Newport well beaten

Ampthill v Newport  – Report by Russ Jones

Saturday 20 August 2022 K.O. 3pm

Newport crossed the border for the second week running to play a friendly against English opposition, this time no less than Championship side Ampthill coached by our ex-outside half and Hall of Famer Paul Turner. The Black and Ambers had previously played a friendly on the Olney Field in 2017, losing 29-14 on that occasion, but Ampthill had enjoyed a promotion since then and there was no doubt was that this would be a very, very difficult game. The hosts had recruited strongly in the summer, including players with English Premiership experience. At least there was no repeat of last week’s extreme temperature which today did not rise above 23°C.

Ben Roach led Newport onto the field in their blue change strip with the hosts wearing maroon and amber tops. It was Ampthill who started the game and the ball was caught well by Jonny Morris. An interception meant that there was early pressure from Ampthill and just 4 minutes into the game, after a lineout and driving maul, Ampthill opened the scoring with a try converted by outside half Tom Hardwick, formerly of Exeter and Leicester.

Following the restart, play soon returned to the Newport 22 and although the defence was strong a penalty was yielded. Ampthill kicked to touch, won the lineout and a drive for the line resulted in a second Ampthill try after 8 minutes, this time by their young Welsh No. 8 Morgan Strong, formerly of the Ospreys. The extras were added by Hardwick and Ampthill were now ahead by 14-0.

It was now Newport’s turn to put some pressure on Ampthill for the first time. Unfortunately, after winning a penalty inside the Ampthill half, an attempted kick to touch by young outside half Tadhg McGuckin (on permit from Maesteg Celtic) was wayward, went dead and play returned downfield for a scrum to Ampthill just inside their half. In fairness to the youngster an unpredictable, intermittent swirling wind was making kicking tricky to say the least!

Play continued but it was a stalemate for much of the next 15 minutes, with both sides enjoying a share of possession, both defences remaining solid, both sides making errors. There were promising signs for the large travelling Newport support – Jonny Morris going past his opposing wing on a dangerous run and two solid scrums from which Newport No. 8 Ben Roach could confidently take the ball and feed scrum half Luke Crane. It was from the second of these scrums after 28 minutes that Newport commenced an attack which led to an excellent try by Jonny Morris near the corner. Unfortunately, at this point the wind decided to remind us that it was still lurking and the conversion by Tadhg McGuckin struck the left hand post but at 14-5 Newport were back in the game.

Supporters’ optimism was dealt a blow when Ampthill returned to the attack. From a grubber kick by Tom Hardwick, the likes of which Paul Turner would have been pleased, a favourable bounce led to a try for the hosts by young Irishman Conor Rankin, newly signed from Ulster, converted by Tom Hardwick. 21-5 to Ampthill after 30 minutes. This was the start of an excellent 5 minute spell for the hosts who went straight back on the attack. Both sides initially struggled to retain possession but a fine solo run by Ampthill wing and Player of the Season Ben Cambriani produced a try after 33 minutes which was followed by another just 2 minutes later by the same player. Tom Hardwick maintained his 100% record by converting both.

The advantage was now firmly with the hosts but Newport came back strongly and some slick passing led to a “try” which was disallowed by the referee for an apparent double movement. The half ended after 4 added minutes.

Half Time: Ampthill 35 Newport 5

After a short interval Newport restarted the game. Ampthill enjoyed early possession but ultimately infringed and Newport gained a penalty on their 10 metre line. Unfortunately, touch was missed and the opportunity to set up a position from which to mount an attack was lost. Ampthill were soon back on the attack and a kick to touch from a penalty earned them a lineout 5 metres out after just 2 minutes. However, the Newport pack was resolute and held firm against a drive from the lineout.

Newport were soon applying pressure in their opponents’ half of the field. A kick to the Ampthill 10 metre line saw Newport steal the lineout ball and go through the phases before eventually resorting to kicking ahead. The danger was cleared by try-scorer Ben Cambriani but back came Newport again with a promising move before a knock-on handed the initiative back to the hosts. At the resulting scrum Newport were frustrated to concede a penalty, the  result of which saw the referee marching the visitors 10 metres back for a remark which he objected to.

Despite this, Newport won the subsequent lineout and launched an attack, the ball going through the hands to left wing Aaron Grabham but the Ampthill cover was good and the flyer was tackled into touch. From the Ampthill possession which followed the referee, who had found the visitors at fault regularly, had no option but to award a penalty against Newport and show the yellow card to Dafydd Buckland for a clear infringement. Just 11 minutes into the second half, some talking points but no further score.

This situation did not last for too long. After an Ampthill knock-on in midfield, the referee penalised Newport for an apparent offside. A good kick downfield gave the hosts an attacking lineout which was won cleanly at the front. A knock-on gave Newport the put in at a scrum and an opportunity to clear their lines but they were penalised. Ampthill had a lineout in a good position and on this occasion moved the ball to the right before Josh Skelcey dived over, converted by Tom Hardwick. After the restart, after some errors by both sides, and a further infringement spotted by the referee, Ampthill were back on the attack resulting in a 2nd try in 5 minutes for Josh Skelcey. Needless to say Tom Hardwick made no mistake. After 60 minutes the scoreboard read Ampthill 49 Newport 5.

It was important that heads did not drop at this stage but this Newport side has a big collective heart and work hard. Surely a try would be a fitting reward? They now started to go through the phases. Geraint Watkin fed the ball to Dafydd Buckland, standing at outside half, and the youngster kicked accurately crossfield to the right to Dragons’ Academy youngster Harri Ackerman who crossed for a fine try. Dafydd Smith kicked the difficult conversion. 64 minutes Ampthill 49 Newport 12.

Newport were under pressure again from the kick-off, and once again the referee decided they had committed an infringement. A tapped penalty and a knock-on by the visitors enabled the hosts to gain a good position. Ampthill applied pressure at the scrum and quickly spread the ball to the right where Charlie Hudson scored a try. For once the reliable Hardwick missed the conversion attempt, just wide of the right hand post. 69 minutes Ampthill 54 Newport 12.

For the remaining minutes Newport took the game to their opponents. Initially a promising move when the ball was spread right, left, then right again came to a halt after a knock-on. However, at the resulting scrum Ampthill were penalised. Newport opted for the lineout and went through the phases to no avail but the referee noticed another infringement by Ampthill. The subsequent penalty to Newport in their opponents 22 was moved quickly and Rhys Jenkins came close to increasing his team’s score. However, despite awarding Newport another penalty, the referee blew the whistle 4 minutes early due to a serious looking injury to a home player. Thankfully he was soon up on his feet.

Full  Time: Ampthill 54 Newport 12

The club would like to wish Paul Turner and his side good luck for the coming season. One suspects that Ampthill will have a very good season in the English Championship, which is a step up in standard from the Welsh Premiership. However, the Newport coaches will be pleased with the build-up although never satisfied and always keen to see further improvement in the team.

Please remember that Memberships are now on sale and each one bought will make a difference in helping the club achieve its future ambitions. Details can be found on the club’s website and social media accounts. In addition, anyone wishing to volunteer on match days will be warmly welcomed.

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