Chris Kirwan, SWA writes :
Newport endured another tense finish but crucially came away with another victory after hanging on for four massive points against Cardiff at Rodney Parade. The Black and Ambers outscored their visitors by three tries to two but had to repel a succession of attacks at the death. Newport’s late defiance kept their hopes of British and Irish Cup rugby next year very much alive, dealing Cardiff’s bid for the cross-border competition a severe blow in the process. The Blue and Blacks will now struggle to finish in the top eight and Newport would have loved being the side to put them on the brink. Just last month they trudged off the pitch at Cardiff Arms Park after being trounced 42-16. This time they hugged one another in delight at the final whistle while the side from the capital were the ones suffering the pain of defeat in their changing-room. It could, however, have been so different. Like the previous weekend against Tonmawr, Newport had to survive a late assault on their line and once again they held out... just.
Cardiff inaccuracy and a few crucial turnovers means that there could still be more memorable nights against foreign opposition at the Parade next season. It looks as though Cross Keys will have home advantage in the playoffs for the final qualification spot (if they don’t reel in fifth-placed Swansea) but Newport have given themselves a chance of locking horns with English, Irish and Scottish opponents.
Saturday was another must-win encounter for the Black and Ambers and they secured the four points with a performance that was gutsy but slightly under-par. It was far from vintage Newport, or Cardiff for that matter, but all that counted was the win. The hosts were far too sloppy with ball in hand, thus failing to work their way through the phases and ask questions of the Blue and Blacks’ defence. The modern way of referring to gifting away possession is to say that a side ‘didn’t respect the ball’. Well, Newport showed it about as much respect as an angry Scouse footballer does an official. But while the Black and Ambers’ efforts in the loose failed to impress, their work in the tight won them the game. The scrum was dominant, with tighthead Gethin Robinson in top form to help young loosehead Dafydd Morgan have a fine afternoon up against experienced Cardiff prop Ian George. And there was role reversal from the Arms Park in the lineout, with Newport the team doing the frequent pillaging.
The game was tight throughout with neither side ever being more than a score clear. Cardiff had the better of the opening exchanges yet they had very little to show for it. Visiting fly-half Scott Sneddon put his side in front with an early penalty only for opposite number Gareth Bowen to respond. Cardiff wing Harry Robinson, who had earlier been beaten by a cruel bounce over the try line, finished off a fine move of neat handling and offloading on 14 mins. However, Newport levelled it at 10-10 straight from the restart when the ball shot out of a ruck for scrum-half James Leadbeater to scamper over from 25 metres. Suddenly the Black and Ambers were on the up, yet it was Cardiff who struck next when Craig Hill’s pass was intercepted by wing James Loxton, who raced over from inside his own half. However, Newport led 17-15 at half-time thanks to a second score by Leadbeater and a second conversion by Bowen. It came from one of the many lineout steals with the ball spun out wide for Rhodri Gomer-Davies to put over Leadbeater, who had shifted to full-back because of an ankle injury to Pat Leach.
The game was loose with neither side taking charge, and the pattern continued after the break before an almighty dust-up took place with half an hour left. Robinson and Cardiff prop Trevett were handed yellow cards but it was a tad harsh to single out two players – many more could have been sin-binned or even red-carded. Being down to 14 seemed to galvanise Cardiff while Newport suffered a blow in their set-piece dominance in the absence of Robinson. Sneddon booted Cardiff into a 21-17 lead but it could have been worse for the hosts, his second penalty coming after Harry Robinson had blown a golden chance close to the line following a break into the Newport 22 by Loxton. And the Black and Ambers made them pay just before the props returned when Gomer-Davies went over by the posts despite scrambling Cardiff defence. The timing of young prop Morgan’s pass to put his centre over was excellent, though it was a little too close for comfort given the overlap to the left. Replacement fly-half Lewis Robling extended the lead with a penalty but the Parade faithful’s prayers for a nice calm ending to the game went unanswered. The visitors pressed in the closing stage but were unable to force their way over in what turned out to be a huge afternoon in the race for the British and Irish Cup.
Argus star man: Dafydd Morgan.
Pictures courtesy of Simon Latham and Ron Sutcliffe: