Sadly the smallest crowd of the season watched possibly was Newport’s best performance of the season. Before the match some were saying that Newport had no specialist No10, place kicker of tight-head but would these same people criticise Ryan James, Jamie Leadbeater and Dai Pattison after they and the rest of the team had put in a magnificent performance . With the wind behind they had table toppers Neath on the back foot with a great performance in the first half to take a 23-5 lead and then turned in a gutsy rear guard action in the 2nd half to keep Neath out to record a deserved 23-20 win.
SWA report : Newport clung on during the closing stages to gain a morale-boosting victory over Neath at Rodney Parade yesterday and leapfrog old rivals Pontypool. This represented only a seventh league win of the season for the Black and Ambers, who lost 36-16 at The Gnoll back in September. And it hauled Sven Cronk’s side up to 12th and a point better off than Pontypool, who beat Cardiff, 32-13, at the Park the day before.
Dai Pattison switched sides of the scrum to fill the tight-head vacuum, while flanker Rhys Jenkins and scrum-half James Leadbetter returned from Aironi duties with the Dragons the previous week. And Newport made a late change, with Ulsterman Jamie Smith replacing Dragons colleague Hallam Amos at full-back.
Despite having lock Alex Jones binned after just 3 mins the Black and Ambers got off to a great start. A telling handling move in the sixth minute ended in flanker Rhys Jenkins claiming a try that scrum-half James Leadbeater goaled from the touchline. The Blacks opened their account after a quarter of an hour with ex-Newport flanker Gareth Gravell crashing over for an unconverted try. But Newport scrum-half Leadbeater then utilised a strengthening wind to nail three penalties in the space of seven minutes and stretched the lead to 16-5. And in the 32nd min the Blacks went down to 14 men with the yellow-carding of wing Alec Jenkins, but on this occasion Leadbeater missed the ensuing penalty. Newport forged further ahead in the 39th min when ex-Newport man Gareth King slipped going for a Jamie Smith kick ahead. Wing Elliot Frewen pounced on the error to cross for a try that Leadbeater improved on, making it 23-5 at the turnaround.
Newport looked to consolidate the lead on the resumption, and with Neath making countless errors it was achieved. Neath had captain Gravell binned in the 55th min, and their scrum soon creaked during a series of scrum fives. But instead of pressing home the advantage, Newport opted to go for goal with a penalty on the hour – and Leadbetter sent it wide. And while still a man short, the Blacks hit back with a 64th-min try from hooker Rhodri Clancy that went unconverted. The fightback by the league leaders gained further credence in the 69th min when full-back King crossed for a try at the posts and Langdon converted. A Langdon penalty, struck in the 72nd minute, closed the gap to 3pts, but Newport just managed to close the game out during a tense finish.
Photos courtesy of Ron Sutcliffe and Simon Latham :