Newport supporters travelled north on the A4046 to Eugene Cross Park, home of the reigning Principality Premiership Champions, Ebbw Vale RFC. Ebbw Vale did remarkably well last season. They took a fearful battering at Llandovery and were on the end of a 34-14 defeat at Rodney Parade but then went on to hardly lose a game for the rest of season, making toast of Pontypridd at Sardis Road in the Premiership final. So, armed with the knowledge that league champions are usually no mugs, Newport needed to lift their performance from the poor display that was witnessed at home to Bedwas in the previous round of games.
In glorious late summer sunshine, Arwel Robson got proceedings underway, kicking off towards Ebbw’s clubhouse. After the initial exchanges, Vale full back Dan Haymond punted a loose kick away from his lines into the arms of Robson who ran, jinking inside two Ebbw defenders before finding Tom Riley in support. Riley was held up and the ball was spun wide to Elliot Frewen. Vale defended well but former Newport prop Gethin Robinson was found guilty of lying over the ball and was penalised. Arwel Robson slotted the penalty to put Newport three points ahead in as many minutes.
Ebbw Vale responded as you would expect champions to. They looked to find gaps in the Newport defence, both in the wide and narrow channels, and, when being awarded a penalty, took the option of kicking for the corner, something of a speciality in this part of Blaenau Gwent, I believe. Newport successfully repelled the attack and a lack of accuracy by Ebbw saw the ball spilled. Rhodri Jones got a boot to it and the ball cannoned off a Steelman into Jones’ hands. He released the flying Frewen who tried to run his way out of defence, remarkably getting as far as the 22 metre line, remarkable considering how congested the area in which he was trying to run was. Newport were penalised again. Ebbw went for the corner again but this time knocked on from the line out. Arwel Robson’s kick, from a rapidly wheeling scrum, got Newport way up to the Ebbw Vale ten metre line.
The Steelmen were nearly through on 16 minutes when scrum half Chris Thomas seemed clear but his support runner, outside half Josh Lewis, made a hash of his angles and collided with his half-back partner and contrived to spill the ball loose.
Vale were threatening but were let down by inaccuracy. A knock-on by Vale went unseen by the referee, Mr Dan Jones, and, just as Ebbw seemed to have numbers out wide, a sloppy pass by second row Damien Hudd saw the move break down and Newport were able to relieve the pressure.
It was notable that as early as the 20th minute, when Newport were penalised for hanging on to the ball in the tackle, Ebbw selected to take a shot at goal rather than utilise their usually efficient line out. They were getting very little change from the athletic Rhodri Jones of the brute force of Adam Brown so probably chose to use it more sparingly. Josh Lewis slotted the penalty to make it 3-3.
From the restart, a fortunate bounce of the ball to Elliot Frewen saw him have the chance to skim past second row Joe Bartlett and chip forward. Vale hooker Mathew Williams was on hand to stand up to the attack and did enough to stem the flow and provide a platform to get the ball away. Arwel Robson received the clearing kick and ran the ball back at them. Vale were penalised for hands in the ruck and, from the penalty, it looked like Craig Attwell had gone over in the corner. Mr Jones conferred with his Assistant Referees before declining the try.
Just as the game was starting to warm up, physically, Mr Jones felt that he had no option other than to send Adam Brown to the Sin Bin for ten minutes after catching him interfering with a jumper at a line out. This, then, led to a subject of debate by Newport supporters afterwards. Vale went for the line out, sensing blood, and Harri Keddie charged at the line. In the tackle the ball spilled forward. Many observers felt that Mr Jones signalled Newport advantage at this point. Reuben Tucker mopped the ball up and passed it left. The next pass fell agonisingly short of scrum half Owen Davies and Ebbw Vale flanker Ronnie Kynes, something of a local folk hero, scooped the ball up and crashed over for Ebbw’s first try. Josh Lewis added the conversion to make it 10-3. One can only speculate on what had happened. Had Mr Jones withdrawn the advantage, or feel that Newport had advantage enough? Irrelevant as the try stood. Newport had to suck it up and get on with it.
The Black and Ambers were gaining parity in possession but were often guilty of going for a ‘macho’ option of trying to blast Ebbw Vale players out of the way rather than looking for the inevitable scampering three-quarter on their shoulder. Ebbw’s loose forwards are good enough to punish those antics. Luckily, Vale’s line out was having an off day and the mistakes were being let off the hook.
