Bridgend RFC v Newport RFC 2nd March 2019 by John Evans
The balmy weather of early week was replaced with more usual Welsh fayre for early spring, what with the prospect of Storm Freya hitting the coast on the evening of the game. Newport supporters crossed fingers that the rains would hold off until at least 4pm and give Newport every chance of claiming the win.
The Brewery Field has often been a tricky place for Newport RFC to travel to. Just last season, following the titanic win against Llandovery in the cup semi-final, Newport rocked up at this same venue, the cock of the walk, and were sent packing as a feather duster, the Ravens tearing into the Black and Ambers, the 16-12 result sounding much closer than it actually was.
Bridgend have spent the bulk of this season wallowing around the bottom six in the Principality Premiership, a situation that they will be desperately trying to rectify but as we approach the business end of the season, it doesn’t take Warren Gatland and a galaxy of professional coaches to know that the Ravens would be fighting like tigers for every point available and Newport were a legitimate target.
Both teams wore their traditional colours on this occasion as Newport’s Haydn Simons kicked off, with the Black and Ambers initially attacking the ‘Town’ end of the ground. Bridgend’s captain, Nathan Edwards, bustled forward strongly but the kick by outside half Ryan Evans was simply mopped up by the returning Ninja Warrior, Jonny Morris playing his first game in 2019, and returned with interest as he stormed back into the Bridgend half, spinning and barging before finally drawing a penalty from the referee, Mr Ben Breakspear. With no advantage coming, Haydn Simons booted Newport to the corner to set up position. The lineout was successful allowing Henry Palmer and Garin Harris to drive forward. Tom Pascoe and Kyle Tayler both acted as makeshift “9”s, with Geraint Watkin wrapped up. The ball worked out to Rhys Jenkins who split the defence open before passing onto Chay Smith who scampered in for a well-worked try. Smith touched down near the posts enabling Haydn Simons to have a better shot at goal, making the score Bridgend 0 Newport 7 with three minutes played.
Bridgend kicked to the corner making Newport play a five-metre defensive line out. Rhys Jenkins carried the ball away but spilled in contact. Bridgend threatened to take advantage as their outside half, Ryan Evans, hacked ahead, but they were brought back for a scrum. Nathan Edwards charged forward again but he just attracted tackles, one of which was deemed high. Ryan Evans swung his boot at the penalty shot to make it Bridgend 3 Newport 7 on seven minutes.
An excellent touch-finding kick by Haydn Simons put Newport about ten metres from Bridgend’s try line on the main stand side. The Ravens tried to play their way out of trouble but a super steal on the ground by Kyle Tayler swung the momentum back towards Newport. With phases completed a pass boomed wide and right to Dan Partridge, but the pass was slightly behind him, checking his progress. Partridge steamed ahead and kept the move going. A cheeky, yet delightful, little pass from Tom Pascoe kept Bridgend guessing as the ball reached Elliot Frewen, but, sadly, his hands let him down as the ball bounced forward.
Elliot Frewen almost atoned for that mishap when Newport regained possession following a Bridgend lineout. The ball went to midfield as Frewen came onto the ball like a train, but the pass to him was judged forward after he had cleaved the blue and white defence apart. The resulting scrum failed to settle giving Newport a free kick. Captain Rhys Jenkins opted to scrum again giving Newport a platform, centre field on the Bridgend 22 to attack from. Newport made little headway but the Ravens had stepped offside. Mr Breakspear took Newport back to the original offence which Haydn Simons gratefully banged between the posts to make the score Bridgend 3 Newport 10 on 17 minutes.
Bridgend took the bizarre decision to try running a penalty from halfway soon after, the ball transferring hands before second row James Little tried to batter his way through the Newport pack alone and ended up simply being dumped into touch. They then had another penalty moments later, when Newport were found offside, and tried the more conventional method of kicking for the corner. Second row Ben Jones took the ball for the Ravens before setting up a series of drives at the Newport line as various forwards lumped their way towards the line. Eventually wing Ashley Evans found a little space to take a dart towards the line but he was taken down by Elliot Frewen. James Little, following up for the Ravens, tried to complete the move but simply found himself in touch again.
The Ravens had yet another penalty on 25 minutes following a lineout jumper being hauled down. They went to the corner and Ben Jones was lofted high again. Another series of drives was set up on flanker Adam O’Driscoll as he drove for the corner. The succession of drives just met with stiff Newport defence until outside half Ryan Evans seemingly ran out of patience and put in a poorly executed cross-kick which was picked out by Elliot Frewen who simply called for the “mark”. Newport were exhibiting lots of energy in defence, embodied by Josh Skinner making an excellent 30th minute turnover that robbed Bridgend of attacking ball.
Newport attacked with vigour at times, none more so than the 33rd minute when Haydn Simons easily outstripped two Ravens defenders to set up a left-field ruck. The ball went through phase upon phase as the Newport big men launched themselves forward until a fast, flat pass helped Chay Smith crack open the blue and white defence. He had Josh Skinner to his left and made the pass to allow Skinner to jog in and nonchalantly dot the ball down for a try under the posts. Haydn Simons added the two-pointer to make the score Bridgend 3 Newport 17 on 36 minutes.
