After the confidence-building win against Llandovery on Sunday, it was a quick turnaround for the Newport RFC squad as they prepared to visit St Helen’s and Swansea RFC in a Principality Premiership fixture. Swansea has not been a happy hunting ground for Newport RFC and currently the club seem to be averaging about one win there every ten years! Even in the season that Swansea were relegated, one of the few games that the managed to win that year was, predictably, home to Newport. So, despite Swansea RFC currently languishing at the bottom of the league, Craig Warlow, Tyrone Morris and the players knew that they would have to prepare fully and thoroughly for what would prove to be a challenging evening.
The rain had thumped down for large chunks of the afternoon and driving conditions on the M4 were less than ideal preparation for the game. Reports of heavy showers of hailstones on the St Helen’s pitch didn’t improve matters. However, after sterling work by the Swansea ground staff, the game was underway only slightly late kicking off at 7.36pm. Swansea’s outside half, Rory Garrett, got the game underway by kicking off towards the Mumbles end. A Swansea ruck ended suddenly when flanker Craig Attwell managed to spirit the ball away to Tom Pascoe whose touch finder was stunningly effective, rolling to halt, in touch, a few metres from the Swansea try line. Owen Davies at scrum half had a dart at the line from the line out but was snared and the ball bounced loose.
Swansea were winning enough good ball to flourish but were prone to self-destruct. They were strong and aggressive in the right areas but let themselves down with some sloppy handling when opportunities seemed to present themselves. The rain continued to fall and handling wasn’t easy for either team. Newport were bringing Wes Cunliffe and his destructive running power into the game more. Swansea quickly identified Cunliffe as a source of trouble and soon took to ‘double-teaming’ him in the tackles. But it wasn’t all bludgeon. After punches toward the line by Adam Brown, Rhodri Jones and Rhys Jenkins, the ball was released into the path of Jon Morris’ arcing run across the face of the White’s defence. Morris released Tom Riley who threatened before being pushed into touch five metres out. Newport secured the line out and Henry Palmer made a thrust at the line before Newport were penalised for going off their feet at the ruck, enabling Swansea to clear safely.
A 23rd minute rolling maul on the Swansea 22 seemed to be about to come to a halt when John Lavender added his considerable strength to it, crucially nudging it in Newport’s favour to make sure the Black and Ambers were awarded the scrum. From that scrum Newport were awarded a penalty when the referee, Mr Elgan Williams, judged that Swansea were pulling the scrum down. Step forward Matt O’Brien to take the kick which, adjusted for the strong wind coming off Swansea Bay, was successful. Swansea 0 Newport 3 on 26 minutes.
From the restart Swansea were clearly offside. Matt O’Brien belted the penalty back towards the Swansea try line and into touch. The ball was whipped across the field from the line out to Tom Riley who made half a yard for himself to release Jon Morris on the left wing. Morris sprinted in to score the try out wide. O’Brien added the tricky conversion to make it Swansea 0 Newport 10 on 28 minutes.
Swansea were spurred into action. A good spell for them pushing at the Newport line came to nothing, not even after home second row Jay Williams charged down an O’Brien clearance and the ball bounced dangerously near the Newport line. A 39th minute attempt at a penalty by White’s kicker Rory Garrett was unsuccessful when the kick was drilled wide of the posts. Swansea continued the attacking up to half time but were let down by their handling.
Halftime – Swansea RFC 0 Newport RFC 10
Swansea came back out of the changing rooms with a bang. They received Matt O’Brien’s restart and ran it straight back at Newport. It went through the hands smartly to right wing Andrew Rees Spowart who had rampaging number eight Rory Gallagher on his right shoulder who crossed out wide on 42 minutes making the score Swansea 5 Newport 10.
Newport responded by getting angry. A high kick lofted up into the night sky was flapped at by the Swansea defence and knocked on into the path of Rhodri Jones who hacked it forward. Matt O’Brien pursued it, adding a touch more to the hack ahead but an apparent impediment by Swansea’s Rhodri Wells was ruled to be something and nothing by Mr Williams and the ball was grounded safely for a Swansea drop out.
