After the last-gasp win against table-topping Bedwas last Friday, there was a renewed sense of optimism amongst Black and Amber supporters, in that the drought of victories in Pontypridd may, just may, be coming to an end. The team had performed bravely and with no little skill against the ‘Wass, so anything was possible. The team selected for the trip to Pontypridd had a very youthful look to it, just right for the quick artificial pitch, whilst Matt O’Brien stood in as captain for the rested Rhys Jenkins.
A dreich morning gave way to clearer, drier weather by the time the 1pm kick off came around. This was in order for supporters and players to watch the Wales v Australia annual loss in Cardiff at 5.15pm. Newport second row Joe Bartlett failed a late fitness test on his injury so was replaced by Gavin Bilton who gave up his place on the bench to Kyle Tayler.
Pontypridd’s Geraint Walsh led his team out on the occasion of his century of appearances for the club before both teams lined up for the minutes silence which was impeccably observed by the crowd, punctuated only by a distant car alarm and the ‘chak’-ing of the Jackdaws in the woods behind the Sardis Road stand.
Matt O’Brien kicked off for Newport towards the clubhouse end when Pontypridd mucked up immediately. The catch was fumbled enabling Newport wing Corey Howells to get in there, create chaos and steal the ball. Scrum half Ryan James moved the ball left to Chay Smith who palmed the ball above his head onto Geraint O’Driscoll who motored in to score the first try with seconds gone on the clock. In doing so Geraint passed a personal tally of 650 points for Newport RFC. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make the score Pontypridd 0 Newport 7.
Pontypridd responded as one might expect, hammering away at the Newport defence but they were unusually careless in midfield, passes going to ground or forward and a full nine minutes of possession was ultimately fruitless. They opened their scoring in the tenth minute when outside half Diggy Bird slotted a penalty when the referee, Mr Simon Rees, ruled that Newport had deliberately pulled down a rolling maul. Pontypridd 3 Newport 7.
The Pontypridd backs began to click when a score for Dafydd Lockyer edged them ahead in the 13th minute. Wing Alex Webber punched a large hole in the Newport defence before being tackled. He managed to get the ball away to his support, scrum half Wayne Evans, who passed the ball into thin air for Lockyer to run on to at full tilt. He streaked in under the posts so making the conversion attempt as easy as possible for Diggy Bird. Pontypridd 10 Newport 7.
Pontypridd sucker-punched Newport with a second try straight away. The restart went to wing Alex Webber who was afforded far too much room to run back at Newport. He drew his defence and released Lockyer, again at top speed, who carried deep into Newport territory before passing to flanker Rhys Shellard on his left shoulder to run in and score a second try. Diggy Bird nailed the conversion to make it Pontypridd 17 Newport 7.
Matt O’Brien picked off a pass on 16 minutes to get Newport moving forwards. Adam Sabri took the pass and got up to the Ponty half of the field. Tom Piper set up the ruck before Ryan James kicked to the corner resulting in a Newport line out, after Pontypridd caught and cleared the ball, on the home 22 metre line. Newport lost the ball in the line out but were managing to bottle Pontypridd up in a very narrow margin before a stray body was caught offside and the pressure was released.
Pontypridd were beginning to dominate things as they pushed forward and Mr Rees played a series of advantages as Newport kept offending as they tried to halt the black and white shirts progress. Eventually Mr Rees decided that Pontypridd hadn’t accumulated advantage enough and awarded a full penalty on 24 minutes allowing Diggy Bird to extend his teams lead to 20 points to 7.
Newport kept in touch, despite the grind of the black and white, with a 29th minute try by Matt O’Brien. A Newport scrum was fluffed as the ball was lost at the base. Pontypridd gathered and passed the ball to Diggy Bird but his clearance kick was charged down by Morgan Burgess who hunted the ball down and fabricated a pass to the onrushing O’Brien to score out wide in front of the terrace. The conversion was missed so the scoreboard read Pontypridd 20 Newport 12.
Pontypridd re-established the margin within minutes however. A careless loss of possession by Newport allowed Pontypridd to build. A beautifully weighted pass from scrum half Wayne Evans found wing Alex Webber who ghosted between the Newport defenders and sprint to the corner. Bird missed the conversion so the score now was Pontypridd 25 Newport 12.
Newport were trying to play some good rugby. Josh Reid, a welcome sight on the pitch following his injury at Cross Keys some weeks ago, led the charge with Morgan Burgess on his left shoulder. The ball worked out to wing Haydn Palmer who, unfortunately, had a foot in touch before releasing Geraint O’Driscoll to have a go at the line. There were bright spots in Newport’s play but it was being let down by simple avoidable errors. Newport had a chance to reduce the deficit on 37 minutes when the hosts infringed at a Joe Cullimore-led ruck but O’Brien’s shot drifted wide of the posts.
Pontypridd were determined to have the last say in this half. They wrapped up a Newport tackle and won the scrum. Wing Alex Webber created chaos in the Newport defence and reached the shadow of the posts before seeming to casually pass to nobody in particular allowing Newport’s Rhys Cresswell to clear up. Newport marched up field but Webber, now back in defence, put in a monstrous clearing kick that took play from 22 metre area to 22 metre area. At the Newport line out Evan Whitson was judged to have dummied the throw in, awarding Pontypridd a free kick. Wayne Evans got his attentive back line moving and the ball went through the hands to winger Geraint Walsh who scored despite the best efforts of Newport’s Corey Howells. The conversion was missed but the half-time score was an imposing Pontypridd 30 Newport 12. Newport had a mountain to climb to get much out of this situation.
