Victory in scorching heat

Dings Crusaders 33 v 40 Newport – Match report – Russ Jones.

Following the win at Bedwas last week, the second pre-season friendly saw Newport heading over the border to Bristol to take on Dings Crusaders at their impressive Shaftesbury Park ground. This was the Black and Ambers’ second visit to the venue and many of us will recall the previous visit in 2019 when the Port won 28-24 against a very good opposing side.

Today’s game promised to be equally competitive but difficult for both sets of players given the extremely hot weather. Whilst very warm seated in the shade of the stand, one could only imagine how the players were coping in the full glare of the sun. Thankfully the kick off time was moved forward from the original 3pm to a cooler (not much!) 12pm. The heat and lack of rain in recent times was such that the green of the artificial grass was in stark contrast to the parched, brown “grass” pitch behind the stand.

The game kicked off with Newport playing in their blue change strip against Dings in their darker blue colours. The Black and Ambers started well and were soon on the scoreboard thanks to a penalty try, which resulted in a yellow card for the hosts. Whilst not having it all their own way, Newport went further ahead thanks to a try by Dragons Academy teenage centre Harri Ackerman, surely a star in the making, which was converted by outside half Kieran Meek. 14-0 to Newport who at this stage were looking comfortable.

The game was being played at a fast pace but one which was unsustainable in the heat. As expected around the 20 minute mark, play was stopped by the referee to enable the players from both sides to take a well deserved refreshment break. Play restarted with every hope that Newport would continue where they left off. And so they did. Following a 2nd card of the match for Dings, the Black and Ambers went further ahead with a try by back rower Alex Grey, although on this occasion the conversion by Kieran Meek went just wide of the posts. The half time whistle blew with the score Dings Crusaders 0 Newport 19.

Whilst the result was by no means settled, an early second half try by Rhys Jenkins from a rolling maul, with the extras added by Kieran Meek, certainly gave the large travelling support cause for optimism as the lead was stretched to 26-0. Game over? No. At this point the game started to change. Firstly, it was Dings turn to earn a penalty try and, of course, Newport’s turn to receive a yellow card for an infringement by Harri Ackerman. The lead still looked comfortable at 26-7. As the game approached the end of the 3rd quarter, Dings took advantage of a gap in the Newport defence to add to their tally with a converted try. Still a good lead at 26-14 but supporters knew both sides would be aware the game was there for the taking.

Time for another refreshment break midway through the 2nd half. Would this break up Dings’ momentum? This question  was quickly  answered when, within minutes of restarting, Dings added another try to bring themselves within one score of the Port at 26-19. Newport needed another score to gain some breathing space. Score they did too, albeit against the run of play but with a superb length of the field move which was finished off by replacement outside half Tadhg McGukin (on permit from Maesteg Celtic) with a sprint to the line. After regaining his breath he converted his own try to extend the lead to 33-19. With the 40 minute mark approaching there was no time to relax as Dings again took the game to Newport and a tapped penalty in the Newport 22 lead to a converted try. 33-26 to Newport and, with the clock ticking, was there time for yet more drama? The obvious answer to that is yes. Yes there was. With Dings continuing to press, a stray pass was ready to be intercepted. Luckily for Newport, the man who was there to take advantage was speedster Chay Foster-Smith who was not to be caught on his route to the line. The conversion by Tadhg McGukin made it 40-26 to Newport. Dings kept going and scored a try with the last move of the game but Newport took the victory. Dings Crusaders 33 Newport 40.

This was a good win against very competitive opponents and the club would like to wish good luck to Dings Crusaders for the coming season. Newport will be pleased with the two wins so far, building up nicely to the final pre-season match at Ampthill next week. Coached by Ex-Newport outside half and Hall of Famer Paul Turner, this will be a big test against a side playing in the English Championship. However, the Newport coaches will be pleased with the way the side has played to date.

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