Newport’s pleasing recent run of Principality Premiership league results was put to the test by a Carmarthen Quins team who have been doing well this season. They currently occupy a top eight berth, which is where our club wants to join them, and, last weekend, took on Pontypridd on their own patch and came away with a win. So, no mugs, clearly. They arrived at Rodney Parade boasting a clutch of Scarlets in their ranks, notably Morgan Allen at number eight, son of former Newport player Andy Allen.
In glorious autumnal sunshine, Newport RFC kicked off towards the school end. On this occasion Newport were wearing a change strip of red shirts and black shorts with black and amber hooped socks to avoid a clash of colours with the Quins strip. A promising early break by Tom Pascoe made yards but the pass out to the supporting runners was hooked behind them all and had Newport scrabbling to clear the ball up. Lively Matt O’Brien, currently in a rich vein of form, scooped up the bouncing ball and made for the Quins line but was dealt with by being ushered into touch.
A ‘try’ by Tom Riley was disallowed in the 4th minute after a set play nearly paid dividends. Following a scrum, number nine, Owen Davies brought Wes Cunliffe in on a blockbusting run that saw Newport held up about ten metres short of the try line. Davies whipped the ball away from the ruck to Geraint O’Driscoll who found Riley in space but the pass was judged to be forward and the result would have been a Quins scrum, except that somebody with loose lips was heard by the referee, Mr Elgan Williams, and the scrum became a full penalty. Chance, and field position, blown.
Another chance soon came along and, this time, Newport capitalised fully. The Black and Ambers found an overlap on the left. Jon Morris drew the defender to put Henry Palmer away before clattering into Quins full back Lee Williams. Play switched to the right before John Lavender made a powerful surge which was held up inches short of the line. Mr Williams decided that Lavender held on to the ball for too long in the tackle and penalised him. At the resulting line out Newport stole the ball back and Rhys Jenkins put Rhodri Jones into space. Jones’ long, loping gait gave him just enough room to get to the try line and open Newport’s account. The kick, from almost in front of the posts, was straightforward enough to give Matt O’Brien a simple two points to make it Newport 7 Carmarthen Quins 0 on 11 minutes.
Quins, being the quality team that they are, soon hit back and patiently hammered away at the Newport defence. They inched their way towards the Newport line, the play switching from right to left. In truth, Newport were dealing with the defending pretty well, but a momentary lack of concentration and a quick shuffle of the feet of Quins flanker Shaun Evans caused a dog-leg in the Black and Amber wall and he was through. Quins outside half Steffan Marshall added the conversion to make it 7-7 on 16 minutes.
There is a hardened resolve in this group of players at Newport RFC now. This was demonstrated almost immediately. Geraint O’Driscoll put in a perfectly weighted chip kick which he chased down and had the Quins defenders in a flap. They were forced to dot the ball down behind their own try line and give Newport an attacking platform five metres out. The ball made a scruffy exit from the scrum but Wes Cunliffe was on hand to set the ruck up. A simple through-the-hands move across field, barring a basketball style pass from Tom Riley which by-passed O’Driscoll and created the overlap, went straight to the predatory Jon Morris who finished well in the left hand corner. Matt O’Brien’s conversion went awry and the scoreboard now read Newport 12 Carmarthen Quins 7 with 19 minutes played.
Quins, oddly, suddenly seemed a little devoid of attacking ideas. They were trying to put in searching touch finders from their own half but they were all dealt with efficiently by Newport. A nice moment that demonstrated an ability to deal with pressure came when Owen Davies picked up one loose kick and calmly passed infield to Matt O’Brien. O’Brien, with Quins second row Ben Thompson bearing down on him, neatly sidestepped and returned the kick, with interest, back into the Quins half.
Newport were penalised for ‘boring in’ at the scrum on 28 minutes. Quins kick to the line out was sound but the maul that followed was Newport’s as they got the vital nudge that persuaded Mr Williams to give Newport possession back. Rhys Jenkins, who has been playing really well recently, made a super break from the back of the scrum. Matt O’Brien made a good-looking cross-kick out to Jon Morris but the Rodney Parade crowd were then shown a lesson in why one should not let a rugby ball bounce. The ball fell invitingly for Morris to scoop up and run, potentially, to the line. Instead the ball bounced horribly, taking it away from the Newport attackers and it was Quins winger Tom Williams, on permit from the Scarlets, who reacted quickest. A sprint for the line, evading a few desperate defensive lunges, and Quins second try was on the board. The score was Newport 12 Carmarthen Quins 12 on 30 minutes.
Curiously, at the restart was a sight seldom seen. One of the Quins staff was on the field of play and was felt, by one of the Assistant Referee’s at least, to be offering more than water and platitudes to the Quins players. A few firm gestures and he was dismissed to the stand.
