After a titanic effort to get past Llandovery RFC in the semi-final, Newport RFC had earned the right to take their place on, what has now been termed, Finals Day. It had been fifteen long years since Newport last took their place on this platform, a fact reflected by the numbers of Black and Amber jerseys milling around the pubs and bars of Cardiff in the hours beforehand. After Porthcawl RFC had won the Bowl competition and Brynmawr RFC were victorious in the Plate, with former Newport RFC back row Rhys Jones officiating, it was the turn of the Black and Ambers to line up against fellow finalists Merthyr RFC in the cup. Both teams were at full strength for the occasion which had supporters hoping for a fascinating game.
Newport were led out by captain Matt O’Brien with the two mascots, regular Newport ballboys Will Taylor and Evan Bloor-Evans and heralded by the players of Caerleon RFC mini rugby, who the club were delighted could fulfil the Guard of Honour.
Matt O’Brien got the occasion underway by kicking towards the giant Welsh flag in what has been termed Glanmor’s Gap, the section backing onto the Arms Park that doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the stadium. Merthyr captain Craig Locke was the first of his team to handle the ball as he caught the kick and Merthyr set about keeping possession while Newport eased the Ironmen back and gave them few options. Eventually, Merthyr scrum half Justin James was forced to kick but the height of it was deceptive and the kick was spilled giving Newport a scrum which had Alex Everett’s heels on the halfway line. Scrum won and Matt O’Brien opted to take Newport wide quickly via Tom Pascoe to Geraint O’Driscoll who joined the line at pace and eventually out to Jonny Morris who sprinted away only to be hauled into touch near the Merthyr 22 metre line.
Newport were posting their intent early by continuing to go wide quickly with Elliot Frewen the next to have a burst along his wing. Newport were managing to pin Merthyr in their own half until a loose ball was seized by wing Kyle Evans who broke the shackles and raced into the Newport half but his pass to a support runner was deemed forward and Newport had the chance to reset and go again. Newport built slowly, centre Chay Smith making one outstanding tackle that saw him strip Merthyr of the ball and earn a penalty in one motion. Kyle Tayler at flanker was on hand to make a few half breaks, Matt O’Brien probed for space until Morgan Burgess was almost through until a tackle from Merthyr flanker Ed Siggery managed to dislodge the ball. Newport conceded a penalty at the scrum for turning which, predictably, Merthyr chose to work the touchline with. The Ironmen only really managed to go from side to side until a no-arms tackle saw the referee, Mr Dan Jones, award a penalty which put Merthyr in prime territory to score. Number eight, Phil Rees, climbed high to take the catch, set up the maul which slowly rumbled forward for prop Nathan Trevett to score his team’s first try. Full back Matthew Jarvis added the two pointer to make it Newport 0 Merthyr 7.
Merthyr were beginning to stretch Newport defensively as two penalties were conceded in quick succession. Full back Jarvis broke into the Newport 22 metre area before passing to hooker Rhys Williams who barrelled across the line only to have black and amber jerseys between the pitch and the ball. Mr Jones consulted with the video referee, Mr Tim Hayes, who decided that the grounding wasn’t clear so no try could be awarded. Mr Jones took Merthyr back to Newport’s 22 for a penalty for not releasing a tackled player which Matthew Jarvis comfortably slotted to make the score Newport 0 Merthyr 10 on 18 minutes.
Newport conceded another penalty on 20 minutes for going off their feet at a ruck which Matthew Jarvis opted to kick from fully 48 metres. His kick sailed cleanly through the posts to make the score Newport 0 Merthyr 13.
Merthyr were starting to impose their superiority when they scored their second try. A stolen ball at a Newport breakdown went quickly out to Merthyr centre Arron Pinches who muscled his way into the Newport 22 before making a lovely pass out to his support runner, second row Craig Locke who scooted in for a well-taken try. Jarvis was on target again to make the score Newport 0 Merthyr 20.
