It started with a conversation at the last Hall of Fame dinner at Rodney Parade. Newport legend Paul Turner, now head coach at Ampthill, asked if Newport fancied a pre-season visit to the ‘Mob’, as they call themselves. Well, why not! It would be rude not to.
Ampthill lies in semi-rural Bedfordshire, equidistant between Luton, Bedford and Milton Keynes. They play their rugby in National One facing some famous old club names. Moseley, Coventry, Plymouth Albion and Rosslyn Park will all face the Mob at some point this season. The neat clubhouse is now set away from the 1st XV playing field with players and supporters facing a short walk through woodland to get to the game. The pitch itself is then set in open countryside, no stand or other buildings around, just farmer’s fields and the rush of train noise from the distant London to Nottingham main line. An idiosyncratic set up for sure!
Newport gave their red change shirts another airing while Ampthill wore a maroon and yellow hooped confection. Matt O’Brien kicked the game off and Newport went onto the attack from the outset. Ampthill knocked on immediately and were then penalised at the scrum. Newport went for the corner. James Little rose well to claim the ball for O’Brien to dink a ball behind the home defence. Ampthill smothered the attack but Newport kept going. Evan Whitson, Chay Smith and Wes Cunliffe all set about knocking holes in the defensive line. It eventually paid dividends when captain Rhys Jenkins found space enough to trot over the line and open the scoring. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make the score Ampthill 0 Newport 7 in 4 minutes.
Newport looked to keep the ball alive and stretched the Ampthill defence but couldn’t quite find the gaps they needed. It was soon apparent how Ampthill liked to play their rugby. They had a very strong ‘spine’ of South Sea Island influence at 2, 4, 6 and 8 and the majority of their play was setting up the ruck to have one of the ‘big boys’, like Maama Molitika (yes, the same one) run on to the ball at pace and soften up the fringes. It’s all very well working out how they play; it’s another thing to stop it however.
Ampthill bumped their way up field without really threatening the Newport line but a penalty against the Black and Ambers allowed the Mob to go for the corner. Second row Paino Hehea claimed the ball, the pack drove him on with hooker Aleki Lutui the recipient of the ball at the back and, ultimately, the try scorer. This score made it Ampthill 5 Newport 7 on eleven minutes.
Matt O’Brien restarted and the aforementioned Hehea caught the ball cleanly and rushed a good 25 metres towards the Newport line but spilled the ball in contact. Newport tried to spin it wide to release John Morris but the final pass went agonisingly to ground. Ampthill soon scored their second try. Aleki Lutui and Haloiti Molitika punched their way forward before releasing the loose forward Blackmore who found wing Sam Baker rushing up in support. Baker scored the try but the conversion was missed making it Ampthill 10 Newport 7 on 14 minutes.
Ampthill began putting a stranglehold on Newport, enjoying tons of possession while Newport were being forced to infringe to stay afloat. The Mob were pommelling the Newport line but couldn’t quite make it count. They almost did so in the 25th minute when Newport failed to protect a ruck solidly enough, Ampthill poured through and claimed the ball. Ampthill moved the ball along the line but the killer pass to wing Peter Weightman was judged to have been forward. Even with possession handed back to Newport, the Black and Ambers had trouble getting out of their own half. A 32nd minute scrum was penalised against Newport as it wheeled left again. Ampthill opted for route one, kicked to the corner for Paino Hehea to claim, set up the maul then loop around to receive the ball at pace and crash over for try number three. The score now was Ampthill 17 Newport 7.
Newport did manage a foray into the home half on 36 minutes as Newport were awarded a rare penalty. O’Brien put the Black and Ambers into the corner for Evan Whitson to throw into the line out. The ball went out to midfield where flanker Kyle Tayler was lurking. Tayler burst onto the ball but was penalised himself for not releasing in the tackle.
Both sides seemed happy to let the game drift towards half time and the chance of a breather and a re-group. The half time entertainment consisted mainly of idle chatter between supporters and the sight of a distant Red Kite flapping languidly over adjoining fields, ignoring the events below it.
