to be played, at Newport Stadium, on Saturday April 9th, kick off at 2.30pm, while the away game at Ebbw Vale will be on Saturday February 26th at 1.30pm. Please keep an eye on the club website, www.blackandambers.co.uk, or social media, for dates regarding the Swansea fixture and, indeed the date and venue of the cup semi-final.
Onwards and upwards Newport.
Your City. Your Colours. Your Club
Newport RFC Man of the Match – Will Reed
Final Score – Newport RFC 45 Bridgend Ravens RFC 17
Match Photographs from Simon Latham: 22-01-22 Newport v Bridgend – WRU Cup 1/4 Final – Simon Latham (smugmug.com)