Having duly dispatched the Steelmen of Ebbw Vale last Saturday it was the turn of Merthyr’s Ironmen to visit Rodney Parade in a Principality Premiership East Conference fixture. Merthyr are, of course, reigning champions so the challenges presented to the Newport management and squad were going to be quite different. Once again the Newport coaches changed the line-up of the Newport XV as Lennon Greggains, who made such an impact to the team at the end of last term, was released by the Dragons to make his first start for the club this season, whilst Joe Cullimore and Alex Everett were given opportunities in a revised back row.
The conditions were absolutely perfect for rugby, a still, dry day with an autumnal nip in the air. Merthyr’s outside half, Ben Jones, kicked off towards the North Terrace as the visitors looked to apply pressure from the outset. Newport resisted as Merthyr knocked on then were punished for an early shove at the scrum but the Ironmen soon had a score on the board through hooker Richard Wilkes. Newport were penalised for holding on to the ball in the tackle. Ben Jones kicked to the corner for an attacking line out just seven metres from the Newport line. Second row Ben Murphy was the target and the rolling maul formed successfully around him. Wilkes, following the hooker’s handbook, attached himself to the tail of the maul, got his paws on the ball and forced his way over for a third minute try. Fullback Matthew Jarvis added the conversion to make the score Newport 0 Merthyr 7.
Newport fought their way into the Merthyr half of the field, aided when Merthyr’s Ben Murphy caught Elliot Frewen in mid-air with an attempted tackle. Matt O’Brien, acting as captain due to the absence of Rhys Jenkins, kicked to 27 metres out on the Hazell side. The line out was won and Jon Morris, on as a very early replacement for Tom Pascoe, characteristically sprinted off his wing to join the centres in attack but, possibly, a little rustiness saw the ball go to ground rather than hand.
Newport opened their account on twelve minutes when a strong shove at the scrum earned a penalty as the Merthyr front row were forced to stand up. Matt O’Brien slotted the kick to make the score Newport 3 Merthyr 7.
The Black and Ambers were keeping possession well, the ball passing along the line several times as the team made steady progress up field. An overlap briefly appeared on Newport’s left but soon snapped shut as an attempted pass back inside was snaffled by visiting prop James Howe. The Newport attack instantly turned into aggressive defence as Newport forced the knock on some 25 metres out and in a central position. The Newport scrum was whipped around, sadly, and the referee, Mr Robert Price, judged that Newport were at fault and Merthyr were off the hook.
Joe Bartlett and Ken Dowding put in a good defensive effort as they isolated the Merthyr 7 and forced the turnover. Newport were progressing well again, some super handling moves helping them force their way forward but it took until the 26th minute for Mr Price to finally award a penalty for Merthyr being offside. Matt O’Brien took the kick and made the score Newport 6 Merthyr 7. In doing so O’Brien took his points tally for Newport over the 350 mark.
Suddenly, penalties for offside were all the rage as Haydn Palmer was judged to have a foot out of line. Merthyr’s Ben Jones placed an accurate kick to the corner. The recipe for a rolling maul was in place. Lock Ben Murphy was the target again but the Ironmen hadn’t closed up tight enough so Newport’s Joe Bartlett managed to get in amongst the visiting pack and rip the ball away. The ball spilt forward so now Merthyr had advantage. They played the ball back and forth across the line several times to no real avail but Mr Price must have declared that they had advantage enough as Matt O’Brien spotted a loose pass, latched onto it and manufactured a pass to Chay Smith. Smith kicked forward and Newport were back in the Merthyr half. The Ironmen regained possession but the flying Newport defence forced another knock on. Merthyr won the Newport scrum but were careless at an ensuing ruck as a stray boot knocked the ball out of the ruck and onto the Newport side. This was pounced on by the attentive Newport back row and a kick was launched for Elliot Frewen to sprint after. Merthyr’s Ben Jones wanted all afternoon to clear the ball but Matt O’Brien didn’t give it to him. The kick was charged down, bounced kindly into O’Brien’s hands and, with a four–on–one overlap, O’Brien jogged across the line for a well-earned try. O’Brien converted his own score to make it Newport 13 Merthyr 7 on 33 minutes.
