Newport lose on opening day

Newport RFC v Ebbw Vale RFC 3rd September 2022 by John Evans


Following a long, dry summer, it was ironic that, during an official drought, drops of rain should fall on Newport Stadium about two hours before kick-off. It came to little, however, but the gusting breeze that accompanied it would have some effect on players decision-making, especially as the game wore on. The mini drought, that Newport supporters hoped would continue, was Ebbw’s paucity of wins against the Black and Ambers in recent outings. They were tonked 48-10 in the same fixture last season, whereas the game at Eugene Cross Park was a different kettle of fish, with coach Jason Strange back in charge, they were a more cohesive unit and Newport did well to hold off a furious late charge in front of S4C’s cameras.


Only a fool discounts Ebbw’s chances against Newport. They have recruited strongly over the summer, including acquiring Haydn Simons and Andrew Mann from us. The Black and Amber’s business has been clear for some while to us supporters now, the ins and outs of pre-season now being an accepted part of life at most clubs at our level. It would be interesting to see how quickly the new players could bed-in with each other. The late withdrawal of Cameron Lewis was unfortunate, but Newport shuffled the pack, so to speak, moved Dafydd Smith infield and called up Tom Richards from the reserves.


Matt O’Brien, Newport captain once more, kicked off the 2022-2023 season for Newport with a standard kick, Ebbw defending the SDR end of the ground. Quickly, Newport set about pushing Ebbw back and pinning them into their 22. A lineout produced phases of attack at the whitewash as Newport muscled forward, centre Harry Ackerman going close but being held up. Ebbw conceded a penalty in the build-up, but the quickly taken tap was fumbled and the opportunity vanished. However, the fisticuffs appeared very quickly; anybody having ‘5 minutes’ for the first yellow card in the sweepstake would have been in the money, for that is when Josh Skinner trudged back to the bench for a spell on the naughty step.


Ebbw built and went through the phases but an off-the-ball tackle by Newport was spotted and penalised, prompting visiting outside half, Evan Lloyd, to have a go at the posts. Surprisingly, the ball was pushed wide, possibly giving an indication of wind strength. Newport almost fluffed the 22 restart, but Luke Crane was on hand to make it good and get the ball away. At the resulting lineout, Ebbw were guilty of crossing and conceded a penalty themselves, allowing Matt O’Brien the opportunity to punt to the corner. Will Griffiths was turning and driving himself towards the line, Luke Crane saw a gap before it snapped shut on him, until Harry Ackerman scrambled over near the posts to open the scoring. Hmm. Try-scoring centres with the surname ‘Ackerman’; we know about those. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make it Newport 7 Ebbw Vale 0 on 14 minutes.


Ebbw got themselves off the ground just three minutes later when Will Griffiths was pinged for holding onto the ball in the tackle, Evan Lloyd making no mistakes this time and making it Newport 7 Ebbw Vale 3 on 17 minutes.


The Steelmen completely cancelled out any benefit from that penalty when a needless push on a Newport player at a ruck was spotted. The referee, Mr Stephen Alsop, awarded Newport the penalty, which Matt O’Brien slotted to make it Newport 10 Ebbw Vale 3 on 18 minutes.


Ebbw’s restart was dealt with brilliantly by Newport as Matt O’Brien found time and space to launch a 50:22 that had the visitor’s heads drop a little. However, the team failed to capitalise on the position their skipper had gifted them with a fumble giving Ebbw the chance to clear and then a mis-read between Matt O’Brien and fullback Ioan Davis giving the visitors a chance to break out. Ebbw Vale powered into Newport, with a forward pass being their undoing.


Kieran Meek, the much-anticipated summer acquisition from Pontypool, took the field to replace the injured Elliot Frewen, a rejig of resources saw him slot in at 12 with Daf Smith out on the wing.


Ebbw narrowed the gap on 27 minutes when Josh Skinner was penalised for side entry, Evan Lloyd taking the opportunity to make it Newport 10 Ebbw Vale 6.


Newport were evidently still rusty from the summer, passes that would have gone to hand last season were being dropped, mistakes were being made, fine tuning of wavelengths still to be found. Ebbw Vale were little better, but they were proving durable, which is always tricky. A nigh-on five-minute spell, at the end of the first half, when Ebbw dominated possession, but were unable to puncture the Newport 22 to any effect, showed that they had little to offer as an attacking threat, but the boot of Lloyd would keep them in the game.


Half Time   Newport RFC 10 Ebbw Vale RFC 6


Evan Lloyd restarted the game with Newport now attacking the cricket end. Carrick McDonough, the Ebbw wing, did well to claim the ball over Jonny Morris’ head and set his team up in a decent position. Ebbw pushed on, but a penalty conceded by the Black and Ambers allowed Evan Lloyd to step forward again and reduce the deficit to 10-9 on 41 minutes.


