Llandovery RFC were the visitors to Rodney Parade on a glorious Sunday afternoon. They were in search of their fourth straight league win and sixth in all competitions and were handily placed in sixth in the Principality Premiership before the start of this weekend’s round of games. They already looked a fairly safe bet for making the top half league split come January. The Llandovery of old, the team who bumbled about at the bottom of the league playing entertaining, but losing, rugby have been replaced by a sleeker machine that combines power with a rapier-like cutting edge. Indeed, last weekend, Llandovery gave what those-in-the-know call “a right hammering” by putting 37 points on Pontypridd RFC, of all teams. Newport, on the back of a hard-fought win at Neath last week, were looking to capitalise on that.
There was an impeccably observed minutes silence with the Last Post and Reveille being played excellently by Sam Hughes, a student at Bedwas Comprehensive, to whom Newport RFC give their thanks.
Llandovery outside half, Jack Maynard, kicked off towards the school end. Newport responded with some good, powerful tight work but Llandovery were sharp in regaining the ball. A cross kick by Maynard looked harmless enough until the lively Mike Evans, at full back, latched on to the ball, scooped a pass inside to visitor’s centre Rhodri Jones whose pass out to support went to ground before Newport could hack into touch a few metres out from the line. The line out worked efficiently for Llandovery and prop Dean Howells was the recipient at the back of a rolling maul. It was far too easy for Howells to just rumble over the line, virtually unopposed, for his team’s first score. Maynard converted to make it 0-7 on six minutes.
Newport tried to create and it was Jon Morris who started a move which got him 25 metres up field. Once the move was halted Newport’s progress slowed and, ultimately, stopped as a Llandovery defender spirited the ball away from the ruck. The Drovers revealed their ambition by running from the shadow of their own posts but their apparent overlap was squandered by loose passing. Newport continued to thump away, Wes Cunliffe was brought on to the ball more to try to pierce the Llandovery armour, but their defence stood up well to the attacks.
Llandovery almost bagged a second try on 14 minutes when loose, open play ended with a Drovers boot up field. The Newport defence didn’t react as quickly as Llandovery wing Aaron Warren, who gathered the ball only for it to inexplicably squirm from his grasp with the line at his mercy. A lucky break for the Black and Ambers. Llandovery continued to press for more scores and they were rewarded on 19 minutes when Newport were penalised for not rolling away at a tackle. Jack Maynard stepped forward to make the score Newport 0 Llandovery 10.
The Black and Ambers were working hard but the breaks weren’t quite coming in attack. Newport’s labours were finally rewarded on 22 minutes when Matt O’Brien kicked a penalty to make it Newport 3 Llandovery 10.
A scrum in the midfield area was the launch pad for an attack that paid dividends. Ryan James, at scrum half, picked his moment to launch a pass to O’Brien perfectly as he entered the line at speed, eluding defenders. He found support to his left in the shape of Geraint O’Driscoll who had pace enough to beat the grasping red and green shirted defenders to score a super set piece move in the corner near the Hazell Terrace. The score now was Newport 8 Llandovery 10 on 27 minutes.
Drover’s 10 Jack Maynard clearly ‘had his eye in’ as a penalty to the corner on 28 minutes was laser-guided in its accuracy and took his team up to Newport’s five metre line. Thankfully, Drovers hooker Dafydd Hughes’ throw in was less accurate and Kyle Tayler snaffled the overthrown ball and carried forward. The game entered a horribly scrappy phase in which neither side seemed to be able to keep the ball for more than two or three passes. This came to a crashing end when Llandovery flanker Duane Eager was exactly that and launched himself at Matt O’Brien in the style of a football centre-half, foot outstretched, lunging for an imaginary football. The referee, Mr Gareth Newman, consulted with his assistants before deciding that a penalty was punishment enough. O’Brien dusted himself down, stepped up and banged the penalty over, the best riposte that he could possibly give. Newport lead 11-10 on 39 minutes.
Black and Amber tails were up. Newport pushed on with Cunliffe barging his way down the flank, finding O’Driscoll in support who, in turn found O’Brien. O’Driscoll carried on the supporting run but the final, possibly scoring, pass went to ground after, firstly, a Drovers hand appeared to knock the ball forward and then a Llandovery defender wrapped himself around O’Driscoll before the ball left O’Brien’s hands. An expectant crowd waited for Mr Newman’s verdict but were left disappointed as it only warranted a scrum for the knock-on.
