If you watch Match Of The Day often enough, you’ll come across the pundits stating that the measure of a new recruit into the Premiership is how he’d fare on a cold Tuesday night away at Stoke City. Surely the equivalent at this level is a sodden, blustery night away at Ebbw Vale in November.
This Fosters Challenge Cup match was played despite the best efforts of ‘Storm Barney’ after Newport’s home fixture to Bedwas succumbed to the weather caused by ‘Storm Abigail’ on Saturday.
It was two very different looking teams to the sides that took the field at Rodney Parade on November 7th in the Principality Premiership fixture. Both clubs took the opportunity to cast the net wide and take a look at players from outside the squad in a competitive situation whilst enabling some senior game time to a couple of Dragons Academy players.
Newport kicked off and began well, Julian Mogg launching the ball high into a squally wind and the players responding with drives toward the Ebbw line. No.8 Jack Goodey showed a surprising turn of speed for a big man as he hacked the ball through in the second minute and had the Steelmen’s defence scrambling back to smother the ball dead. A minute later, another strong run by Goodey found Ebbw Vale at sixes and sevens and former Newport player Ian George was penalised for being offside. That, however, was as good as it got for Newport in this half. Newport went for the line out, had possession taken from them, and Ebbw worked their way patiently up field.
The 7th minute saw Ebbw Vale’s first try by winger Owen Williams following a line out and a super angled run from fellow wing Jared Rosser which camped Ebbw on the Newport line. A series of drives were thwarted but the ball was then spread left to where the Newport defence hadn’t reformed in sufficient numbers. Outside half Simon Veall made it 8-0 to Ebbw Vale.
A 12th minute penalty by Veall, Newport being deemed offside, made it 10-0 before the second try of the night swiftly arrived. Ebbw hooker Joe Franchi crossed following some strong pressuring of the Newport defence by winger Owen Williams and, all too easily, Ebbw hands managed to work the ball loose. Some neat phases followed before Franchi found a gap to scamper through and touch down. Veall’s conversion was successful to make it 18-0 on as many minutes.
Newport tried to get back into the game, Aeron Bidgood at scrum half trying hard to inject some pace and direction into the proceedings, but there was an air of Newport rushing things whereas Ebbw Vale were patient enough to play simple rugby.
Evidence of this followed all too soon as a good run from Ebbw lock Joe Bartlett saw him conjour up a marvellous reverse pass into the path of the oncoming Simon Veall who galloped across the line for Ebbw’s third try which he also converted. The score was now 26-0 on 23 minutes.
Newport seemed beaten already. The usual aggression in defence was missing and the tackling was pretty passive at best. Ebbw loose forward Cameron Regan was allowed to run much too far with the ball and, once eventually collared, he popped the ball out of the tackle beautifully for Veall, once again, to gather and cross for another Ebbw Vale try. It was 32-0 on 25 minutes.
Newport tried to get back into the game but they were turned over mercilessly on Ebbw’s 22 metre line. The Steelmen carried hard for metre after metre toward the Newport line and, once they’d gone fully 50 metres in this manner, outside half Veall threw a splendid ‘miss-2’ pass to open up the defence on the terrace side of the field which allowed full back Dan Haymond to skate over in the corner. The conversion was good and the score was now 40-0 on 28 minutes.
The rain began swirling around the floodlights again as Jack Goodey tried to launch something positive for Newport. He carried strongly and was rewarded with Newport’s sole try of the night on 33 minutes. Ebbw Vale were penalised and Newport went for the 5 metre lineout option and Goodey found himself in the right place at the right time. Julian Mogg was unsuccessful with the conversion, so it was 40-6 on 33 minutes.
Craig Warlow would have been glad to get to half time so that he could go over what had just happened with the players. It was loose, forced and, frankly, not good enough.
The sides came back for the second half after the briefest of breaks and Newport showed greater resilience during this spell. Ebbw kept the attacking pressure on but their clinical edge deserted them. Outside half Simon Veall, so lethal in the opening half, went quiet and caused few problems.
Newport centre Paul King got a toe in to a loose ball to snuff out one attack, Ebbw inaccuracies thwarting others. A creaking Newport scrum was rescued by Jack Goodey as he gathered the ball, got away from his marker and passed the ball out to Mogg who cleared the lines.
The game paused on the 54th minute following an injury to Ebbw Vale replacement Rhys Francis. A gap of 11 minutes took place while the medical teams worked on him and stretched him off the field. All at Newport RFC wish him a speedy recovery.
Once the game restarted it was back to business as usual. Ebbw started attacking again and Newport were forced to defend. Some of the tackling was poor, Newport players making the hit but not actually stopping the attacker.
As the rain got heavier the body count increased for both sides, players going down for myriad complaints. The referee, Mr Jason Bessant, found it easier to continue the game around them rather than constantly stopping and starting.
On the 72nd minute, Ebbw Vale’s scrum dominance told as the Newport pack was marched backwards towards the clubhouse. Mr Bessant was left with little choice but to award Ebbw Vale the eight-point penalty try making it 48-6.
The game was petering out to the extent that one could imagine both sets of players dreaming about standing next to the radiator while holding a mug of tea.
Newport tried to snatch a shred of pride from the fixture when abrasive hooker Henry Palmer replaced Alex Watkins, Palmer making several aggressive runs to inch Newport toward the Ebbw Vale 5 metre line but the Steelmen were well set up in defence and all Newport could do was batter at the door. Ebbw replacement Luke Leddington was sinbinned during this period but it made no difference and Ebbw Vale were worthy victors on an evening of horrible conditions.
It was an interesting fixture, the Newport management gaining a look at potential talent for the future outside of the player’s usual environment, whilst giving players who haven’t had much time on the pitch a chance to show what they can do in a competitive scenario. What it would also have achieved is to clarify to Craig Warlow exactly which players won’t be involved in the Principality Premiership fixture away at Llanelli on Thursday 26th November.
Man of the Match – Jack Goodey
FINAL SCORE Ebbw Vale 48 Newport 6