Jonny Morris immediately repaid the compliment by nicking the restart from Ebbw fingers and placing Newport in a good position, but muscular defence from the green, red and white shirts eased the threat away and eventually nullified when a penalty was gained, some 55 metres from the Newport goal. Evan Lloyd, utilising the wind, made an audacious shot for goal which wasn’t a million miles from going over; Newport would need to be very careful.


They weren’t.


A 53rd minute penalty, inside the Newport 22 was easy meat for Evan Lloyd and gave Ebbw a lead that they would not relinquish. The score now was Newport 10 Ebbw Vale 12.


This was compounded just a minute later when Newport went off their feet at a ruck, as Ben Roach sought support in contact. Evan Lloyd stepped forward once more and made Newport pay. Newport 10 Ebbw Vale 15 on 55 minutes.


It got worse on 62 minutes when Ebbw placed themselves two scores ahead following yet another transgression. Evan Lloyd slotted the penalty from some 43 metres to make the score Newport 10 Ebbw Vale 18. Newport really needed to score next before Ebbw got too far ahead.


Daf Smith was the recipient of a high tackle on 64 minutes, penalty only awarded. Matt O’Brien punted Newport to the corner allowing Josh Skinner to take the lineout and set up the maul. Henry Palmer, on for Griffiths at hooker, latched on, before replacement Ben Moa went close, only to be thrust back like a crash test dummy. Matt O’Brien reached out, but the ball rolled agonisingly out of his grasp before the touchdown took place. Ebbw had infringed in the build-up, so Newport had the chance to go again. Replacement Craig Hudd took the lineout ball, Joe Popple, on at prop, went close but Daf Buckland, on at 9 for Luke Crane, wisely bided his time, picked his moment, and passed to Craig Hudd, who crashed over out wide for a try. Matt O’Brien couldn’t add the extras, so the score now read Newport 15 Ebbw Vale 18 on 68 minutes.


Ebbw finally scored a try on 69 minutes, when the narrowest of margins was left undefended. Wing Jordan Thomas wrestled control of the ball, setting up a ruck wide out on their left. With just centimetres between the ruck and the touch line, scrum half Jon Evans, formerly of this parish, danced along the line, evaded Ben Moa’s desperate lunge and found fullback Morgan Richards steaming up on his right. Richards took the pass, tumbled into the tackle and eventually grounded, to the evident delight of the vocal Vale supporters in the stand. Evan Lloyd added the ribbon to the present, making the score Newport 15 Ebbw Vale 25 on 71 minutes.


Ebbw were pinged offside on 76 minutes, Matt O’Brien opting to punt to the corner again. Newport showed tremendous control of their rolling maul, easing forward until it collapsed. Mr Alsop spotted that the cause of that collapsed was Green 7, so Joe Thomas was sent to think about what he’d done and retire to the naughty step. It just delayed the inevitable. Craig Hudd jumped middle, Henry Palmer latched on, Hudd managed to reset himself behind Palmer and take the ball to crash over for his second, Newport’s third, try. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make the score Newport 22 Ebbw Vale 25 on 77 minutes and set up a grandstand finish.


From the restart, Ebbw’s Dom Franchi seemed to hit Ioan Davis high and roll him into touch. The Assistant Referee intervened, Mr Alsop awarding Newport a penalty only. Newport worked upfield but, following a cross field kick to Ben Roach, Ben Moa went in support, clearing out Ebbw’s Jordan Thomas, who appeared to be lingering offside. Mr Alsop went straight to his pocket to brandish a yellow card. It would be most instructional to us supporters, those of us who pay money to see rugby, if situations like this could be unpacked for us by a referee; how was Franchi’s head high tackle, less worthy of a card than Moa’s clear out? Did Mr Alsop feel that he had to balance Ebbw’s yellow, or couldn’t take them down the thirteen players with the game so finely poised? Making things crystal clear would eliminate the frustration that supporters of all teams feel, at one point or another.


Newport proved ineffectual as the game petered out. Ebbw appeared to have wrestled control of it until Ebbw’s Jon Evans was hilariously pickpocketed by Daf Smith and Josh Reid. Newport had one last roll of the dice, but late stout, honest defence by the visitors gained them the four points they craved.


Full Time: Newport RFC 22 Ebbw Vale RFC 25


Newport RFC are next in action on Saturday 10th September when they travel to RGC in Colwyn Bay. Kick off is at the distinctly awkward time of 5.30pm, which isn’t much use to anybody, really. That is always a tough fixture, they were about the only team to beat us twice last season, so should be respected. However, we often do alright at Parc Eirias, so supporters may travel with some optimism. We then have a fallow week until we welcome Cardiff RFC to Newport Stadium on Thursday September 22nd, kicking off at 7.30pm. This is part of S4C’s scheduling and will be broadcast on their Clic YouTube channel for the delectation of the viewing public; let’s hope they see a great game and a fabulous Newport victory!


Onwards and upwards Newport.


Your City. Your Colours. Your Club




Newport RFC Man of the Match – Ioan Davies


Final Score – Newport RFC 22 Ebbw Vale RFC 25