Newport RFC vs Llanelli RFC – 16th February 2018 by John Evans
After a weekends enforced break due to the weather it was time to welcome our first visitors from the ‘West’ conference for a Principality Premiership fixture. Due to the regular Friday night machinations of the M4, Llanelli RFC were a little late in arriving at Rodney Parade but were prepared to go with the 7.30pm kick-off regardless. Interestingly, Sospan have gone ‘back to the future’ with their kit, echoing their 1992-1993 season offering which Newport RFC supporters will recall with some trepidation; Newport received two fearful batterings against them in that season! Luckily it was the change strip that was worn on this occasion, a dark navy confection with broad white flashes across the chest.
Llanelli’s outside half Ioan Hughes started the game with Newport’s Rhys Cresswell receiving. Ryan James, acting as starting captain today, box-kicked the ruck ball forward for Llanelli full back Leon Randell to field. Ioan Hughes hoofed the ball away towards Geraint O’Driscoll. Newport wingers Harri Lang and Jonny Morris both had drives along their respective wings. As the ball moved wide Llanelli were caught offside in midfield. Sadly, outside half Haydn Simons’ penalty drifted harmlessly wide.
Newport were caught offside in midfield themselves on four minutes. Ioan Hughes took the opportunity to get the scoreboard moving and slotted the penalty comfortably to make it Newport 0 Llanelli 3.
Newport endeavoured to get their own game going. Flanker Josh Reid managed to crawl through the Llanelli defence, literally, before Will Evans punched up the middle. Ryan James fired out a kick for Jonny Morris to hunt down but the pace of the ball beat everybody and it bobbled harmlessly over the dead-ball line.
As one might expect, Llanelli started to whip the ball quickly back and forth across the line. Big visiting centre Oliver Reyland found space to surge through the Black and Amber defence before Ioan Hughes kicked the ball to the corner for wing Ashley Evans to chase. Geraint O’Driscoll managed to cover, despite the attention of Llanelli’s Ben Atkins. Evans appeared to ground the ball and score the try but the referee, Mr Rhys Thomas, consulted with an assistant to rule that it had been knocked-on in the process of scoring. Newport were off the hook for now but alarm bells were ringing. Haydn Simons belted the ball long and had a lucky break when Llanelli’s Leon Randell’s returning kick skewed into touch and Newport had a line out about thirty metres out. The Black and Ambers probed and searched for an opening but had to resort to a grubber kick but it too rolled harmlessly across the dead-ball line.
Llanelli went back to whipping the ball around and it almost paid off. An audacious pass from Ben Atkins put his teammate Matthew Jenkins into space along the wing. He, in turn, had hooker Craig Thomas in support. Thomas barrelled across the line but a terrific try-saving tackle by Newport’s Chay Smith turned Thomas onto his back and prevented him grounding the ball. Alarm bells were quickly becoming klaxons. From the resulting scrum, Ryan James appeared to have visiting number 8, Nathan Hart, covered but he fashioned a superb pass to scrum half Gareth George who put in a simple pass to wing Matthew Jenkins who jogged across the line for a try. Ioan Hughes made it a seven-pointer and took the score to Newport 0 Llanelli 10 on 21 minutes.
What happened next is a bit of a mystery. Whether no Llanelli forwards called for the ball or they all thought somebody else had called for it only they will know but Haydn Simons’ restart kick rolled through the lot of them. Newport number 8 Alex Everett was following up, quickly scooped the ball up and sprinted for the line for an immediate response. That made the score Newport 5 Llanelli 10 on 23 minutes with Haydn Simons’ conversion drifting left of the posts.
Whether Newport sensed a frailty amongst their visitors or Sospan were shocked by the riposte but the Black and Ambers suddenly ‘clicked’. Passes were going to hand and good decisions were paying off. Tom Pascoe, maturing into a centre of considerable ability for Newport RFC, took a pass and wrong-footed the Llanelli defence. He angled his run back against the grain, so to speak, and set off for the line. Chay Smith, freshly home from his adventures with Wales 7s in Australia and New Zealand, was in support to his left. Pascoe floated a pass over the head of a defender to Smith who skated in for a well-taken try. Haydn Simons made no mistake with the conversion to make the score Newport 12 Llanelli 10 on 34 minutes.
Newport were confidently moving the ball around but almost let themselves down when a pass went to ground allowing Llanelli wing Ashley Evans to get a toe to the ball. He went haring off after it but, again, the ball ran dead. Newport restarted the game with a long kick and, once returned, Geraint O’Driscoll spotted space on the left wing in front of the Hazell stand. He set off on a run, drawing defenders, before finding the willing runner Alex Everett in support. Everett took the pass and ran the distance to the try line with barely a hand laid on him. Haydn Simons made sure of the tricky conversion and extended Newport’s lead to nineteen points to ten.
Newport battled to keep pressure on Sospan but visiting flanker Lloyd Pike spoiled the party by legally getting his hands on the ball and proving that Newport had held on to it in the tackle. The half ended with Newport in the ascendency but nobody writes a Llanelli team off easily.
