Newport travelled down the M4 to Parc Y Scarlets looking for their first win in the league since the 14-6 home victory against Cross Keys on 26th March. A run of eight straight defeats made uncomfortable reading for anybody associated with the team and there was a quiet determination to turn the corner within the squad. The Ebbw Vale game showed that the players weren’t too far from the first win, it was just the apparent lack of confidence within the group that stymied them.
The pitch at Parc Y Scarlets looked fine after some heavy rain, and the previous evening’s fixture between the professional teams of Llanelli Scarlets and Connacht appeared to have caused little damage to the playing surface.
Llanelli outside half Ioan Hughes kicked off, his team wearing an unfamiliar blue strip rather than the usual red, and Rhodri Jones received the ball. Possession was won straight back by Llanelli, a dangerous break by wing Ashley Evans came to nothing as hooker Taylor Davies conceded the penalty and Newport’s Matt O’Brien could safely clear the Black and Amber lines.
From the outset, the scrum appeared to be a fractious set up and, as early as the third minute, a scrum dissolved in a dust-up which resulted in the referee, Mr Leighton Hodges, speaking with both captains in order to cool the situation down. It was from a scrum that Llanelli scored their opening try. A creaking Newport set piece caused hooker Henry Palmer to strike for the ball twice. On contact, the ball flew out of the back of the scrum. Quickest to react was Llanelli the scrum half, former Newport RFC and Bath RFC player Jon Evans, who hacked ahead and touched down, despite the attentions of Wes Cunliffe. The conversion was missed making the score 5-0 in as many minutes.
Newport dug in. Elliot Frewen worked hard to make ground for his mates, Kyle Tayler, who had an outstanding game, was a pain in the collective Llanelli neck and made sure that Llanelli had to work hard for any bit of possession that they received. Ryan James prodded and poked the ball like an artist while the forwards, as a group, made dent upon dent in the Llanelli defence.
Twenty minutes gone and Newport almost set up camp in the Llanelli 22 but the breakthrough just wouldn’t come. They would have to be patient. Dan Partridge was having a great game, his lineout jumping faultless, and maul after maul was set up on him as he ensured a stream of possession for the Black and Ambers. A dynamic driving maul was held up just inches short of the Llanelli line. Matt O’Brien was throwing a mix of simple and audacious passes, one particular pass was almost through the eye of a needle as O’Brien drew multiple Llanelli defenders and found Elliot Frewen with laser-guided accuracy. Frewen reached the five metre line before resolute Llanelli defence held him up. The ball went wide through Lampitt and debutant prop Chris Coleman and on to Chay Smith. Smith brought the thunderous Wes Cunliffe on to the switch pass and back to strength. Newport’s forwards swarmed around Cunliffe and the ball was juggernauted over the line. Sadly, it wasn’t to the satisfaction of Mr Hodges who felt unable to award the try. Newport kept on. Brave Llanelli defence kept Frewen out again but with the ball going to the hands of Llanelli centre Ioan Nicholas and then Nicholas being dragged into touch, it was Newport’s possession again. No mistake this time. Partridge jumped, Henry Palmer peeled around the back and joined the maul and it was him who scored Newport’s opening try to make the score 5-5 on 31 minutes.
Newport were aided by Llanelli’s inaccuracies, especially at the line out. Newport conceded a penalty soon after but the line out was horribly overthrown and Kyle Tayler nailed the loose ball, Llanelli then conceding themselves. However, from the Newport line out, a Matt O’Brien pass was judged forward. Luckily for Newport, Mr Hodges whistled for the offence instantly, thereby denying Llanelli what appeared to be a clear overlap on the left. They got some reward when Newport were penalised for standing in the scrum and Llanelli fullback Dion Jones took the opportunity to make the score Llanelli 8 Newport 5 on 36 minutes.
Llanelli played, in parts, as well as we know Llanelli can. When the structures broke down and they were presented with a broken field, they looked dangerous, none more so than wing Ryan Conbeer. Indeed, he was almost put away by Ioan Nicholas near the end of the half, it was only a judgement from Mr Hodges of crossing that prevented a likely Llanelli try. Newport were riding their luck. Would it hold?