Merthyr were trying to turn the screws on Newport but the Black and Ambers were resistant. Ben Jones tried to run a kick back at the Newport defence which was going so well until he met Rhys Creswell’s shoulder. The big man from Chepstow stopped the runner in his tracks then nonchalantly stepped in behind his colleagues, who had cleaned the ruck out beautifully, claimed possession and calmly got Newport moving forward again. The visitors were launching their big, heavy runners at the Newport midfield. They were being stopped with double-hit tackles but eventually Mr Price felt that the Black and Amber defence were not rolling away from the tackle area sufficiently quickly for his liking. Merthyr’s Matthew Jarvis stepped up and slotted a simple kick on 38 minutes to make the score Newport 13 Merthyr 10.
Newport were doing slightly more than holding on. They were leading the Champions but needed to cut out some small errors and scruffiness if they were going to win. Merthyr appeared to be making mistakes enough for both teams. If Newport could eliminate theirs and capitalise on Merthyr’s then it was ‘game on’.
Halftime – Newport RFC 13 Merthyr RFC 10
Matt O’Brien re-started the game with Newport now attacking the North Terrace. Both teams seemed to be trying to draw the sting out of the other and the game became attritional and settled in the middle third of the pitch. It took until the 54th minute before either side launched a meaningful attack. It was Merthyr who were going for the score before Mr Price decided that Newport prop Nicky Boyce hadn’t rolled away from a tackle quickly enough. He awarded Merthyr a penalty and sent Boyce to the sin bin for ten minutes. The Ironmen launched a few more drives at the Newport line, second row Craig Locke going closest. Merthyr, naturally, wanted to scrummage so Matt Prosser went on to complete the front row. The Newport seven-man pack went down so the scrum reset. As the Newport pack went down again Mr Price felt that it was impeding a Merthyr score so awarded a penalty try. The score now was Newport 13 Merthyr 17 on 56 minutes.
Misfortune struck the Black and Ambers straight away as Matt O’Brien slipped while running with the ball making him easy meat for the Merthyr loose forwards. He was stripped of possession and Merthyr were away. Centre Aaron Pinches delicately chipped a ball through for wing Kyle Evans to chase. Evans held on to the ball and managed to work a pass out to supporting scrum half Justin James who dived over for his team’s third try. The conversion was missed so the score was Newport 13 Merthyr 22 on 57 minutes.
Newport responded with a three-pointer by Matt O’Brien on the hour as Merthyr were caught off their feet at a ruck. The scoreboard, had it been working, would have read Newport 16 Merthyr 22. The visitor’s restart failed to go the regulation ten yards but the hosts seven man scrum was shoved off their own put-in as Merthyr went for the kill. The Ironmen worked the ball away swiftly and a neat cross-kick to wing Kristian Phillips evaded the Newport defenders and bounced kindly for the rapid winger. Phillips sprinted his way through a sprawling Newport defence to claim his team’s bonus point try. Fullback Matthew Jarvis slotted the conversion to make the score Newport 16 Merthyr 29.
The Black and Ambers were far from finished. A move started from behind the Newport lines cheered the Newport supporters up and, naturally, any daring move like this usually has Elliot Frewen and Jon Morris at the heart of it. They teamed up to carry Newport out of their 22 before finding Matt O’Brien who had Rhys Cresswell in support. Cresswell’s swashbuckling run carried Newport over halfway before he found O’Brien continuing his support. A supremely weighted kick off the side of ‘Obi’s boot, angled away from cover, had Adam Sabri sprinting on to it. Sabri was only held back by the strength of his shirt fabric as a Merthyr man vainly tried to tackle him. However, Lennon Greggains was in close support to his left and took the simple pass to dive over for a classic loose forwards score. O’Brien slotted the simple-looking conversion to make the score Newport 23 Merthyr 29 on 66 minutes.