The halftime whistle sounded and, as both teams jogged to the changing rooms, all thirty players would have believed that the game was winnable.
Halftime – Newport RFC 11 Llandovery RFC 10
The game ebbed and flowed from Matt O’Brien’s restart but came to a juddering halt on 47 minutes when a challenge by Newport’s Rhodri Jones on the visitor’s Aaron Warren left the winger sprawled across the touchline. Mr Newman, who officiated the aforementioned Llandovery – Pontypridd fixture last weekend and dished out four red cards on that occasion, felt that he had little option but to show Jones a yellow card and allow him to sit and think about what he had done. Jack Maynard slotted the ensuing penalty comfortably to make it Newport 11 Llandovery 13 on 50 minutes.
14-man Newport were awarded a penalty of their own on 53 minutes when visiting scrum half Scott Gibson was found lying over the ball at a ruck. O’Brien opted to punt the ball to the corner. Newport supporters hoped that the team wouldn’t regret that decision later on. Surely points on the board were more valuable at that moment? Possibly not. Nobody beats Llandovery with 14 players and Newport were confident enough that their ability to keep the ball, while winding the clock down until Rhodri Jones returned to action, was a viable option. Newport pushed on but a pass from Chay Smith to Tom Pascoe was best described as unsympathetic and the move broke down as visiting prop Berian Watkins came away with the ball. However, fortune favours the brave and on 59 minutes a penalty was awarded to the Black and Ambers which O’Brien banged over to make it Newport 14 Llandovery 13.
Newport kept pressing. Cunliffe’s runs were starting to do real damage, Craig Attwell showed great hands under pressure to keep a move alive and Tom Pascoe ran directly, but a firm tackle dislodged the ball and Llandovery could clear.
Newport were pushing. The handling was a little bit “to me, to you” but it didn’t go to ground and was kept alive waiting for a chink in the red and green wall. Pascoe jutted out his Desperate Dan jaw and carried the team to within inches of the try line. Kyle Tayler and Henry Palmer hurled themselves against the defenders in an effort to cross that line. A pass out to O’Brien made enough of a gap. O’Brien spotted it, cut back against the grain of defence, danced his way through and managed to get the ball to ground with Llandovery shirts swamping him. O’Brien got up and converted his own try to make the score Newport 21 Llandovery 13.
Jack Maynard was given a chance to cut the deficit on 71 minutes as replacement hooker Will Evans was penalised, rather harshly some felt, for being off his feet at a ruck. The fact that he had his shirt pulled over his head and was pulled off balance didn’t wash with Mr Newman and Maynard duly made it Newport 21 Llandovery 16.
The game was in the balance. Llandovery were used to winning, would they find a way to do just that. Newport were, understandably, a little fragile in confidence. Could they hold out? Yes, they really could. They went awfully close on 80+3 minutes when a series of drives saw Kyle Tayler and John Lavender thumping at the defence at close quarters before Garin Harris actually crossed the line but was deemed not to have grounded the ball.
In the dying moments of the game Llandovery looked to break out but the Black and Amber defence held firm and, as a stray pass went to ground, Mr Newman decided that he’d seen enough and blew for full time.
You may have seen the adverts for a well-known tyre brand, “Power is nothing without control”. For most games this season Newport have had bags of power, power to spare even, but little control. The subtle change has come with a little bit of tinkering to Matt O’Brien’s outlook and it has earned him two consecutive Man of the Match awards. Nearly everything that O’Brien did mattered. The amount of kicks that were wasted could be counted on one hand. He brought players onto the ball and allowed the big fellas around him to soften up the opposition. Then, when the try scoring opportunities are there, he can put in his grubbers and improvised passes that allows the team to do damage and win rugby matches. Which is what we, as Newport supporters, all want.
Newport RFC are next in action on Thursday 17th November, once again in the Principality Premiership, as we visit Swansea RFC at the St Helens ground. Kick-off is at 7.30pm. A win would be lovely, of course, but it would be good to see as many travelling supporters as possible.
It’s time to get behind our team.
Newport Man Of The Match – Matt O’Brien
FINAL SCORE _ Newport RFC 21 Llandovery RFC 16