Halftime – Pontypridd RFC 30 Newport RFC 12
Luckily it appeared as though Dave Young, Newport’s irrepressible kit man, had packed the club crampons, carabiners and rope to allow the team to scale to north face of Mount Sardis. Diggy Bird restarted the game and Newport were beaten to the breakdown by the home loose forwards. Haydn Palmer had an eye on the attackers though, and picked off a telegraphed pass. Palmer hared off for the distant touch line with Pontypridd’s Chris Dicomidis breathing down his neck and wing Geraint Walsh corner-flagging. Palmer won his race and crossed comfortably for a seemingly improbable try bonus point. The score was Pontypridd 30 Newport 17 on 41 minutes.
Newport were playing good, constructive rugby but were penalised in the Pontypridd 22 metre area for hanging on to the ball in the tackle. My handwritten notes even said “keep playing like this, we’ll be ok”. Sadly for Newport, it got worse before it got better. A 49th minute line out to Pontypridd, just five metres out, was always going to be difficult to defend. Chris Dicomidis gathered the ball then they executed a simple training ground move as Rhys Shellard looped around to the blind side and passed to number 8 Morgan Sieniawski, who had looped with him, to score in the corner. Pontypridd 35 Newport 17.
The Newport coaching team rang the changes on 53 minutes by bringing on a new front row and Haydn Simons to full back to replace Chay Smith, with Geraint O’Driscoll moving forward to centre.
Pontypridd seemed to exude confidence, maybe even almost over-confidence, in their abilities. They kept the ball well but Diggy Bird seemed to prefer to opt for the spectacular rather than the fundamental which would probably have yielded more scores. A cross-field kick to Alex Webber was poorly judged and easily snuffed out by Newport and possession was lost to them. They went back to basics on 58 minutes for another try as Bird wrong-footed the Newport cover and passed right to Dafydd Lockyer who found co-centre Gary Williams on his shoulder as he passed out of the tackle. The seemingly simple conversion was missed so the scoreboard read Pontypridd 40 Newport 17.
Pontypridd made a hash of the restart as they fumbled the kick into touch. Their forwards managed to steal the Newport line out but Mr Rees quickly realised that they had too many in the line out and awarded Newport the free kick. Ryan James swiftly passed to Matt O’Brien who jinked and powered over the line for his second try of the day. He converted and made the score Pontypridd 40 Newport 24 on 59 minutes.
Newport were patiently working their way up field, doing well and working hard, players supporting their mates, when one loose pass undid all the good work as Pontypridd’s Hemi Barnes gobbled the ball up, ran towards the Newport line and passed to his supporting backs. They zipped the ball around between each other to allow Diggy Bird to score another try and conversion making the score 47-24 on 70 minutes.
Pontypridd were passing the ball almost at will and players appeared to be running into yawning chasms where black and amber shirts were not. Ponty’s Jordan Rees was almost home dry before some determined tackling by replacement scrum half Ryan Bates slammed the door on him and Newport were off the hook. Newport won the scrum and managed to scramble the ball across field to Corey Howells. Howells kicked ahead and chased, securing the ball once again with a piece of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it talent as he gently kicked the ball up to hip height while running at full throttle. He barged the Pontypridd defence out of his way and managed to pass to his left to Adam Sabri to run in to score. Matt O’Brien converted to make it Pontypridd 47 Newport 31 on 75 minutes.
Mr Rees was forced to reach for his pocket on 79 minutes when Pontypridd’s Huw Owen was found to have high-tackled Matt O’Brien. Haydn Simons had the presence of mind to take the tap quickly and set off. He dodged through the defenders before putting in a diagonal kick to the corner for Haydn Palmer to track down. The Newport cavalry arrived to drive Palmer over the line but Mr Rees was unable to award anything other than a Newport scrum five due to the amount of bodies in the way. The scrum wheeled Ponty’s way and Hemi Barnes came away with the ball.
Into added time and Newport were still well adrift but whether Pontypridd mentally switched off or were tiring, we’ll never know, but Ryan Bates ducked under an attempted tackle and charged his way up field finding Matt O’Brien in support. O’Brien skipped through a few tackles and dotted the ball down under the posts to complete a personal hat-trick of tries. He converted the score to make it Pontypridd 47 Newport 38 on 80+2 minutes.
Newport weren’t finished as Pontypridd launched an attack, Haydn Palmer spotted a loose pass again. He picked it out of mid-air and set off on another lung-busting run from touchline to touchline after an hour and a half of rugby. Palmer scored the try whilst evading the attentions of black and white defenders and Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make the score Pontypridd 47 Newport 45 on 80+6 minutes. Newport couldn’t kick on and go for the jugular….could they? The home support grew quieter as they realised that they may be about to get mugged but Newport ran out of time and the locals breathed more a sigh of relief than a victory cry. The Black and Ambers had to settle for another bonus point for finishing within seven points of the winner.
It was an astonishing result considering the points differential at the end of the first half. If such things mattered one could point out that Newport had ‘won’ the second half 17 – 33 and had scored seven tries at the home of the league leaders. Not many teams do that.
Our next fix of Black and Amber action is next Sunday, the 19th of November, when Ebbw Vale RFC visit us at Rodney Parade for a Principality Premiership game. Kick-off is at 2.30pm. It should be a super game of rugby so please make every effort to come along, bring your mates and shout Newport RFC to a win!
Onwards and upwards, Newport, onwards and upwards.
Man Of The Match – Matt O’Brien
FINAL SCORE _ Pontypridd RFC 47 Newport RFC 45