When Newport No 10 Chris Wannell went off with a jaw injury - but not the broken jaw as first feared - after scoring on 53rd min there was only going to be one result. Newport fought to the end but went down by 4 tries to 2 with the B&A's coming from Ryan Owen and Chris Wannell who was injured in the process of scoring.It says much for the sprit of the Newport team in that although decimated by injuries they prevented Neath from scoring further in the last quarter.
Debuts were given to centre Charlie Johnstone (Ebbw Vale) and scrum-half David Jones (Ebbw Vale).
Chris Kirwan, SWA writes :
Champions Neath secured an impressive bonus-point win at Rodney Parade this afternoon, but it will be a lengthening injury list rather than the 31-12 scoreline that provided Newport with a sleepless night. The Black and Ambers have been hard hit by injury this season and their problems got even worse yesterday. It looks like both Dragons full-back Matt Evans and fly-half Chris Wannell will spend lengthy spells on the sidelines after suffering suspected knee ligament damage and a broken jaw respectively. The injury problems have not really shown up front so far this season – Newport were able to field a pack of seven full-timers yesterday – but the backs are a real cause for concern. The problem got worse yesterday and the Dragons’ own injury woes behind the scrum leave little room for manoeuvre. The hosts had three backs on permit yesterday, and two of their own flyers in Owen Broad and Charlie Simpson are raw prospects. Yet injury caused the Black and Ambers to finish with flanker Rhys Jenkins on the wing and James Leadbeater ended up playing three positions – scrum-half, centre and fly-half. At this rate backs coach Jon Bryant had better get some new boots, while the rest of the squad may well be training in Bubble Wrap ahead of Saturday’s clash with Pontypridd.
“We’ve been papering over the cracks with the injuries and it has caught up with us,” said head coach Sven Cronk. “I’m at a loss, we are trying to patch the side together and scrambling to get players in throughout the week but you just can’t function like that.”
If any side is going to exploit a weakness then it is Neath, who look to be hitting their straps after an unspectacular start to the season.They started strongly and deservedly took the lead after six minutes, when former Ireland Under-21 flanker Ejike Uzoigwe went over from wing Kevin James’ smart inside pass. And the burly visiting number 14 was next to get his name on the scoresheet, cruising over from Luke Ford’s offload in the 22.
Fly-half James Thomas – who controlled matters superbly – converted both and Newport were up against it at 14-0 down with a quarter of an hour gone, and it could have got even worse. A Thomas chip over the onrushing defence was gathered by Ford but the centre’s pass to wing Chris Morgans was woeful and a rugby equivalent of an open goal was missed. Newport were given a lifeline and made it count with a try made and finished in Bedwas. A slick midfield move from quick lineout ball saw on-permit centre Charlie Johnson float a long pass out for wing and Bridge Field team-mate Ryan Owen to cross in the left corner. Wannell converted magnificently, and suddenly Newport had a foothold in the game. They had to work hard to stay in it, however, and after Thomas had kicked a penalty it was the visitors who finished the half on the front foot. Some magnificent defensive graft kept them out and the Black and Ambers had hope going into the changing-rooms at 17-7 down.
However, they were quickly hit with a second-half sucker punch with Neath scrum-half Tom James sniping over from a five-metre scrum and Thomas expertly adding the extras. Would Newport fold at 24-7 down and facing an impressive side? The answer was an emphatic no. They showed remarkable patience inside the Neath 22 for a multi-phase score with impressive young Ebbw Vale scrum-half David Jones at the forefront with neat service, Wannell the man to go over. It wasn’t to be a way back into the match – Ashleigh James’ close-range try soon sealed the bonus- point win for the Welsh All Blacks – but it was a try that would have delighted their coaches.
The injury list is unlikely to cause such delight.