It was to be a quick turnaround for the Newport RFC squad. Having just completed their 13-17 victory at Llanelli, they were now asked to prepare for the visit of Merthyr Tydfil RFC on a Thursday evening, an unusual day but necessitated by a clash of fixtures with Newport County. The Ironmen of Merthyr have been having a decent start to their inaugural Principality Premiership season, so far only losing at home to Bedwas and defeating Cross Keys and Cardiff RFC in earlier rounds.
Merthyr got the game underway, kicking off towards the North Terrace and were very nearly in at the corner in the opening moments after some steady approach work was spoiled by an optimistic pass. However, the Ironmen were on the scoreboard moments later when Newport were penalised for going off their feet at a ruck and a simple kick for visiting full back, Matt Jarvis, made it 0-3 in two minutes.
Newport had the chance to respond almost immediately from the restart as a Merthyr hand knocked the ball forward into the path of a teammate who couldn’t resist dropping on to the ball to win possession. Penalty, offside. Sadly, Matt O’Brien’s penalty kick smacked off the upright and Merthyr centre, Arron Pinches, attempted to run the ball out of defence.
Newport’s pressure bore fruit when, on seven minutes, after hard graft by the forwards, a grubber kick by Matt O’Brien was deftly put in behind the defence for Elliot Frewen to swoop on to. Elliot then managed to secure the ball whilst dancing along the touchline and dived into the corner to finish the move. Great awareness by Frewen made it 5-3.
Newport were trying to push again when a stray pass was picked off by Merthyr wing Matthew Trowbridge, who raced about half the length of the field before he found back row Ed Siggery in support. Newport’s Kyle Tayler was back to help out in defence and wrestled the ball away. The clearing kick was poor, however and Merthyr’s Kyle Evans was allowed to run with the ball creating panic in the Black and Amber defence. His diagonal run across field was only stopped on Newport’s five metre line by a despairing hand from Geraint O’Driscoll. The resulting scrum was steady enough to set up a series of drives which resulted in visiting openside flanker, Osian Davies, finding space enough between a ruck and the posts to cross for a try. That made the score Newport 5 Merthyr Tydfil 10 once Jarvis had added the extras for his team.
Newport were giving as good as they got but only having one recognised line out jumper in Adam Brown made it easy for the Ironmen to guess where the ball was going next. Brendan Lampitt, selected out of position in the second row, did a solid job but is inexperienced at line out jumping, so Brown shouldered the load.
Merthyr, though, were hitting their stride. They were doing the basics very well and were protecting the ball. A lovely soft pass from Number 8 Thomas Daley to Kyle Evans saw him breach the Newport defence for his second try on 31 minutes, crossing under the posts to make the simplest of conversions for Jarvis, making it Newport 5 Merthyr 17.
Newport were working hard. Kyle Tayler scavenged away and Reuben Tucker was a powerful menace to the Ironmen’s defence, metaphorically punching holes around the rucks and mauls.
It was left to the visitors to have the final say on the half. Centre Gavin Dacey pushed down the left side of the field, finding Matt Jarvis in support. The loose forwards mopped the ball up before Gareth Davies at outside half teed up an inch-perfect cross kick into the hands of Kyle Evans, who then beat the defence to score out wide. Matt Jarvis scored the conversion to make it 5-24 on 40+1 minutes.
Half time – Newport RFC 5 Merthyr Tydfil RFC 24
Newport brought Dan Mock on for the second half in order to spread Adam Brown’s lineout workload. However, Merthyr went for the jugular straight away. A try on 45 minutes for Thomas Daley, their number 8, followed good, strong work form Arron Pinches who found Osian Davies in support. He was repelled aggressively but Daley scooped the ball up, took a few steps backwards before finding a weakness in the Newport line and crashing through, draped in two Black and Amber players. That made it Newport 5 Merthyr Tydfil 31.
The clouds were darkening. Merthyr appeared to be able to pass the ball freely between each other with barely a Newport hand getting to it. Winger Trowbridge found space enough to tear down his wing and deliver a backhanded pass to supporting scrum half, former Newport player Rhys Downes who scored unchallenged. It was now 5-36 on 54 minutes.
Worse followed as Elliot Frewen attracted the eye of referee, Mr Adam Jones, in defence and was invited to take a ten minute break.
A pattern is beginning to form in Newport RFC games where a change of half backs on the hour signals a completely different style of play, whether it’s O’Brien for Robson, or vice versa at 10, or Ryan James for Owen Davies, or vice versa, at 9. And so it was on this occasion. Robson and James came on and Newport began to attack with more venom. Replacement prop Chris Coleman did exceptionally well, robbing Merthyr of the ball on his own try line, before following the play down field, via breaks by Arwel Robson and support from Chay Smith, before finding himself in the right place at the right time as the ball came wide again foe Newport’s second try. It was now 12-36 on 59 minutes following Robson’s conversion.
Minutes later they were at it again. Arwel Robson, seemingly with a point to prove, ran before setting up the ball. Ryan James found Llywarch ap Myrddin on a fantastic angle to break the Merthyr defensive line before rounding Merthyr’s Matt Jarvis to score. Arwel Robson converted again to make it 19-36 on 62 minutes.
Newport’s fate was sealed when Kyle Evans collected his fourth try of the night on 67 minutes. A messy, bouncing ball seemed to mesmerise the Newport defence. Evans was quickest to react and simply angled his run in towards the posts, evading defenders as he went. Jarvis added the conversion to make it 19-43. Sadly, in the run up to the try, Newport wing Owen Williams seemed to injure a leg and had to be stretchered off the field. Naturally, all at the club wish him a full and speedy recovery and hope that it wasn’t as bad as it might have been.
As Newport had emptied their bench in search of something out of the game, the injury to Owen Williams left the team a player down for the remainder of the match. Still, Newport pressed in search of the fourth try and, at one point, an unlikely Bonus Point. After a spell of cynical infringing, Mr Jones awarded the Black and Ambers a string of penalties and repeated warnings to the Merthyr captain. When the Ironmen had infringed offside, Robson tapped quickly and passed to Chay Smith who brought Geraint O’Driscoll into the line at an angle to break the Merthyr defence and score Newport’s try bonus. Robson converted to make it 26-43 on 78 minutes. Mr Jones had seen enough of Merthyr infringements and sent replacement, no. 23, Owen Howe, to the sin bin.
Merthyr’s final try, to take them to fifty points, was quite harsh on Newport. A five metre line out was taken cleanly by Merthyr but then went upwards and forward toward the Newport line. Flanker Osian Davies pounced to claim the try. Mr Jones deliberated and then conferred with his Assistant. They clearly felt that no knock on had taken place and the try stood. Predictably, Jarvis bagged the conversion to bring the score to Newport 26 Merthyr Tydfil 50.
The end of the game couldn’t come quickly enough for players and supporters alike. A penalty to the Black and Ambers saw Arwel Robson boot the ball into touch and bring proceedings to a close.
It looks, already, like Merthyr Tydfil RFC will be in the mix at the end of the season. They are an impressive unit with few weaknesses at this level. They are well drilled, as any team coached by Dale McIntosh are, and play simple rugby well. They look after the ball and earn the right to play with it. Good luck to them.
Newport’s next fixture is on Saturday October 8th and it is to Pontypridd that we travel. Pontypridd have been the benchmark of semi-professional rugby in Wales for some seasons now. It will be interesting to see how Newport get on at Sardis Road on their new 3G pitch.
Onwards and upwards.
Man of the Match – Reuben Tucker
FINAL SCORE Newport RFC 26 Merthyr Tydfil 50