Half Time Llanelli RFC 8 Newport RFC 5
A change of props, John Lavender and Garin Harris coming on, and Reuben Tucker in the back row for Rhodri Jones gave the side a more familiar look for this season. Matt O’Brien restarted the game and was soon in the thick of the action. Smart reverse passes and offloads were making the Llanelli defence think about which angle the ball would appear from next.
Llanelli tried to increase their lead, and went close in the 49th minute. Llanelli forwards Adam Powell and Tom Kaijaks both had charges at the Newport line held up, Jon Evans probed but the maul was wrapped up and possession was turned over to Newport. Ryan Conbeer was held up some minutes later, just five metres out and hooker Taylor Davies thought that he had scored, only for the Assistant Referee to rule that, in fact, Conbeer had spilled the ball in the tackle and it was Newport’s possession again. Then, on 59 minutes, came the second Llanelli try. Llanelli number 8 Josh Macleod took a pass that was not forward at all, made a strong break then gave another pass, that was equally not forward, to supporting flanker Nathan Hart, who finished the move out wide. Again the conversion was missed and the score was now 13 – 5 in favour of Llanelli.
Newport had to haul themselves back into this, and quickly. Matt O’Brien kicked into wide open spaces for Elliot Frewen to chase. Frewen won the foot race but, frustratingly, fumbled the ball as he tried to scoop it up, almost with the line at his mercy.
The introduction of new half backs on 64 minutes signalled Newport’s intention to go for the victory that the club needed. Good work by Tom Pascoe in the Newport centre put Llywarch ap Myrddin clear only for the touch judge to call play back for a forward pass that he had spotted. The change of props was making its mark too and, on 67 minutes, the Llanelli scrum folded under the pressure on their 22 metre line. Newport went for the corner. Partridge, naturally, won great ball at the line out, allowing Reuben Tucker to go close then, eventually, replacement scrum half Owen Davies, who appeared to have taken a wrong option but proved it was actually the right option, wriggled over the line in the shadow of the posts to score Newport’s second try. Fresh outside half Arwel Robson kicked the extra points to make it Llanelli 13 Newport 12 on 70 minutes.
Newport were demonstrating patient phase play and dominated the next ten minutes, almost setting up camp in Llanelli’s 22 again. The forwards pounded the Llanelli defence whilst Pascoe, Frewen and Myrddin made rapier thrusts at them. A Newport try seemed inevitable and it came on 79 minutes. Elliot Frewen was almost away but a despairing Llanelli player’s knuckles caught hold of his shirt, stretching it to destruction before he was reigned back in. If those Gilbert shirts weren’t so strong it would have been a try! Eventually the pressure told and it was the Captain, Adam Brown, whose telling drive was enough to breach the Llanelli line. The score was Llanelli 13 Newport 17.
Then came a whole ten minutes of added time. Newport were penalised for feeding at the scrum then marched back ten metres after Adam Brown might have asked him, justifiably, why that would be penalised now when he hadn’t penalised it all game? However, aggressive Newport defending made light of the referee’s decision. Then bizarrely, Llanelli were awarded a penalty 45 metres from their own line, four points down and in injury time, and their captain opted for the scrum. Most spectators were left scratching their heads at that one. Still, it was of more benefit to Newport than a booming kick to touch in Newport’s 22.
On 80+9 minutes, Kyle Tayler was penalised for sticking a hand out in the way of a Llanelli pass but the game was nearly up, there was no time for a line out. Hooker Taylor Davies took the quick tap but was gobbled up by Black and Amber shirts. Replacement Craig Attwell performed minor heroics in extricating the ball away from contact and out to Reuben Tucker who gratefully booted the ball into touch to bring the game to an end. The smiles on the faces of the Newport players told its own story.
It was a super effort by all the playing staff and management at the club. The dark cloud of successive defeats was lifted against a good side, make no mistake. Achieving it away from home made it slightly sweeter again.
Next up for the Black and Ambers is a visit from Principality Premiership new boys Merthyr Tydfil RFC, the Ironmen. It will be an interesting game as they are already building themselves a formidable reputation and have quality players throughout the team. But so do we. The game is on Thursday, at Rodney Parade, and it’s a 7.15pm kick off. See you there.
Final Score Llanelli RFC 13 Newport RFC 17
Newport RFC Man of the Match – Dan Partridge