Newport RFC v Llanelli RFC 3rd December 2022 by John Evans
This was to be Llanelli RFC’s first visit to our new home at Newport Stadium and the conditions were pretty much perfect for a game of rugby. The temperature had plummeted recently, but there was no sign of frost, and the ground was firm.
This was a Premier Challenge Cup fixture, and, with a five-point win, Newport could guarantee themselves a semi-final place and defend their cup title. Who they would be in the draw against would not make itself clear until the end of the afternoon.
The Newport squad was being tested as many of our Dragons-affiliated players had travelled to South Africa for their set of fixtures in the Southern Hemisphere, including Matt O’Brien in a coaching role. Also missing was the talismanic Josh Skinner, with an ankle injury. Luckily, Craig Hudd, a player in the Skinner mould, was available to do a job for the team.
There was a minute of applause for a fallen comrade before the game; David Jones, known as Dai the Hat to all and sundry, had been an ever-present figure at Newport fixtures until recently, but his long illness finally claimed him on December 2nd. He was only 51. To their credit, some of the players chose to wear hats during the applause. There was a collection towards the St. David’s Hospice charity during the afternoon. Many thanks to all who gave so generously.
Geraint O’Driscoll kicked off the game, with Newport attacking the SDR end of the ground. Dan Hill got fingers to the ball, but Llanelli were able to gather and clear.
Sospan broke from a free kick, with scrum half Harri Williams calling the shots. The ball reached wing Liam Hutchings with a suspiciously forward-looking pass, but Oli Andrew was on-hand to break up the attack and allow Newport to begin to work away from their own tryline.
Llanelli were confident enough to try for the corner with a penalty award, but the throw-in was well read by Dan Hill who managed to spoil possession for Sospan. Newport worked away, but were judged to be in front of Geraint O’Driscoll as he put a relieving kick in. Llanelli’s no. 10, Josh Phillips, punted to the corner, stand side. Hooker Rhys Cherry attached himself to the tail of the maul, but great work by the Newport pack tied him, and the ball, into the melee and Newport were rewarded with a turnover.
Our visitors were still trying to move the ball around, but Oli Andrew spotted an opportunity; he flew out of defence, inside the Llanelli half of the field, intercepted the ball, juggled it, but failed to hold it. The referee, Mr Elfyn Morris-Roberts, sought the advice of his Assistant Referee, before showing Oli a yellow card. It would be instructive to supporters to see a reasoning for this; the laws say that a deliberate knock-on, if that’s what it was judged to be, merits a full penalty. If it was in a defensive situation within the 22-metre area, then a yellow card sanction would be more understandable, but Newport were ‘defending’ within Llanelli’s half of the field. Thankfully, this was the worst that was to happen during a particularly fussy refereeing display, in my opinion.
Ioan Davies fielded the ball, he and Llew Smith, the Sospan 15, swapped kicks before Davies placed in a neat low, long kick. Josh Phillips kind-of dealt with it before the ball squirted into touch allowing Newport a great position. However, Mr Morris-Roberts decided that Henry Palmer was up-to-something and penalised him for who-knows-what. It was that kind of day.
Geraint O’Driscoll opened the scoring with a penalty as Newport pushed on, Llanelli seeming to constantly infringe, hands on the ball, not rolling away. Harry Ackerman was powerful in contact before Newport opted for the shot at goal. Newport 3 Llanelli 0 on 18 minutes.
Newport extended that lead just 4 minutes later when Geraint O’Driscoll poked the ball into the corner following a penalty award. Ben Roach claimed the ball, a powerful maul was set, Henry Palmer latched onto the tail while the eight Black and Amber jerseys steamrollered their way towards the line. Palmer had something of an armchair ride as he claimed the try. The conversion went wide, so the score now was Newport 8 Llanelli 0 on 22 minutes.
Llanelli reduced their arrears slightly on 25 minutes when Newport were penalised at a scrum, outside half Josh Phillips slotting the three-pointer to make it Newport 8 Llanelli 3.
Jonny Morris had replaced Ioan Davies by now, a reshuffle in the backs seeing Elliot Frewen move to full back. Dan Hill did very well to get the ball away from contact to the Ninja Warrior, who had Luke Crane steaming up in support, but the pass didn’t go to hand, and a promising move halted.
Newport were turning the screw on their scarlet-jerseyed counterparts; a powerful forward drive resulted in try number two for the effervescent Henry Palmer. A series of phases, Harry Ackerman making inroads, Luke Crane keeping the wheels moving, Kyle Tayler taking the Black and Ambers to within a whisker of scoring, but it was the big hooker who picked up and drove for the line. Geraint O’Driscoll claimed the conversion and, in doing so, moved himself onto 756 points, overtaking Laurie Daniel, and is now placed at number 9 in the club’s all-time points scoring table. Congratulations Geraint!