No sooner were Newport back to full strength than they were reduced to fourteen players again. A Merthyr passing move within the Newport 22 found Elliot Frewen stretching to attempt to pick off a pass. He wasn’t successful but the decision of Mr Price was that it was deliberate and warranted a yellow card. Merthyr opted to go to the corner and the line out to their captain, Craig Locke, was successful. Locke himself crashed over for another Merthyr try. The conversion went wide so the score was Newport 23 Merthyr 34 on 70 minutes.
Newport RFC seem to have a new mantra, a “Never Say Die” attitude that can only serve them well for the season ahead. Eleven points down against the champions in the dying minutes of the game. What do you do? Keep attacking of course! The Black and Ambers built pressure steadily and waited for the moment to arrive. Suddenly, a soft pass from O’Brien saw Jon Morris scythe through the Merthyr back line. He powerfully resisted some half-hearted tackling before stretching out to dab the ball down over the line. Matt O’Brien added to his tally for the day by adding the two points to make it Newport 30 Merthyr 34.
The tide was beginning to turn in Newport’s favour as Mr Price reached for his yellow card as Merthyr’s Aaron Pinches had been found guilty of a high tackle. Newport, disregarding the clock, patiently built through the phases. O’ Brien displayed his full passing range, from booming miss-ones to soft gut passes to put his mates in space. One such short pass nearly had Adam Sabri away but a knock-on snuffed that out on the Hazell side. Newport regained possession and built again before Jon Morris found a yawning gap on the right wing in front of the Bisley stand. The improbable suddenly seemed possible as Morris must have seen the field open up before him. With just one player to beat an unlikely victory seemed possible. Sadly for Newport, Merthyr’s Alex Howman timed his tackle to perfection and saved his team the four points. The visitors had possession and wisely slowed everything right down and made Newport wait. Mr Price could be heard to shout “I have time” before the Ironmen hoofed the ball off the field with almost indecent haste. Agonisingly, it was another game where supporters afterwards were saying “If we only had played for another five minutes…”. Newport RFC were left with the solitary losing bonus point but there were many positives to take from the game. The strength in depth is becoming apparent, especially in the back row where we probably have eight or nine really good quality players. The spirit within the squad is priceless, all players seem to want to work hard for their mates and with genuine quality players like Adam Sabri getting game time, it must be positive.
Newport RFC are next in action in the Principality Premiership next Friday, December 1st, when we visit Bargoed up at Bargoed Park. The home fixture between the two was a disappointing one for Newport and one can be sure that Craig Warlow and Ty Morris will let the squad know what is expected of them for Friday night. As long as Newport play their natural game and don’t get involved in an arm wrestle then it might be a profitable evening for the Black and Ambers. The next home fixture is on Wednesday December 20th when Cross Keys arrive for a Principality Premiership fixture. This game has already been designated as ‘Christmas Jumper’ day, so dig out your best Christmas Jumper, round up your mates and get yourselves to Rodney Parade for a good pre-Christmas game of rugby. Onwards and upwards, Newport, onwards and upwards.
There is an interesting social event on the calendar too. On December 7th there will be a sports quiz at Rodney Parade and teams of four are invited to enter. Entry is £2.50 per person and proceeds will be split between the Friends of Newport Rugby Trust, the Dragons Official Supporters Club and the Newport County Disabled Supporters Association. The fun starts at 7.30pm in the Watkins Bar at Rodney Parade.
Come on Newport! #cotp
Newport Man Of The Match – Rhys Cresswell
FINAL SCORE _ Newport RFC 30 Merthyr RFC 3
Match pics from Ron Sutcliffe:https://www.flickr.com/photos/147517109@N03/sets/72157690969728106/
Match pics from Simon Latham: https://simonlatham.smugmug.com/17-11-25-Newport-v-Merthyr/