Here we are, then.
A new chapter in the long and illustrious history of Newport RFC was opened when the club hosted its first ever fixture at Newport Stadium. What has happened has happened and there is no point raking over old ground here. We, us supporters, the club and everyone with an interest in the badge, must move on and accept that the talking is over, and the future is here. The club are, for now, commanders of their own ship again, and long may that continue.
It was fitting that Merthyr were the first visitors to our new home; they have been the league’s standard-setters for the last few years. They are well coached and dripping with talent and physicality. The first ‘W’ at the new ground would have to be earned, not a given.
The pitch looked in good condition and, given the mild temperatures and lack of breeze, no excuses could be made for not putting on a performance. Will Reed took the first kick, in anger, at the new ground as Newport, in change strip of Monmouthshire blue, attacked the Southern Distributor Road (SDR) end. There was little to separate the two sides during the initial exchanges as play carried on in the middle third of the field. Players cancelled each other out until Merthyr slowly started to make their renowned physicality count.
Newport were penalised for offside in the 6th minute, the visitors opted to punt to the corner and utilise their main weapon, the drive off a lineout. This was disrupted, so they opted for a series of individual drives instead. Rhys Downes, facing one of his former clubs, was determined that it wasn’t going to be the visitor’s day, generally being busy and stretching Merthyr all afternoon, but it was he who got his shoulder into a rip and come away from a tackle with the ball and Newport were safe to clear.
Merthyr were getting the edge as wing Ashley Norton split the Newport defence apart and got the outside backs moving. Luckily, Newport’s drifting defenders were equal to it and it was left to new-dad, Jonny Morris, to tackle Merthyr into touch.
Rhys Downes got the Newport crowd on their feet on 13 minutes with a lovely waltz along the touchline, with Oli Andrew in support and Matt O’Brien to his right. Sadly, the pass wasn’t completed but it was an attacking glimpse of what might be.
Had the club employed a statistics analyst, they would have been getting feedback that the team in yellow and dark green were beginning to dominate; generally, Merthyr smash into contact so a ball-carrier tends to stay hit, if not spill the ball on impact. Newport were hoovering up the visitor’s mistakes and hanging in there as best they could. However, an 18th minute penalty for offside prompted Merthyr to point to the posts and score some points, so they must have felt that their traditional strength was being counteracted well by the Black and Ambers. Outside half Gareth Thompson calmly slotted the kick to make the score Newport 0 Merthyr 3.
Newport were able to make attacks of their own, but the visitors are highly skilled at disruption and a 20th minute rolling maul came to grief as Merthyr spirited the ball away from another pile of bodies near their try line.
Newport were caught offside again on 24 minutes. Gareth Thompson’s kick at goal was close, but the ball bounced off the right post before Will Reed could clear to safety.
Newport’s most promising attack, so far, came on the half hour mark, after Merthyr were penalised for pulling down the lineout jumper. A series of patient, measured drives at the Merthyr line, with prop Lewis Smout seeming to get closest, were undone when a support player was found to have gone off their feet.
Newport were pinged on 34 minutes. Merthyr scrum half Adam Hoskins quickly tapped the penalty but the referee, Mr Ben Whitehouse, judged that Josh Skinner had deliberately impeded his run and offered Skinner a sit down. With Newport’s main lineout threat now cooling his jets, the next play was obvious. Merthyr went to the corner, caught the throw, executed the rolling maul, but it was all too easy for hooker Rhys Williams to pick his spot and score the first try ever at the Newport Stadium. Gareth Thompson added the conversion to make the score Newport 0 Merthyr 10 on 36 minutes.
Merthyr continued to attack, Mr Whitehouse adding up the infringements by Newport as he went. He could have given any number of penalties as Merthyr went through the gears, but he gestured for both high tackle and offside when he stopped play on 40+1 minutes. Gareth Thompson selected the penalty shot again, slotted it, and turned on his heels for the changing rooms as the halftime whistle sounded.
Newport’s parade looked very much like being rained on.
Half Time Newport RFC 0 Merthyr RFC 13
Ben Jones, Merthyr’s number 15, restarted the game, Ben Roach catching the kick for Newport before Rhys Downes could loft the ball away. Alex Webber, playing 13 for the visitors, could only kick the ball directly into touch as he responded.