Newport attempted to rebuild after that damaging spell but found it difficult to get past the yellow, green and white defence. The odd stray pass, or hands deflecting passes, didn’t help matters but Newport just about kept possession. Matt O’Brien felt that he had an option to kick for the corner but horribly miscued it so that it went directly to Matthew Jarvis at full back who simply returned the kick with interest. Newport continued to try to repel Merthyr and did show some glimpses of light. Will Evans forced a penalty as Merthyr were hanging on to the ball in a tackle. O’Brien booted Newport to some twelve metres out. Joe Bartlett won the line out ball before starting the rolling maul but Merthyr cleverly wrapped the situation up and earned themselves the turnover. Sadly Newport then conceded a scrum penalty which Merthyr simply used to clear their line.
Alex Everett was alert enough to exploit a 34th minute position when he fished the ball from the back of a retreating scrum to Ryan James. James passed onward to Geraint O’Driscoll before Chay Smith took the ball and burst through a tackle before bumping off a defender. Smith had Tom Pascoe and Jonny Morris in close support before Matt O’Brien took the ball forward on the wing. O’Brien was being crowded out and soon ran out of options. He elected to kick forward but, again, the ball screwed horribly directly into touch.
Newport gained a 36th minute penalty just inside their own half as Merthyr were punished for entering a ruck from the side. Matt O’Brien kicked Newport back to the Merthyr 22 for Morgan Burgess to win the throw-in at the tail of the line out. The ball went left via O’Brien to Tom Pascoe who made a half-break but his pass was spilled forward and the situation vanished.
Newport were trying to create but the Ironmen’s grip on defence was vice-like; they had their boot on Newport’s windpipe and were suffocating the Black and Ambers. Their tackle completion rate must have been up in the 90s, percentage wise. As the half drew to a close Matt O’Brien tried to release Chay Smith along the wing but the pass was forward.
As the halftime whistle blew the massed ranks of Black and Amber supporters seemed a little shell-shocked and quiet. Merthyr had been terrific, to be honest, and it would take quite some performance from Newport to overcome this.
Halftime – Newport RFC 0 Merthyr RFC 20
Merthyr outside half Richard Powell kicked off the second half at the Principality Stadium which Morgan Burgess received. Geraint O’Driscoll kicked the ball into touch but the distance gained was disappointing. However, Morgan Burgess covered the situation by stealing a Merthyr throw-in for Kyle Tayler to move it on. Tom Pascoe walloped the ball upfield which Merthyr fullback Matthew Jarvis knocked on. An attacking Newport scrum some eighteen metres out seemed an ideal opportunity to score but Merthyr’s line speed in defence was impressive and forced Newport to rush simply to keep possession which was eventually lost when Newport were guilty of side entry to a ruck.
Matthew Jarvis set off the defensive klaxons again on 44 minutes as he broke into the Newport 22 metre area but Kyle Tayler, tracking back in defence, managed to intercept Jarvis’ pass and put out that particular fire, because fire-fighting was what it was slowly becoming.
Merthyr struck again on fifty minutes. After a prolonged spell of possession, sucking the Newport defence in slowly but surely, it created enough room for wing Kyle Evans to angle his run, brush off some soft tackles, it must be said, and claim his touch down. Matthew Jarvis added the conversion to make it Newport 0 Merthyr 27.
Newport gained a rare foothold within scoring range on 53 minutes when Merthyr failed to release a tackled player. Matt O’Brien booted Newport to the corner allowing Dan Partridge to claim the ball but the attempted rolling maul was shattered almost before it had a chance to set. The Black and Ambers kept possession though and worked the ball right but Tom Pascoe lost the ball in contact.
Merthyr’s Richard Powell put in a super 56th minute touch-finder which took his team right up to near the Newport 22 metre line. Newport won the line out and moved the ball wide to Elliot Frewen but he, too, fell foul of losing the ball in contact. As the ball went loose it was Powell again who gained possession before sprinting around the blind-side of the melee before being halted with metres to spare. Merthyr kept the ball and moved it along the face of Newport’s try line but conceded a penalty much to the relief of the Black and Ambers.
