A wet and windy Newport morning gave way to a blustery afternoon on the occasion of Newport RFC’s third meeting with Cardiff RFC this season, but this round of games marked the merging of the two conferences into one league. So for all their efforts in the first half of the season, Newport were reduced to just four league points whilst our visitors were on five points. An odd set-up, for sure.
Cardiff’s captain and outside half, Gareth Thompson, wearing jersey number 21, kicked off with Newport attacking the school end. Kyle Tayler took charge of the loose ball before conceding possession back to Cardiff. The Blue and Blacks went through the phases before centre Ben Thomas found Chay Smith in good form. Smith performed some great ripping work, wrestling the ball from the Cardiff man, before the ball reached Matt O’Brien who used the wind to put his team roughly thirty metres out on the Hazell terrace side. The Black and Ambers worked hard at the rucks making the visitors commit players before former Newport prop Fraser Young was forced to concede for holding on to the ball in the tackle. Matt O’Brien gladly took the straightforward penalty to set Newport on their way, 3-0, with as many minutes played.
From a dropout, Matt O’Brien again utilised the wind to take the Black and Ambers
up to the Cardiff 22 metre line. The clearing kick by scrum half Geraint Watkin was laboured allowing Newport fullback Geraint O’Driscoll to field the ball and select the optimum route to the try line. Off he set before finding O’Brien in support. O’Brien dummied his way through a couple of defenders before passing out to hooker Henry Palmer but the pass was spilled. Newport kept the pressure on as aggressive defence, high up the field, forced a forward pass from Cardiff. The scrum won, Ryan James tried a through-the-legs trick pass to his backs that had to be mopped up. James soon atoned by putting in a super touch-finding kick that placed the Black and Ambers just six metres from the Cardiff line on the Bisley side. Newport managed to pinch Cardiff ball but the move fell down when a Cardiff hand knocked the ball on resulting in a scrum to Newport just seven metres out. Newport were being closed out in the open and, with Newport playing a penalty advantage, a pass to Adam Sabri went awry and Newport opted to scrum again. The scrum turned to the right leaving the ball exposed for Cardiff scrum half Geraint Watkin to scoop up and sprint away with wing James Beal in close support. Newport’s Matt O’Brien snared Beal closer to the Newport 22 metre line. The Cardiff backs appeared to have Newport on the ropes but wing Corey Howells, a Newport player as recently as November 11th this year, forced the pass and the referee, Mr Gwyn Morris, judged it to be forward.
The wind was swirling and gusting heavily, enough to prompt Matt O’Brien into snatching a quick drop at goal from some forty five metres out but the kick was charged down and bounced harmlessly into touch.
A 17th minute penalty to Cardiff for Newport being offside was kicked by Gareth Thompson up to the Newport 22 metre line. Newport defended the line out well and were doing ok at the contact area, but one loose tackle in the shadow of the posts saw Cardiff centre Will Rees-Hole shrug the defender off and cross the line for the opening try of the game. Gareth Thompson added the conversion to make the score Newport 3 Cardiff 7 on 19 minutes.
Cardiff’s James Beal fumbled the restart allowing Newport a scrum just fifteen metres out. Inexplicably, Newport were shoved off their own ball but Gareth Thompson couldn’t secure the pass to him allowing the Newport pack an instant chance of redemption. The scrum was won, Lennon Greggains scooped the ball out to Ryan James who ran an arc towards the whitewash but he was the target of a double-hit tackle and was stripped of the ball on the try line. The Newport pack put the previous embarrassment behind them and heartily shoved the Blue and Blacks off their own put in to win the penalty. Matt O’Brien, acting as captain vice the injured Rhys Jenkins, opted to go to the corner but the Morris dancing that took place in the Newport line out contrived to confuse everybody and Cardiff’s Callum Bradbury palmed the ball back for his team. Newport won possession back and pumped up the blindside in front of the Bisley stand. Henry Palmer, Lennon Greggains and Joe Bartlett all made inroads before Dan Partridge, Ken Dowding and Kyle Tayler threw their muscle at the openside. The drives were mainly controlled by O’Brien who went through a range of passes; quick, zippy gut passes or delaying the pass by half a second longer to keep the defence guessing. Sadly, Kyle Tayler’s final rally was penalised as he held on to the ball just metres from the Cardiff line.
Newport must have been dominating the possession statistics as they won the ball back again on the Hazell side. After a series of drives Matt O’Brien opted to put in a cross kick for Adam Sabri to pursue. Sabri used his tall frame to great effect as he claimed the ball and crashed over the Cardiff line, struggling to get the ball to ground. Mr Morris consulted with his Assistant and agreed that the ball had been grounded and the try stood. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make the score Newport 10 Cardiff 7 on 30 minutes.
Cardiff were pinged offside on 33 minutes, near the halfway line. Matt O’Brien booted the Black and Ambers up to fifteen metres out for the line out. Lennon Greggains was lofted to secure the ball. The Newport eight rumbled forward, despite an attempted collapse by Cardiff which Mr Morris spotted. Using the advantage, Henry Palmer made a lunge for the line before popping the ball to Adam Sabri who, in turn, popped the ball to Ryan James for a well taken try. Matt O’Brien added the extras to make it Newport 17 Cardiff 7.
Newport ran the restart back at Cardiff, Chay Smith in typically determined mood finding his centre partner Tom Pascoe in support. Pascoe was tackled on halfway but lost the ball forward. The Blue and Blacks surged forward but the attack was finally put to bed by a resolute Dan Partridge tackle. After a two minute stoppage for an injury to Partridge, Newport conceded a horribly simple try to Cardiff. Scrum half Geraint Watkin jinked around a would-be tackler before finding number eight, Sion Bennett, in support for the easiest score. Gareth Thompson added the conversion to make it Newport 17 Cardiff 14 on the stroke of half time.