Mr. Whitehouse made an obvious blunder on 43 minutes as Merthyr passed the ball hugely forward in attack. The Newport crowd howled as play continued, Mr Whitehouse running around with both arms in the air. Maybe, just maybe, he realised how wrong he was as, at the next breakdown, Newport appeared to gain the most marginal of penalties, not being particularly clear to the crowd what for. No matter, Matt O’Brien belted the ball into the corner to see if the Black and Amber pack could “do a Merthyr”. The forwards drove, rocked and rolled, then splintered as a series of drives continued, hooker Matt Dwyer, another Merthyr old boy, relishing the prospect of driving at former team-mates. Newport were playing with advantage so opted to go to the corner again. Josh Skinner took the throw, but the rolling maul was, in Mr Whitehouse’s opinion, collapsed deliberately. The referee had no option but to run to the sticks and award Newport a penalty try, with the added extra that Merthyr flanker Jack Perkins could have ten minutes on the naughty step. No conversion necessary, this made the score Newport 7 Merthyr 13 on 47 minutes.
Newport were allowing some self-belief to permeate as they attacked again. A quickly taken penalty was halted within inches, a ‘crime’ that saw Josh Skinner yellow-carded in the first half, remember, so Will Reed thumped the kick downfield. Merthyr’s physical display in defence was punishing but Newport were playing with the referee’s advantage again. They went to the corner again, took the same options but it came good this time as Lennon Greggains could blast his way through a tackle and scramble the ball over the line. Will Reed added the conversion to make it Newport 14 Merthyr 13 on 52 minutes.
Merthyr brought on new prop Rhys Lewis on 65 minutes and his first contribution was to collapse a scrum and award Newport a kickable penalty. Will Reed made sure that he did, making the score Newport 17 Merthyr 13.
Newport were labouring in attack, but one could sense, even from the stands, that Merthyr were running out of steam slightly. The Black and Ambers were struggling to puncture the Merthyr 22 metre area still. Mr Whitehouse was in the actions of awarding Merthyr a penalty on 71 minutes when full back Ben Jones recklessly flew off his feet and launched himself into the pile of forwards. Mr Whitehouse swung on his heel and awarded the penalty to Newport. Will Reed took the opportunity to increase the lead to Newport 20 Merthyr 13 on 72 minutes. Such small margins can swing a game.
Merthyr needed to score but the Black and Ambers were well up for the fight, figuratively speaking, none more so than young wing Oli Andrew who chased, harried, tracked back and hunted down like a man with a huge appetite for the game. He is from the same mold as Jonny Morris and Elliot Frewen and, to me, that is a compliment.
The game was far from won by Newport as a 74th minute penalty against them showed, which was made worse by chopsing. Mr Whitehouse marched the Black and Ambers back making the kick simpler still. Gareth Thompson put that away to make the score Newport 20 Merthyr 16.
Space began to open up as Merthyr tired. Newport scythed through in a lovely passing movement, George Gladding, on for Haydn Simons, attempted to suck in three defenders with Deon Smith to his right, and pass from contact, but the idea was better than the execution, sadly. Still, Newport were ahead, trying to force things positively and were just metres from the Merthyr line.
With a final surge, Newport gained a scrum put in, just metres out from the Merthyr line. The pack drove in series, softening up the Merthyr defence. Henry Palmer drove close, young Adam Williams, a Dragons Academy prop, had a surge, Luke Crane darted and kept Merthyr alert. With a penalty advantage coming, Newport had nothing to lose; the ball spun wide, Will Reed almost losing his head in the process, before Matt O’Brien selected the perfect pass, lofted high and wide to Oli Andrew who finished perfectly with a touchdown in the corner, an ideal reward for his graft. Will Reed added the tricky conversion to make the score Newport 27 Merthyr 16 at the final whistle.
It stayed dry for our parade, after all.
Full Time: Newport RFC 27 Merthyr RFC 16
Newport RFC are next in action on Saturday 16th October when we make the short journey up the valley to visit Ebbw Vale at their Eugene Cross Park ground in the next round of Indigo Group Premiership Cup games. The Black and Ambers will be looking to back up their recent performances with another win on the road but, if Ebbw can raise their performance against anybody, it’s us. Newport will need to be at their best again to come home with a win.
The following Newport fixture is at home, on October 23rd, when we welcome Pontypridd RFC to our new home at Newport Stadium. Let’s hope that we can get an appreciative crowd to repeat what we experienced today.
Onwards and upwards Newport.
Your City. Your Colours. Your Club
Newport RFC Man of the Match – Lennon Greggains
Final Score – Newport RFC 27 Merthyr RFC 16
More match pictures from Simon Latham are here: