Newport RFC v Llandovery RFC 24th October 2015 by John Evans
The days of Newport supporters turning up to watch Newport stroll to victory over a succession of Llandovery teams is over. The Drovers are a different, more organised, beast these days. They made a statement of intent by winning the Fosters 7s in August and kicking on and only being beaten by title contenders Pontypridd and Aberavon this season. Indeed, they managed to put 50 unanswered points on Ebbw Vale at Church Bank last month. So, it was with some apprehension that Newport supporters welcomed Llandovery to Rodney Parade.
Steady rain fell for a 1pm kick off so that supporters could watch the New Zealand v South Africa World Cup Semi Final afterwards. A well observed minutes silence was held for Alan ‘Algy’ Thomas, a hero of the 1963 All Blacks vanquishers, who sadly passed away last week.
The game started tentatively with both sides making errors with the slippery ball. Indeed, as early as the 5th minute, the referee, Mr. Rees, had to speak with both sets of front rows as they failed to settle down. From the reset scrum, Llandovery moved the ball wide and slack tackling by Newport saw Drovers winger Will Thomas pierce the Black and Ambers backline with support each side of him. Winger John Morris tackled Thomas but failed to hold him, so Thomas sprung up and made the score. Llandovery outside half Jack Maynard converted to make it 0-8.
In the 12th minute, Llandovery were penalised for handling the ball in the scrum and went for the corner. From the ensuing lineout the ball went wide to Haydn Palmer who was held up. Mr Rees gave Newport the scrum put in. The Newport tight five earned the plaudits as they heaved Llandovery forward to enable Sam Cross to pick up and crash over for Newport’s first try. Julian Mogg converted to make it 8-8.
Both sides settled down to play rugby as the rain eased. Newport’s Ryan James began to make his presence felt by directing all around him. However, Llandovery struck next, on the 29th minute, with a splendid individual effort by scrum half Rhodri Davies, spinning like a top from tackle to missed tackle, he eventually found clear green space to sprint to the posts to give his colleague, Maynard, a relatively straightforward conversion to make it 8-16.
Llandovery’s game was beginning to come together now, good handling across the line and trademark little dinks in behind the Newport backline by Jack Maynard trying to make Newport turn. They let themselves down by regularly infringing at rucks causing Mr Rees to penalise them.
A Newport scrum, centre-field, on the 36th minute was the unlikely start for as good a Newport try as we are likely to see for some time. No.8 Sam Cross picked up and made ten metres before offloading to Rhys Jenkins who made more ground and invited Haydn Palmer onto the switch pass. Palmer then looped a pass out to the charging Wes Cunliffe who gathered and sprinted for the line. Scintillating stuff! Replacement Arwel Robson pushed the conversion wide to leave the score at 14-16 at halftime.
The second half started with a bang as prop John Lavender bagged a try in the 42nd minute. The ball went wide and Sam Cross, displaying his Sevens expertise, fashioned a marvellous offload out of the tackle for Lavender to sprint along the wing and claim the score, rekindling memories of Rod Snow who made a name for himself with such antics. Robson added the extras to make it 22-16.
Newport’s defence was being tested again as Llandovery strived to get back ahead. Ryan James was noticeably vocal in marshalling the defensive effort. Tackles rained in on the Llandovery attack and alert winger John Morris was alive to the possibilities. When a loose ball fell into his hands on the 49th minute on Newport’s 22, Morris made sure he made as much of it as he could. Morris carried the ball a full 60 metres before intelligently angling a kick infield for the advancing Newport backs to latch on to. Llandovery snuffed out the danger and launched an attack of their own. Newport’s resolve was firm, however, and the attack foundered on some much-improved tackling, so much so that in the 51st minute, outside half Maynard opted for a drop goal to make it 22-18.
The game was held up for four minutes on the 58th minute while replacement back-rower Lloyd Phillips, only on the field for ten minutes himself, was injured quite badly and required the stretcher. We wish him a speedy recovery.
Once the game resumed Llandovery threatened. They spread the ball wide at every opportunity, often finding defensive dog-legs or overlaps and exposing Newport. Determined defence kept them at arm’s length. The Drovers scrum half Rhodri Davies made another individual break, much like his first half try, and the ball reached Maynard who tried a cross kick to the corner but was smothered by John Morris. Still Llandovery came and second row Rhodri Jones was making some punishing hits to keep them out.
With plenty of injury time to be played Newport had lots of opportunity to go looking for more scores and, on the 82nd minute, came close. Sam Cross, who earned himself a justified Man Of The Match award carried and passed out to Ryan James who was bundled into touch as he dived for the line. It was now Newport applying concerted pressure and Llandovery had trouble shaking them off.
In the 86th minute Llandovery were caught offside. Robson went for the corner and from Dan Partridge’s take at the lineout Sam Cross fed the bullocking Wes Cunliffe who was held up short but provided a platform for replacement prop James Greenfield to collect the ball and crash over for Newport’s bonus point try. Arwel Robson’s attempted conversion went wide.
As late as the 94th minute Llandovery were still looking for something out of the game and, when Newport infringed, they opted for a penalty by replacement Steffan Marshall to make it 28-20 and claim a losing bonus point.
Back in the clubhouse after the game, the mood among Newport supporters was notably and understandably bright. Llandovery are a good side who will put many teams in our division to the sword this season.
But today was Newport’s day.
Newport 28 – 20 Llandovery
Match pictures at Simon Latham's website here: https://www.flickr.com/gp/simonjlatham/k3y71u