Halftime – Ampthill RUFC 17 Newport RFC 7
Ampthill restarted the game and, as the ball was sloppily slapped backwards by an Ampthill hand, Rhys Jenkins battled hard, as usual, to gather the ball and put new hooker Will Evans clear. Evans ran up to the Ampthill forty metre line before setting up the ruck. Unfortunately the good position was squandered when the ball went to ground again.
Newport put in a massive scrum on 47 minutes, upsetting the hosts but, again, couldn’t capitalise as the ball squirted out to Ampthill flanker Blackmore who gave a quick show of the ball, jinked around the Newport defender and sprinted in for a spectacular run to the line, a well-deserved try for his hard graft. The conversion was successful to make the score Ampthill 24 Newport 7.
The years rolled back for supporters of a certain vintage when Paul Turner could be heard barking orders at his players across the length of the field. One could easily remember the hoarse shout as he instructed Dai Llewellyn as to where he wanted the ball or, memorably at Maesteg one wet wintry Saturday, at Fred Sagoe to stop laughing!
Newport were pushing to get back into the game. Matt O’Brien went through his repertoire of trick shots, trying to get his back-line moving while Alex Everett and Rhys Jenkins were surging forces in red. Newport were in position to score when O’Brien seemed to receive an unsympathetic pass and couldn’t quite adjust the ball in his hands before getting the pass away. Another opportunity lost.
The crosswind appeared to strengthen as Ampthill were awarded a penalty which Newport then put a gift wrap on by chopsing and conceded another ten metres. The Mob went for the corner but the driving maul was held up with some stout defending. Indeed, Newport showed quite some self-belief when, from the scrum, the ball went along the line behind their own posts and they began to make ground up field. Phase upon Newport phase until prop Matt Prosser found half a yard free and burst away with Chay Smith following up in support but, yet again, the ball went to ground rather than to hand. With possession conceded it was back to defensive duty for Newport as Ampthill wing Peter Weightman got up to top speed on the right of the field who ricocheted off two Newport defenders before being hauled down by Haydn Simons at full back. Weightman managed to fashion a pass out to his support, scrum-half Liebenberg, who crossed for a well worked try. The conversion was missed to make the score Ampthill 29 Newport 7 on 64 minutes.
Newport responded with a nice try for new recruit Harry Lang on the wing. A solid Newport scrum allowed Ryan James a steady platform to move the ball right to Chay Smith who was tackled under the posts but managed to pop the ball up to Lang to cross and make the conversion easier for Matt O’Brien. Ampthill now lead 29-14 on 67 minutes.
Ampthill seemed confident that the victory was secured. Some of their moves seemed to lack some of the vigour, particularly evident in the second quarter of the game. A 72nd minute rolling maul was easily wrapped up by Newport and the Black and Ambers, sensing that another score may be in the offing moved forward.
A 77th minute opportunity was spurned from a five metre line out when flanker Joe Cullimore was penalised for accidental offside while some injury time frantic-ness came to nought as handling errors became evident again.
Players and supporters retired to Ampthill’s excellent clubhouse for refreshments and a small gesture of friendship as Newport RFC Ambassador Brian Jones and Ampthill Head Coach Paul Turner exchanged club plaques. We at Newport RFC wish all at Ampthill RUFC the best of luck for the season ahead and we will be sure to keep an eye on the results of this friendliest of clubs.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, the Principality Premiership starts again next Sunday as far as Newport RFC is concerned. Our visitors to Rodney Parade are Cardiff RFC, our greatest rivals. It will be interesting to see if they field their four recruits from Newport over the summer against us. I am sure our squad will give all players in the famous blue and black the customary warm Rodney Parade welcome.
Come on ‘the ‘Port! #cotp
Man Of The Match – Alex Everett
FINAL SCORE _ Ampthill RUFC 29 Newport RFC 14