Newport RFC vs Swansea RFC – 3rd April 2018 by John Evans
Punctuating the two clashes between our club and mid-Walians Llandovery RFC was this small matter of a Principality Premiership clash with Swansea RFC visiting Rodney Parade. The Whites haven’t had the best of seasons, languishing in the bottom four of the league and exiting the cup in January to tries from Newport’s back triumvirate of Frewen, O’Driscoll and Morris.
Newport’s coaching team took to their phonebooks over the weekend, while Fixture Secretary Mike Frost spent his Easter raising permits to draft in talent in order to keep a freshness about the squad for the upcoming National Cup semi-final, an understandable move but one which gave the Black and Ambers an ‘early-season’ polish as players looked to make an impression.
Newport RFC kicked off with debutant outside half Louis O’Brien, the third of Mrs O’Brien’s little boys to wear the Black and Amber jersey in anger, getting proceedings underway. Newport’s vigour was rewarded with a second minute penalty when the Whites of Swansea were found guilty of trying to wheel a scrum. O’Brien booted Newport up to the visitor’s 22 metre line where a strong rolling maul, spearheaded by number 8 Arron Atkin, made progress towards the try line. Newport second row Connor Shefford made a burst forward before setting up the ruck so that scrum half Ryan Bates could pop a short ball up into the path of bustling centre Matthew McGovern. His short run made a hole in the Whites defensive line enough for Ryan Bates to pick up the ball at the back of the ruck, jink around a static defender and open the scoring with a well-taken try. Louis O’Brien added the two-pointer to make the score Newport 7 Swansea 0 with just three minutes played.
This new-look Newport team bore a lot of hallmarks of the coaching teams style of play; broken field situations were exploited, running from deep with ball in hand was encouraged, none more so than when flanker Josh Reid offered himself up as a runner to burst through the Whites defence and up into the visitor’s 22 but the move died when an ill-advised punt through was easily mopped up by Swansea full back Owen Howe who launched Newport back into their own half of the park. Swansea responded by stringing together some phases of possession but without truly threatening. Newport were firm in defence and eventually won the ball back when the Whites were caught offside in midfield. However, from the scrum the referee found fault with Newport’s scrummaging and awarded a penalty to Swansea. Kicker Owen Howe doesn’t miss many and he was on form on this occasion clawing Swansea back to a seven points to three deficit on nine minutes.
Owen Howe was given another opportunity to kick for goal on fourteen minutes when Newport were penalised for not releasing in the tackle. The score now was Newport 7 Swansea 6.
From the restart the ball cannoned off the chest of Swansea number 8 Steff Jones and fell kindly for Newport’s Connor Shefford. Shefford made ground before setting up the ruck and the ball worked left. Ryan Bates managed to keep his arms above his tackler and loop around to make a pass to Captain-for-the-day Evan Whitson but the ball fumbled forward with just metres to go, which was unfortunate. The Whites weathered the powerful scrum against them and managed to clear the ball a long way from their line. Harri Lang, playing out of position for Newport at full back rather than his customary wing gathered the ball cleanly but then rather snatched at his clearing kick so Swansea could reset and work themselves forward from around thirty metres out. The Whites worked hard at trying to penetrate the Black and Amber defence but to little avail as the ball was then spilled by centre Richard Fussell, formerly of this parish, and Newport were presented with the broken play situation that they crave. Ryan Bates worked hard at looping around behind his backs and found himself, ball in hand, on the wing with plenty of room to run in. He was never going to outstrip the defence so placed an infield kick for his support to latch on to but was then wiped out illegally by a white-shirted defender. Louis O’Brien kicked Newport up into the visitor’s 22 metre area for a promising line out but the chance went begging when the lineout was judged ‘not straight’. Swansea cleared the danger very effectively when a pass was made to big centre Jake Randall who put in a block-busting run to carry his side up to the halfway line but he outstripped his support and was penalised for hanging on to the ball in the tackle. Louis O’Brien kicked Newport to about 28 metres out for flanker Joe Cullimore to take the ball at the tail of the lineout and launch an attack. Newport threatened and actually put number eight Arron Atkin clear but the last pass was deemed forward. Swansea had been offside, however, so Newport kept ball and took a shot at goal. Louis O’Brien’s kick skimmed the paint on the outside of the right-hand post at the school end of the ground before sailing wide. The score remained Newport 7 Swansea 6.