Half time – Newport RFC 19 Llanelli RFC 10
Haydn Simons kicked off the second half and Llanelli second row, former Newport RFC player Bryce Morgan, obliged by knocking on his catch. Newport tried to build and forced a 41st minute penalty, some 30 metres out in front of the Bisley stand, but the kick drifted left of the posts.
Llanelli kept trying to move the ball but a typical ‘prop’s pass’ from tighthead Richard Bassett just found Jonny Morris who was away, golden boots flashing in the floodlit night. He had Haydn Simons on his left who had Tom Pascoe in support. Pascoe went close, about five metres out, before being tackled. Newport worked the ball left but a pass went to ground and Llanelli wing Ashley Evans managed to hack the ball clear.
An impressive 46th minute Newport scrum managed to mush the Sospan pack. The ball dribbled out of the scrum and alert Newport back-row Rhys Cresswell rescued it before firing the pass to his backs. Chay Smith, utilising his new-found 7s knowhow, spotted acres of space and exploited it sprinting off with Geraint O’Driscoll on support. O’Driscoll took the pass and jinked around two would-be defenders before sealing Newport’s try-scoring bonus point. Haydn Simons appeared to have missed the conversion to make it Newport 26 Llanelli 10 but as the ball drifted left it seemed to be caught by the wind and crept inside the upright.
The Black and Ambers seemed high in confidence. Chay Smith was finding gaps almost at will, Ryan James box-kicked for Haydn Simons to retrieve. James kicked again and, this time, Joe Bartlett improbably came up with the ball. James stretched his luck too far for the third kick when Llanelli’s Nathan Hart charged down the kick and followed up the rolling ball. The situation ended in a 5 metre line out for Llanelli which Newport duly stole and were awarded the penalty when Llanelli prop Rhys Thomas appeared on the Newport side of the ruck and tried to pick up the ball. Newport kicked the penalty away but crisp handling by Llanelli found an opening on their left flank for full back Leon Randell to glide across for his team’s second try. Ioan Hughes added the extra points to make the score Newport 26 Llanelli 17.
Llanelli were awarded a straightforward looking penalty on 61 minutes which Ioan Hughes spurned. Sadly Newport seemed to be losing the thread in the game. The fluency of the middle period of the game had evaporated and little mistakes were creeping back into their play. Ioan Hughes made sure of a 68th minute penalty when Newport infringed at a scrum. This made the score Newport 26 Llanelli 20.
Replacement Llanelli prop Ben Leung carried hard and forced the Newport defenders to go off their feet at the ruck. Llanelli kicked to the corner but Dan Partridge read the line out well and pinched possession. The referee, Mr Thomas, spotted yet another Newport infringement and awarded Llanelli a penalty. Going for the win and knowing that the Newport second rows had their beating, they opted to scrummage. From the reset scrum, centre Oliver Reyland made contact with the beefy shoulder of Tom Pascoe and went no further. The ball continued right coming to prop Rhys Thomas but he was stripped of possession in the tackle by replacement hooker Henry Palmer.
A seemingly ‘nothing’ kick by Tom Pascoe soon paid off when Sospan full back Leon Randell spilled the ball and replacement wing Adam Sabri was on hand to claim it. Matt O’Brien, on for Geraint O’Driscoll, proved slippery to the Llanelli defence as he skipped up to the Llanelli 22 metre line. Sospan soon conceded a vital penalty which O’Brien kicked from the edge of the ‘D’ on the Newport County penalty area. This took Newport two scores ahead with the game heading into added time. The scoreboard now read Newport 29 Llanelli 20.
Tom Pascoe wasn’t done as he split Llanelli down the middle, a super run that had the visitors at sixes and sevens. The ball went right to find John Lavender, on for Nicky Boyce, barrelling along the wing in front of the Bisley stand. Replacement scrum half Owen Davies tried to tip toe around the edge of the ruck but put a foot out of touch in doing so.
In the 5th minute of stoppage time Mr Thomas showed the yellow card to John Lavender as he tried to play the ball whilst prone on the ground. Llanelli tried to salvage something from the game as they pushed forward with next to no time remaining. Newport seemed to have the game in the bag as Newport regained possession but Owen Davies’ kick to touch went up rather than out. It landed short of the touchline where prop Rhys Thomas made a stab at regathering it but Adam Sabri calmly stepped in, picked up the ball and stood in touch to bring the game to a close with a satisfying five point Friday night league win in the back pocket.
Newport RFC are next back in Principality Premiership action on Saturday, 24th February when Pontypridd RFC visit Newport. The kick-off has been moved to a new time of 11.30am to enable supporters to watch the International rugby in the afternoon. The Black and Ambers have strung together a series of five consecutive wins in both cup and Principality Premiership competitions. The challenge presented by Pontypridd, however, should not be underestimated. They may not quite be the feared unit of old, they have lost their last two fixtures and won’t fancy being Newport’s win number six, but they still have enough about them to be worthy of our respect. It should be a cracking game!
Onwards and upwards, Newport, onwards and upwards.
Come on Newport! #cotp
Newport Man Of The Match – Alex Everett
FINAL SCORE _ Newport RFC 29 Llanelli RFC 20