As well as Newport had played in the first half, being only three points ahead with the strength of wind to face them in the second half was felt to be too fine a margin. Cardiff hadn’t played that well but had kept touch and could easily go up a gear. The last try was a reminder of how fragile Newport RFC can be at times.
Halftime – Newport RFC 17 Cardiff RFC 14
Elliot Frewen made an entrance from the bench for Tom Pascoe who was sidelined for a blood related injury. Matt O’Brien’s kick was instantly infringed upon by the Cardiff forwards allowing O’Brien to boot his mates to about ten metres from the Cardiff line. Joe Bartlett claimed the lineout and the ball went through a few phases before O’Brien employed the cross kick again. Frewen won the ball but was collared. Newport kept possession before Chay Smith eventually found Frewen who raced for the line and managed to outstretch an arm with close attention from the Cardiff defence. In doing so, Elliot Frewen scored his fiftieth try for Newport RFC, quite an achievement and a part-explanation of why is he so highly rated at Rodney Parade. The score now was Newport 22 Cardiff 14 on 41 minutes. To complete the scenario, Tom Pascoe was ready to come back on post-injury so Frewen returned to the bench. Newport kept up the attacks. Chay Smith bustled and Lennon Greggains bulldozed but Newport were undone when Joe Bartlett was isolated in attack and stripped of the ball.
Newport launched another attack on the hour as Lennon Greggains tried to place a grubber kick through for Adam Sabri to chase. Cardiff managed to clear the ball away but there was confusion in the Newport ranks about who was going to catch the ball. Ultimately nobody did and the oval ball bounced horribly while Matt O’Brien took responsibility but was caught and sealed off from his team mates. The penalty for holding on was missed by Gareth Thompson, a let-off if ever there was one.
Cardiff were oddly lacking. They had looked ominous in patches of the first half, not outstanding, but good enough to keep in touch and, equally, good enough to overhaul the Black and Ambers on the scoreboard, but it wasn’t happening. A Cardiff attack failed when a pass ended up behind the intended recipient enabling Geraint O’Driscoll the opportunity to hack the ball ahead and roll into touch on the Cardiff 22 metre line. The resulting line out was not straight so Newport had a great chance to extend the score. The Newport pack marched their opposite numbers back at a rate of knots, Cardiff conceding another penalty when the front row stood up under pressure. The scrum was reset and Lennon Greggains ran powerfully to the openside, bouncing Gareth Thompson away before passing to Chay Smith. Replacement prop Nicky Boyce had a stab at the line before Jon Morris did well to keep the ball in play and start the ball going back across the field. Tom Pascoe bisected the line well and carried Newport to just a few metres out but the final pass out to Adam Sabri was clumsy and Sabri failed to hold the ball as it passed around his head and shoulders instead.
There was still some unease amongst Newport supporters, the home side were a long way from being safe and fears weren’t allayed when Adam Sabri mistimed a jump for the ball when Cardiff cleared from a line out. The ball bounced free and was quickly seized upon by Cardiff. They managed to work up to the Newport 22 metre line before the home defence flooded back and reset itself. The move came to a halt when Henry Palmer pulled the playing jersey of an attacker over his head and Cardiff were awarded a scrum. Almost predictably though, despite a strong shove by Newport, Mr Morris found fault with the Newport front row and awarded Cardiff a penalty which Gareth Thompson duly slotted. This made the score Newport 22 Cardiff 17 on 71 minutes.
Almost from the restart Newport were going for the kill. Outstanding unseen work on the floor managed to secure the ball back on Newport’s side. The ball quickly spun left to Tom Pascoe who put a grubber kick in for Chay Smith to chase. Smith somehow managed to miss the ball altogether but Pascoe, following up, didn’t and he dived on the loose ball in the in-goal area for the deciding try. Matt O’Brien nailed the conversion to make the score Newport 29 Cardiff 17 on 72 minutes.
The Newport scrum was now dominant and could almost summon up penalties at will against their Capital City opponents, but there was still room for nuance in the Newport performance and the intelligence of a player like Geraint O’Driscoll will always be needed. His feinted dive over a ball rolling into touch without actually touching it himself, simultaneously persuading the Cardiff player following up to not pursue the ball whilst securing possession for his own side was a thing of delicate beauty
Cardiff retreated from an attacking position to their own 22 metre line. The Newport line out was knocked forward and, as the ball bounced loose, Joe Bartlett thought he was in for a score but Mr Morris correctly disallowed the attempt and brought the game to an end.
Newport are next in action on Saturday 6th January 2018 when we visit Swansea RFC in a Welsh Cup game. The Friends of Newport Rugby Trust are running a supporter’s bus to the game priced at £12 per head. The bus is filling quickly so please make sure that you contact them to book your seat in what should be an entertaining game.
We at Newport RFC would like to wish you a healthy and prosperous New Year and we hope to see as many supporters as possible at Rodney Parade in future. If you don’t come very often, please try to attend, it’s important that the club can rely on its supporters in this oddest of seasons. Maybe you could make it your New Year’s resolution to come to a few more games!
Onwards and upwards, Newport, onwards and upwards.
Come on Newport! #cotp
Newport Man Of The Match – Henry Palmer
FINAL SCORE _ Newport RFC 29 Cardiff RFC 17
Match pictures from Simon Latham: 'click'