In stoppage time at the end of the first half, captain-for-the-day Ben Roach bashed through some, frankly, flimsy Sospan tackling, forsaking the penalty on offer. George Young, on as a blood replacement for Rhys Jenkins, hammered into contact, Chay Foster-Smith straightened the running up, Harry Ackerman’s pass out to Elliot Frewen put him into space, but he was hauled into touch just metres from the line and the half ended just as Newport looked likely to power forward and score again.
Half Time Newport RFC 15 Llanelli RFC 3
Josh Phillips restarted the game and Llanelli were quickly on the attack. Scrum half Harri Williams managed to regain possession and flipped the ball out to lurking wing Liam Hutchings for the simplest of scores, within seconds of the game resuming. Josh Phillips improved the try and made the score Newport 15 Llanelli 10 on 41 minutes.
Geraint O’Driscoll was, by now, squinting into the low evening sun, long shadows being cast across the pitch, as the ball sailed into the Llanelli half. Rhys Jenkins had returned, protective headgear in place, and caused mayhem as he charged down Harri Williams’ clearing kick and second row Morgan Jones was forced into touch giving Newport possession back.
From a midfield penalty, Geraint O’Driscoll punted Newport towards the Llanelli tryline. It was the same routine, Roach up, driving maul set, Palmer couple on to the tail. But this driving maul was massive as Llanelli were skated backwards at pace. Henry Palmer did the business, making him the first Newport hooker to score a hat-trick since, I think, Jon Evans against Llandovery, almost twenty years ago. The cries of “Newport! Newport!” sounded from the stand as the supporters lapped up the display of superiority. The conversion was wide, so the score now read Newport 20 Llanelli 10 with 49 minutes played.
Newport were dominant in all aspects of the game. A superb, patient build-up was key to the next score. Luke Crane’s grubber kick ahead seemed an odd option to many, but Jonny Morris and Chay Foster-Smith teamed up to ensure that Llanelli were mugged of possession and reclaimed the ball. Geraint O’Driscoll, the Rolls-Royce without a number, controlled the play as Newport gained territory with every movement. The phases ground the Llanelli defence down, sucked them in tighter and tighter, prop Thomas Davies having a rare canter with ball-in-hand, until the overlap on the right meant any one of two or three Newport players could score. Notably, Henry Palmer could have been greedy and taken a tilt at the line himself, but he unselfishly shipped it onto Oli Andrew who slid in for the bonus point try. It wasn’t Geraint O’Driscoll’s day with the tee as the conversion went wide, making the score Newport 25 Llanelli 10 on 54 minutes.
As the hour mark ticked around, the Black and Ambers repeated the move; penalty, kick to the corner, Roach, maul, Palmer, but this time, Henry Palmer was held up over the line and denied, improbably, try number 4 for the day.
Llanelli managed to bag themselves a second try on 64 minutes via wing Jac Davies. Harri Williams was fortunate to win a penalty as he slipped and fell into Dan Suter’s tackle, thereby being judged as high. Morgan Jones claimed the throw-in for Sospan, Harri Williams dictating play before Llew Smith’s tidy grubber kick sat up kindly for the winger to dot down over the line. The conversion was missed as Josh Phillips slipped as he kicked the ball and Oli Andrew was up quickly enough to charge the kick down. The score now was Newport 25 Llanelli 15.
It became frustrating that the Newport scrum was utterly dominant but was regularly getting pinged by Mr Morris-Roberts. Either the pack weren’t listening to the referee, or he was finding new, inventive ways to penalise a powerful scrummage. Regardless, Josh Phillips let Newport off the hook by kicking the penalty dead, rather than to the corner as intended.
There was still time for a final Black and Amber flourish. Geraint O’Driscoll pumped Newport forward. Ben Roach, a constant stream of lineout possession all afternoon, won the ball but Newport spread it. Harry Ackerman easily sliced the Sospan backline open before popping the ball left to the onrushing Dafydd Buckland, on earlier for Luke Crane, to sprint across the line and score. Geraint O’Driscoll added the conversion to make the score Newport 32 Llanelli 15 on 75 minutes.
Llanelli sought a late consolation, but Newport simply muscled up and bolted the door.
Dai the Hat would have loved it.
Full Time: Newport RFC 32 Llanelli RFC 15
It has transpired that Newport RFC have now qualified for the semi-final of the cup, alongside Pontypridd, RGC and our old friends from the Arms Park. Lads, we can do this!
Newport RFC are back to the Indigo Premiership next week, Saturday December 10th, when they travel to the Wern to face Merthyr RFC, a difficult task for sure, but Newport have often done alright there. We shall see. Following that, Llanelli re-visit us at Newport Stadium when they rock up for a league game on Saturday December 17th. The club shop will be open before, during and after the game on December 17th to allow last minute Christmas gift buying opportunities. Why not come along, wear your best Christmas jumper, and shout Newport on to, hopefully, another win?!
Onwards and upwards Newport.
Your City. Your Colours. Your Club
Newport RFC Man of the Match – Henry Palmer
Final Score – Newport RFC 32 Llanelli RFC 15