Matt O’Brien added a penalty to Newport’s score on 49 minutes when Swansea tried to wheel the scrum making it Swansea 5 Newport 13.
From the restart Newport protected the ball well before moving it wide to Tom Riley who made a break before handling on to Jon Morris who found Geraint O’Driscoll in support. O’Driscoll kicked the ball ahead in to the Swansea 22 and carried on the chase. Covering wing Andrew Rees Spowart appeared to have the situation under control but his attempted hack in to touch just became a nicely weighted kick into his own try area. O’Driscoll pounced on the rolling ball to put his team 18 – 5 ahead on 50 minutes.
A fortunate miskick by Swansea set Newport up in a decent position on the hour mark. From the line out replacement prop Garin Harris rumbled close and set up the ruck. Tom Pascoe hit the line at pace just metres out but was held up marginally short of the line. Rhys Jenkins, who had an excellent game, managed to wrap his arm around the tackler to offload to Owen Davies but he try-scoring pass was incomplete and the chance passed.
A 65th minute penalty attempt by Matt O’Brien went wide when it appeared as though his ‘standing’ leg slipped as he took the kick. Swansea 5 Newport 18 still.
The Black and Ambers went looking for more. A good run by Rhys Jenkins found Geraint O’Driscoll running in support but he was alone. O’Driscoll managed to secure the ball long enough for the cavalry to arrive. The ball went left to Matt O’Brien who put a grubber kick in for replacement wing, and returnee from injury, Elliot Frewen to run on to but the ball bounced horribly and Frewen knocked on. Swansea had problems clearing form the five-metre scrum and Newport soon had the ball back. The ball ended up back with Frewen who almost fizzed and crackled as he ran, such was the pace and change of direction that he injected into play. Frewen ran close but was tackled to the ground. Replacement Reuben Tucker, who runs at defences for fun, and Rhys Jenkins made inroads into the fringes of the Swansea defence before the ball went out to Matt O’Brien. Similar to his winning try against Llandovery, he cut back against the defence pushing out and skated a path between defenders before sliding in for a well-deserved try under the posts. O’Brien added the extras to make it Swansea 5 Newport 25 on 75 minutes.
There was time for a consolation try for Swansea. White’s Martin Luckwell took advantage of general confusion following a penalty award and took the quick tap. Newport’s disorganised defence allowed him to get into a dangerous area before releasing the ball for Dai Watts to chase. However, Owen Davies was slightly over exuberant in his attempts at defence that Mr Williams felt compelled to award Swansea the penalty try, which Rory Garrett converted simply, and send Davies for ten minutes on the naughty step. That made the score Swansea 12 Newport 25.
All Newport had to do now was wind down the remaining few seconds on the clock to secure a tough win. It was a credit to both teams that they endeavoured to play rugby on a night more suited to watching telly next to a hot radiator with a mug of tea. Swansea, once they sort their handling out, are going to give somebody a shock. Let’s hope that it isn’t Newport when they visit us on January 28th 2017 in the Welsh Cup!
Mention should also be made of Rhodri Jones and Matt O’Brien who both marked their fiftieth appearances in Black and Amber and, to be fair, either player could justifiably have been chosen as Newport’s Man of the Match. Congratulations gentlemen, let us hope that there are many more in the future.
Newport RFC are next in action on Saturday 26th November when Carmarthen Quins are our guests at Rodney Parade. This is a Principality Premiership fixture and the game will kick off at the slightly earlier time of 1.30pm to enable players and supporters to watch Wales take on South Africa at 5.30pm. Why not come to the game and make plans to stick around and watch Wales on TV later?
Newport have won three league games in a row and your support goes a long way to help our team on the field. Make yourself heard and shout on the boys to league win number five! Come on Newport!
Newport Man Of The Match – Matt O’Brien
FINAL SCORE _ Swansea RFC 12 Newport RFC 25