Swansea were finding some room for themselves when play broke down and soon whizzed play back up field and away from their line. A 27th minute hack ahead had alarm bells ringing in the Newport defence but the team recovered well and defended with enthusiasm while the Swansea attack seemed to run out of steam a little.
Newport nearly benefitted from a slice of luck on 31 minutes when a clearance kick was charged down by second row James Little with sparse defensive cover. He kicked ahead with Whites players covering but couldn’t get much purchase on the intended kick into the path of his second row colleague Connor Shefford and visiting fullback Owen Howe was able to smother the danger.
Newport conceded a 35th minute penalty for hands in the ruck resulting in prop Matt Prosser receiving a dressing down from the referee, Mr Morris-Roberts, and being driven back to thirty metres out for an attacking line out. The line out transformed into a rolling maul which was splendidly executed by the Whites pack, marching Newport back for 29 of the 30 metres to the try line. The maul collapsed and it was down to hooker Sion Jones to pick up the grounded ball and dive across the line for Swansea’s opening try. Owen Howe added the conversion to make the score Newport 7 Swansea 13.
Swansea conceded a penalty of their own from the restart but Louis O’Brien’s kick drifted wide from some 23 metres out.
Confusion reigned in added time when Ryan Bates kicked ahead for Swansea to put the ball into touch. Quick-witted Newport took the throw quickly to James Little who strode upfield, scarcely believing his luck. Players stood around, Little himself looked back to check with the referee. Mr Morris-Roberts could find no fault with it and was clearly waving ‘play on’ with the crowd urging him to play to the referee’s instruction. An Assistant Referee, however, had his flag up and insistent that the line out had begun to form and a quick throw was invalid. Mr Morris-Roberts acceded to his colleague’s decision and the full line out was taken. Newport bashed away at the Whites but with little reward as the whistle went for half time.
Halftime – Newport RFC 7 Swansea RFC 13
Swansea’s Owen Howe restarted the game with a kick towards the corner on the Hazell side. Newport flanker Josh Reid collected the ball and ran it back but ignored his support players and took the contact. He was wrapped up by the marauding Whites pack and conceded a penalty for hanging on to the ball within seconds of the restart, not a great beginning to the half. Owen Howe added to his side’s tally to make it Newport 7 Swansea 16 on 41 minutes.
Further damage was done as Swansea exerted themselves resulting in a try for winger Andrew Claypole on 43 minutes. Replacement Ben Cambriani made inroads on the left wing before the ball went right to centre Richard Fussell. Fussell jinked around some would-be tacklers before floating a pass out to the sprinting wing and outstrip the Newport cover. Owen Howe missed the conversion from wide out making the score Newport 7 Swansea 21. It appeared that our young team’s valiant first half efforts were at an end and, surely, the more battle-hardened and experienced Swansea team would go and romp on from here?
Evan Whitson was proving effective in the loose and offered himself as first runner quite a few times which was pleasing to see. Centre Matthew McGovern proved that he, too, could make block-busting runs when required as he carried his team up into the Swansea 22 metre area. The ball was lost and Richard Fussell, with all his talent and experience, shifted his balance subtly to evade tacklers and turn defence into attack. They came close on 56 minutes when Owen Howe spotted a gap behind the Newport defence and put in a grubber kick for winger Cambriani to chase. Thankfully Newport’s Adam Sabri was alert to the danger and grounded the ball safely behind the line for a dropout 22.
Swansea earned at attacking five metre scrum on 63 minutes but the Newport pack had other ideas and gently eased their counterparts backwards and off their own ball. Credit should go to the front row of Nicky Boyce, Louis Tovey and Liam Bodman for that.
Pleasingly Newport were reacting very well to the situation. Adam Sabri was almost through on 65 minutes but his pass out of contact was too low to be used. Mr Morris-Roberts had seen something and spoke with Whites replacement hooker Jack Powell before sending him to the naughty step, indicating a high tackle. Newport opted for the lineout which took place ten metres out on the Bisley side. Ball won, Connor Shefford first had a dart at the line before Adam Sabri added his tall frame to the surges at the line. The ball went left to replacement back row Dudley Stead who went close, took the contact but the ball ran loose from his grasp. Swansea cleared the ball very long and was collected by Newport replacement Matthew Williams. Williams took a look up and sprinted off, arcing right, before finding support, including some almost Fijian 7s-like handling from Nicky Boyce to keep the move going. The ball moved back across the pitch to a left-midfield position and a ruck which Swansea left lightly guarded before Newport’s Arron Atkin picked up, barged through and cantered across the try line barely challenged. Louis O’Brien added the conversion to make the score Newport 14 Swansea 21 on 68 minutes.