Newport responded magnificently. Tom Riley and Jon Morris went close on the left of the field before Morris was snared. Play moved infield and Kyle Tayler went very close to scoring before the ball was worked away to Reuben Tucker who crashed over for Newport’s third try of the afternoon. Matt O’Brien added the simple conversion to make it Newport 19 Carmarthen Quins 12 on 35 minutes.
Quins had the last say in a breathless half of rugby as they got themselves close to the Newport line but some inaccuracy in their handling at a ruck relieved the pressure on Newport and, as the referee blew for half time, most observers would have been hard pressed to say which team was in the bottom eight and which was in the top.
Halftime – Newport RFC 19 Carmarthen Quins RFC 12
Quins outside half Steffan Marshall kicked off the second half of what had been an entertaining game of rugby so far. Jon Morris continued to show his appetite for the game as a thumping tackle on a Quin secured the ball back for Newport and Owen Davies chip neatly rolled into touch near the visitor’s 22 metre line. This visit came to nought as Quins dealt with the threat well and cleared their lines.
Carmarthen Quins found an overlap of their own on the 48th minute as the Newport defence was sucked in. Full back Lee Williams joined the line at speed to create space for wing Chris Banfield to sprint home and score. The conversion was wide so the score was now Newport 19 Carmarthen Quins 17.
Quins changed their front row on 55 minutes. This had an immediate impact on the Newport scrum as the pack creaked and groaned under renewed pressure. As the game wore on though, the new props settled down and Newport regained the parity that they had enjoyed previously. Quins had noticeably gone up a few gears. They were much more menacing with ball in hand than they had been all afternoon and seemed to emerge with the ball from rucks more often. A 58th minute attack would have resulted in a try for Lee Williams if he could have held on to the pass. A lucky escape for Newport. Owen Davies executed a good lofted kick which had the Quins defence at sixes and sevens for a moment. And no wonder. If you looked up and saw Reuben Tucker, Rhodri Jones and Wes Cunliffe bearing down on you, you’d be at sixes and sevens too. The ball bobbled loosely but, sadly for Newport, Rhodri Jones’ attempted hack through got caught under his foot and the Quins could mop up.
A 62nd minute penalty by Matt O’Brien from about 45 metres out agonisingly hit the cross bar but a spell of Newport pressure saw another chance handed to him on 64 minutes. O’Brien made sure this time to make it Newport 22 Carmarthen Quins 17.
At a 65th minute Newport scrum, Mr Williams awarded the home team a free kick. The hoisted kick was well followed up by Newport and in the melee that followed prop Javan Sebastian couldn’t resist picking up the ball in an offside position. Matt O’Brien made sure with his penalty attempt to make it Newport 25 Carmarthen Quins 17.
A grandstand finish was set up by Quins fourth, and bonus point earning, try. A solid Newport tackle in midfield was spoiled when the support went off their feet. Quins’ Steffan Marshall kicked to the corner with the penalty awarded to them. From the line out prop Gethin Robinson was in the right position at the rolling maul to claim the try. Centre Joshua Batcup had now assumed kicking responsibilities and his conversion was good, making it Newport 25 Carmarthen Quins 24 on 71 minutes.
Newport looked to close out the game. Morris made a charge up field finding Rhys Jenkins in support. He found replacement Craig Attwell sprinting alongside him but the pass was spilled under pressure from the Quins defence. Quins had ideas of their own. They could sniff five points and, frankly, any score would do. They rumbled their way up to the Newport 22 but let the Black and Ambers off the hook with an accidental offside at a rolling maul. The eighty minutes were up as Quins battered away at the brave Newport defence. Ominously, Joshua Batcup could be seen to “step back in the pocket” as one commentator would have it, lining up a heart-breaking drop goal. Quins drove, waiting for quick, clean ball to give Batcup. When the chance presented itself, the Black and Amber support took a collective intake of breath and were delighted to see Batcup’s attempt drift harmlessly wide of the left hand upright. Newport grounded the ball and, with it, any further chance of a Quins comeback.
What a game! As entertaining a game as one could hope to see with the added drama of a late possible twist of fate followed by relief. Newport beat a very good team on this occasion and nobody would begrudge our visitors their two points that they earned. We hope to see them again in the second half of the season when Newport reach the top eight. The pints of Worthington’s in the club afterwards were very much enjoyed. What a difference it makes when our team is playing like this!
Newport RFC’s next fixture is again in the Principality Premiership when we face Aberavon RFC next Saturday, December 3rd at 2.30pm. Aberavon have been having a good season so far, regularly swapping places with Merthyr at the head of the table. However, they lost away at Pontypridd this weekend. Newport’s pattern seems to be that we do better against teams that have beaten Pontypridd! Aberavon will surely come to Rodney Parade to get their title challenge back on track. It’s up to our boys to make sure they don’t get it all their own way.
Come on Newport!
Newport Man Of The Match – Rhys Jenkins
FINAL SCORE _ Newport RFC 25 Carmarthen Quins RFC 24