Chris Kirwan, SWA writes :
The celebrations were restrained for Cross Keys after beating Newport in their British and Irish Cup play-off – they recognise that it's a job half-done. The Pandy Park outfit now make the short trip to Bedwas for the right to enjoy longer journeys to Leinster, Moseley and Ealing while representing the Dragons region. Saturday's game is at Bridge Field but Keys, benefitting from blowing the cobwebs away, will probably start as favourites. Newport, meanwhile, are left to concentrate on the league before the Premiership has even started. They must also deal with a mounting back row injury list. The Black and Ambers were already without Lee Beach and Craig Attwell and saw promising Dragons academy flankers Ollie Griffiths (shoulder) and Josh Skinner (ankle) forced off. The latter is set to be a lengthy lay-off after he suffered a dislocated right ankle on the stroke of half-time.
The hosts were worthy winners at Pandy Park in an encounter that didn't really hit the heights because of rustiness. "It was a typical first game of the season," said Keys head coach Greg Wood. "It was scrappy and we weren't pleased with our performance but it was knockout rugby. I'd give our performance five out of 10 and we didn't really get out of second gear but to come away with the win in such an important game was great. But I said to the boys that it's half-time, we've got to go Bedwas and do the exactly the same."
Newport , who also lost centre Dan Robinson after a bump to the head, trailed 16-6 at the break but clawed back to 19-17 with 15 minutes remaining. That was as close as they got with Keys staying calm to finish strongly when the visitors looked like they had the momentum.
"All week we had spoken about the importance of making a good start but we didn't produce anything for the first 40 mins," lamented head coach Sven Cronk. "We went really well for half an hour and got some nice pace on the ball but then we made some costly errors at the end."
Keys probably should have enjoyed more than a 10-point advantage after bossing the first half. Home fly-half Dorian Jones kicked three penalties to opposite number Ethan Davies' two and also converted flanker Reuben Tucker's try. The blindside powered over and his back row team mate Scott Matthews can claim an assist after his jackal inside the 22 got Keys on the front foot. The openside was mightily impressive all afternoon, showing that Keys need not have too much cause for concern following the summer departure for Coventry of skipper Rob Nash. It was just a shame that the 19-year-old's tussle with 18-year-old Griffiths was ended prematurely by the Newport man's injury.
The Black and Ambers improved after the break and suddenly they became the beneficiaries of referee Leighton Hodges' whistling. Davies slotted two penalties to Jones' one and on 66 mins Newport reaped the benefits of finally stringing a move together and utilising their dangerous back three. Quick lineout ball was spun left to wing Elliot Frewen who raced down the touchline and offloaded inside to full-back Geraint O'Driscoll who did likewise to put right wing Ashton Hewitt over. Davies missed the conversion that would have levelled the scores at 19-19 and Keys regained their composure. Jones settled their nerves with a penalty and then converted a super try scored by replacement centre Phil Williams after the hosts busted through midfield. That was game over but there was still time for Keys to twist the knife with another Jones penalty and another seven-pointer, lock Tom Lampard going over after Newport wing Owen Broad's disastrous pass inside his own 22.
The Black and Ambers have to stew on the defeat for fortnight while Keys plot a Gwent derby double that would see them taking on English and Irish opposition.
Photos courtesy of Simon Latham :