Just in added time in the first half, Ebbw’s Joe Bartlett brought himself to Mr Jones’ attention by attempting to tackle Reuben Tucker using only his shoulder blade so he was invited to take a seat for ten minutes. Newport, obviously sensing a gap tried vainly to run the ball at Ebbw Vale. First Frewen, the Robson made charges but Robson was tackled by Damien Hudd and lost his grip on the ball. It bounced backwards but into the path of onrushing Vale wing Chris Leversley. He gathered and stepped around the despairing lunge of John Lavender to sprint clear and touch the ball down. Josh Lewis added the conversion to make it 17-3 to Ebbw Vale at half time.
Half time – Ebbw Vale RFC 17 Newport RFC 3
Head Coach Craig Warlow made the decision to change the half backs, Owen Davies and Arwel Robson giving way to Ryan James and Matt O’Brien respectively. Cool heads would be required if Newport were going to come away from Eugene Cross Park with a result.
However, Josh Lewis bagged another penalty soon after the restart, making the score 20-3 on 41 minutes.
A convincing Newport scrum on 43 minutes seemed to have the Ebbw pack in something approaching disarray and they conceded a penalty. O’Brien went for the corner and, after the ball was spun wide from the line out, Ebbw were penalised for offside. Newport selected to scrum again. Ebbw coughed up another penalty and once more, Newport chose to scrum. Having only been on the field about two minutes, Ebbw Vale prop Rob Sevenoaks may feel aggrieved that it was him picked out for punishment when the Ebbw scrum folded again. Mr Jones invited him to join Joe Bartlett on the bench. Ebbw Vale were left with no more front rows available, so Damien Hudd was forced up and passive scrums were called. Newport worked the ball well and Brendan Lampitt eventually forced his way over near the posts to score Newport’s first try. O’Brien converted to make it 20-10 on 50 minutes.
Three minutes later Adam Brown can consider himself lucky not to have seen a second yellow card for a tackle that was penalised for being high. Mr Jones spoke with him but didn’t feel that further punishment was warranted. Josh Lewis made no mistake again to make it 23-10 with a 47 metre attempt.
Both sides continued to attack each other, literally and metaphorically, with neither really gaining the upper hand. Ebbw Vale were letting themselves down through indiscipline though and, on 61 minutes, veteran prop and former Newport RFC player Ian George attracted Mr Jones’ ire as he laid over the ball at a tackle. He, too, was invited to leave the field for ten minutes. Newport were unable to take advantage of numerical supremacy and left themselves frustrated. Owen Williams was being brought into the game more, never a bad thing, and his long, striding runs were getting Newport into good positions.
Then was a moment of Newport magic. It was like listening to jazz, when you have twenty minutes of musicians noodling with their instruments and then they come up with a musical passage that is startling and beautiful. It makes you smile and you want to hear that phrase again and again. Ashton Hewitt, on permit to Newport from Newport Gwent Dragons, topped off a move that was beautifully constructed. A simple series of take, draw the defender and give the pass was executed like a training exercise. Geraint O’Driscoll made the break in front of the terrace before releasing Hewitt to sprint in. A great try that is sure to appear on the Principality Premiership Facebook page Try of the Week competition this week. Keep an eye out for that and make sure that you vote for Ashton. It was gorgeous. Matt O’Brien kicked the conversion to make it 23-17 on 71 minutes.
Newport had their tails up. Owen Williams was held up metres short from the Ebbw line, Reuben Tucker received the ball only to be flattened by Ebbw’s Rory Pitman and they were able to clear. Josh Lewis kicked another penalty to make it 26-17 on 78 minutes and time was running out. Even a losing bonus point was slipping away now.
With the public address system still ringing in his ears, having just announced that he was Ebbw Vale RFC man of the match, Josh Lewis crowned his performance with the winning try. Matt O’Brien took half a second too long in executing his kick. Lewis charged it down and followed the ball to the line to score. He converted to make it 33-17 on 80+1 minutes.
Whilst the performance was much improved on the Bedwas game, it was still short of the standards set last season. The fact is that Ebbw Vale won the game from three Newport mistakes. Ebbw’s lack of discipline was there to be exploited but Newport failed to do so and their ambition wasn’t matched by their accuracy.
Newport’s challenge is different again in the next round of the Principality Premiership. On Sunday we face Llanelli RFC at Parc Y Scarlets. Llanelli, with their ‘run from all angles’ approach which will be in contrast to Ebbw and Bedwas’ ‘seek and destroy’ style. It’s going to be interesting and a challenge that Newport can meet.
Newport have the talent. Newport have the firepower.
Come on Newport!
Man of the Match – Elliot Frewen
FINAL SCORE Ebbw Vale 33 Newport 17