Chris Kirwan, SWA writes :
NEWPORT ensured that there was finally some home comfort at Rodney Parade when they downed Premiership champions Pontypridd in a cracking encounter. Following the Dragons’ loss to Ulster on Friday and County’s defeat to Woking on Saturday, the hope was that the Black and Ambers would be able to avoid an unwanted hat trick. That was always going to be easier said than done against a Ponty side that were yet to taste defeat this season. And so it proved in a frantic finish, the visitors firing back in the last quarter and being left to rue a remarkable missed drop goal by Dafydd Lockyer in injury time. The big centre did an impression of Rhys Priestland to shank an attempt from in front of the posts, 15 metres out. There was still time for the visitors to pile into another attack and they were incredibly close to a winner with the last play, former Dragons and Newport star Gareth Wyatt’s crosskick hacked to touch... just. Defeat would have been rough justice on the Black and Ambers. They deservedly became their first conquerors of the side from Sardis Road thanks to a canny performance and a work ethic to rival that of the Rodney Parade groundstaff and stewards.
The hosts headed into the game on the back of morale-boosting British and Irish Cup wins over Connacht Eagles and Cross Keys. They certainly believe they are better than the ninth spot that they occupied prior to kick-off and they produced a display to back up that belief. It wasn’t rocket science how they took the spoils – they simply kept mistakes to a minimum, forced Ponty into errors, possessed plenty of players more than willing to offer themselves as ball- carriers and defended with both tenacity and discipline. Their backs kept the visitors guessing with a varied game, while the forwards looked after the set piece but also made the hard yards, with props Jamie Jeune and Tim Ryan putting in terrific shifts. None the less, Ponty showed their quality – and strength of their squad – to nearly steal in late on. It was a keenly fought opening and Ponty should have inched their noses in front only for fly-half Lewis K Williams to somehow miss a routine penalty from in front of the sticks. They were made to pay for that mishap on 16 mins when Newport right wing Alan Awcock intercepted a Dafydd Lockyer pass to sprint 80 metres under the sticks, with fly-half Scott Sneddon making it a seven-pointer. Back came Ponty, but bizarrely they opted to go for the corner rather than the posts when a bout of pressure earned a penalty. A good decision when it comes off... but on this occasion it was a bad call that was made even worse when Sneddon made it 10-0 with a penalty.
Confident Newport were not only forcing their visitors into errors but they were exploiting them – on the half-hour a lineout steal by flanker Sam Waldron allowed Sneddon to dart through a gaping hole in midfield and make it 17-0. They held that lead at the break and no doubt would have been warned of a Ponty backlash by coaches Sven Cronk, Dai Gray and Jon Bryant.
But they would have been delighted entering the final quarter, not only because it was 17-0 but also because the visitors were down to 14 men courtesy of flanker Tom Hetherington’s yellow card. The pleasure at the performance was reflected by the lack of replacements, yet it was game on on 64 when Ponty – down to 13 men because second-rower Craig Locke was down injured – scored a breakaway through winger Lewis I Williams. Sneddon eased the nerves with a 70th min penalty to make it 20-7 but it was still set for a tense finish against a side throwing caution to the wind. The champions sniffed blood when a well-executed catch and drive saw Scott Roberts cross the whitewash. Full-back Geraint Walsh was wide with that conversion but made no mistake adding the two points when a marvellous move put wing Owen Williams over on 80 mins.
But Newport held firm, just, to take the four points from a magnificent encounter.
Photos courtesy of Ron Sutcliffe and Simon Latham :