Owen Davies came on for Ryan James on the hour and made an impression straight away as he took Joe Bartlett’s lineout catch, spotted a gap and sprinted through, pushing Newport beyond Merthyr’s 40 metre line but the pass from the ruck was rushed and poor, leaving Matt O’Brien helpless to knock it forward.
The game was breaking up but, even with two Merthyr forwards on the ground receiving treatment, Newport found it tremendously difficult to make much headway.
The Ironmen struck again on seventy minutes. They went wide from a set piece and Newport again were sucked in defensively. Richard Powell and Kyle Evans found themselves on the right with only Geraint O’Driscoll to beat. Powell drew his defender before releasing Evans who dived in athletically with a challenge from Jonny Morris to contend with. Once again Mr Jones asked Mr Hayes for some help with his decision but there was no denying Merthyr this time. The grounding was solid and the try stood. Matthew Jarvis added the conversion to make the score Newport 0 Merthyr 34. The irony in the apparent comment during the S4C coverage by former Wales international Tony Clement, that Merthyr had done ‘a professional job’ on Newport did not go unnoticed.
Play opened right out on 75 minutes as Dan Partridge had a canter with ball in hand but he was firmly tackled as the pass was made. Merthyr centre Gavin Dacey made a challenge on Newport replacement Andrew Mann that was straight out of the 1980s that resulted in a brawl on the touchline. Despite Mann being in line for decapitation, Mr Jones simply decided that Merthyr had knocked on and awarded Newport a scrum. Kyle Tayler continued trying to carry the game to Merthyr but was stripped of possession allowing Merthyr’s Matthew Dwyer an unhurried trundle up the touchline. His pass to the eminently friskier Kyle Evans was forward allowing Newport to reclaim the ball.
It took until 78 minutes of the game for Newport to rid themselves of the ‘nil’ on the scoreboard. Geraint O’Driscoll broke the Merthyr defensive line and streaked forward with Jonny Morris to his right and Chay Smith to his left. With just Matthew Jarvis to beat O’Driscoll selected Smith to carry on the run, orange boots flashing, as he sprinted under the posts for a well-earned score. Smith was arguably Newport’s best player on the day so a try at the Principality Stadium was no less than he deserved. Matt O’Brien added the two point conversion to make the score Newport 7 Merthyr 34.
Sadly Newport capitulated somewhat when they were all at sea defensively and Matthew Dwyer had it far too easy putting team mate Hoskins away for an added time try. The conversion by Richard Powell was a formality and the final whistle blew on a humbling scoreline of Newport 7 Merthyr 41.
Congratulations are due to Merthyr RFC, National Cup winners for 2018. Merthyr’s head coach, Dale McIntosh, certainly did his homework on Newport RFC. The Merthyr defence was, at times, astonishing; they almost created a vacuum. On that showing there would have been some fully professional teams who would have struggled and a few that would have lost to them.
However, there are many reasons to be proud. If one recalls the position that our club was in around a year ago then Newport RFC have travelled a thousand miles since then. From winning the Principality Premiership Tier Two final last May to progressing to the final of the National Cup, in just eleven months, all with no major financial backer, just the support of lots of dedicated people who have the best interests of the club at heart along with a group of players willing to work hard and listen to their coaches. Equally, getting to the final brings a modest financial reward to the club which will only help to add to the club’s stability in future.
The future is bright. The future is Black and Amber.
Newport RFC are back in action almost immediately. On Tuesday 1st May they visit the Bridge Field at Bedwas for a rearranged Principality Premiership game whilst on Saturday May 5th they host Cross Keys RFC, again in the Principality Premiership. There is still the prospect of a top five league finish to play for which, when coupled to an appearance in the Cup Final, makes for a pretty good season all things considered. Onwards and upwards Newport!
Come on Newport! #cotp
Neutral Man Of The Match – Osian Davies – Merthyr RFC
FINAL SCORE _ Newport RFC 7 Merthyr RFC 41