Newport exploited the yellow card well and managed to pin Swansea in their own 22 for minutes but scores weren’t forthcoming for now. Swansea did manage to push out to halfway but conceded another penalty which Louis O’Brien returned to some thirty metres out of the Hazell side. Newport went through phase play excellently getting closer and closer to the Swansea line, charge after charge. Dudley Stead appeared to have taken a poor option when going for contact rather than utilising the two on four overlap but replacement Morgan Evans exploited the confusion in the White defence and dived across for Newport’s third try of the evening. Louis O’Brien couldn’t add to the score with the kick from out wide so the score now was Newport 19 Swansea 21. Surely this, a losing bonus point, was as much as us Black and Amber supporters could expect from our young charges?
Newport were full of running and confidence. Swansea, on the other hand, appeared paralysed by fear and confidence was almost visibly draining from them. Nicky Boyce continued to display soft handling skills while Dudley Stead kept offering himself as first receiver. Newport kept the ball well when Louis O’Brien, borrowing a page from brother Matt’s playbook, dinked a kick in behind the Swansea defence for James Little to follow up. Unfortunately Little couldn’t help but knock on and Swansea were off the hook for now.
Deep into stoppage time, five whole minutes actually, Swansea robbed a Newport lineout and moved the ball wide to Richard Fussell who put in an astonishing kick, a potential match-winner, when it rolled into touch on Newport’s five metre line. What happened next was equally astonishing. Newport secured the ball and started sniffing for gaps. The confidence and fearlessness to play keep-ball, often behind their own line, was remarkable. The ball moved left then right until Morgan Evans spotted a gap on his right wing. He jinked through and found Matthew Williams in support on his left shoulder who sprinted clear as the noise in the stand rose. Williams ran up to the 22 metre line before the first Whites defenders could get to him. Adam Sabri was there next and punched away further before the ball got closer to the line and worked slightly left nearer the posts. James Little was the last one to gather the ball from the ruck before hurling his tall frame over the try line for a match-winning, and bonus point, touchdown. Compelling stuff, the noise from the stand was loud enough for a crowd three times the size that it actually was. Louis O’Brien added the straightforward conversion to make the final score Newport 26 Swansea 21.
To his credit, Little had an excellent game and, on any other day, could have been man of the match quite easily, but Ryan Bates’ control and awareness won the vote. Swansea knew he was running the game too after singling him out for a few over-exuberant challenges which he simply brushed off.
Of course, Newport RFC wish to formally record their thanks to the clubs that released their talented players to represent the club. Caerleon RFC, Caldicot RFC, Cilfynydd RFC, Croesyceiliog RFC, Dragons, Glamorgan Wanderers RFC, Newport HSOB RFC, Pill Harriers RFC, Risca RFC and Trebanos RFC, thank you, your assistance was hugely appreciated.
More importantly, these players have ‘bought in’ to the coaching ethos brought by Craig Warlow, Ty Morris and Stuart Lawrence. They have represented our club with dignity and made their mark, however faint, on the legacy of the shirt that they wore. Some players, hopefully, we will see in Black and Amber again in the future, some we won’t. The talent available within the area is clearly blooming and, hopefully, the playing future for our club remains strong.
The next fixture for Newport is an important one; we face Llandovery RFC in the semi-final of the National Cup at Aberavon’s Talbot Athletic Ground next Saturday, April 7th. Kick-off is at 2.30pm for what is sure to be a tense but entertaining game between two teams that play open, running rugby. This game is a must-see for Black and Ambers supporters as it’s the furthest we have reached in the cup since the heady days of 2003. A strong vocal travelling support could make the difference.
Onwards and upwards, Newport, onwards and upwards.
Come on Newport! #cotp
Newport Man Of The Match – Ryan Bates
FINAL SCORE _ Newport RFC 26 Swansea RFC 21Match Pictures from Simon Latham: https://simonlatham.smugmug.com/Premiership-Rugby/Season-2017-18/18-04-03-Newport-v-Swansea/