Newport made a last promising break for the half when the made a four-on-three overlap from a set scrum. Haydn Simons had Elliot Frewen racing up in support. Frewen slipped through the attempted tackle before releasing wing Andy Evans. Evans sprinted on but his pass to his support runner was picked out by Ravens wing Ashley Evans and the move came to nothing.
Bridgend had seemed slightly one dimensional and over-reliant on Nathan Edwards; as talented a player as he is, he couldn’t do everything himself. The jigging around of Ryan Evans to full back and the introduction of Jamie Murphy, the former Newport centre and sometime Rugby League player, to outside half was bound to change the complexion of the game. Murphy is a battler, he knows how to go forward and knows how to take people with him. This could prove to be interesting.
Half Time Bridgend RFC 3 Newport RFC 17
Jamie Murphy restarted for Bridgend, the kick going straight to Dan Partridge who set up the ruck for Geraint Watkin to box-kick forward. The Bridgend defenders hesitated allowing Kyle Tayler to take advantage and fizz a pass out to wing Andy Evans. Evans sprinted on and was hauled down just millimetres short of the Bridgend line. Typically, it was Jamie Murphy that Mr Breakspear spotted with his hands in the ruck, overeager to retrieve the ball for Bridgend. The referee invited Murphy to spend ten minutes contemplating life, the universe and everything while his fourteen mates battled on in his absence. The Newport lineout was won but Bridgend disrupted well, pushing Newport backwards. Henry Palmer forged ahead, Garin Harris neatly flipped up a loose ball to Andy Evans who arrowed towards the line again but, as he was tackled, the ball was stripped from him. Bridgend pushed away with wing Geraint Roberts threatening briefly but Josh Skinner eased him away from his hack ahead allowing Newport to clear.
A major influence on the game came on 46 minutes when Haydn Simons went off injured. With no obvious replacement available it would be interesting to see how Newport coped. Josh Male came on for Tom Pascoe allowing Pascoe to stand a few metres nearer the scrumhalf than normal. Newport lost shape instantly as the three centres continued being just that, three centres. It wasn’t their fault, of course, but they were going to have to cope.
Newport’s situation was assisted by the fact that Bridgend were attacking poorly. They were bringing runners onto the ball who were often receiving the ball at a stand almost directly behind the passer. A Ravens attack on fifty minutes was one such as the Newport defenders picked off the attacking runners with relative ease before forcing Bridgend to kick. Jonny Morris was available to field the ball with Chay Smith and Elliot Frewen in support to run out of defence but a return pass to Chay Smith was too far ahead of him, Newport failing to relieve the pressure. From the scrum, a good pass from Nathan Edwards to wing Ashley Evans momentarily broke the Newport line but Evans had zero support allowing Rhys Jenkins, with a look of incredulity, to merely step over Evans, pick the ball up and set up a ruck.
Newport made some changes, a new front row of Preece, Whitson and Piper replaced Smout, Palmer and Harris while Kyle Tayler made way for Josh Reid in the backrow. Newport were seemingly unable to get too far from their own line but were fortunate that Bridgend were unable to capitalise. A line out thrown to the tail to flanker Adam O’Driscoll was knocked forward while, from another set piece, Jamie Murphy seemed ponderous in attack and was swamped by the Black and Amber defenders pushing out. Their breakthrough came on 58 minutes when a kick to the corner went to plan and flanker Jordan Collier found himself, ball in hand, at the tail of a forward-moving maul to score a deserved try. Ryan Evans added the conversion to make it Bridgend 10 Newport 17.
The Ravens began to sense something was in the wind. They went to the corner again on the hour with Ben Jones again taking the lineout. Gareth Harvey broke close to the maul for the hosts and set play up but it was Josh Reid who got his body between ball-carrier and support to earn Newport an important penalty.
Rhys Jenkins broke well from a 63rd minute scrum but, as he was tackled, the ball bobbled loose. Unfortunately for Newport it bounced into the hands of wing Geraint Roberts who sprinted fully sixty metres for a try, outstripping the corner-flaggers as he went. Ryan Evans missed the conversion to make the score Bridgend 15 Newport 17.
The tri-centre midfield of Newport looked clumsy and was proving predictable. With Bridgend beginning to whip themselves into dervishes it was beginning to look as though Newport may, yet again, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. What followed was a remarkable display of Newport’s defensive capabilities when tested in the white heat of a league game. The Ravens fought on but the Newport defence manfully picked off runner after runner. Adam O’Driscoll again went close for the hosts but he, too, was closed down.
A 74th minute scrum, too close to the Newport line for comfort, had Black and Amber supporters whispering the mantra “no penalties, no penalties” but it was Newport who won the penalty when Bridgend were pinged for not scrumming straight. Pressure relieved, for now.
Bridgend were tigerish in attack. Jack Pope came away from a Newport maul with ball in hand to launch another Ravens assault. This was kitchen sink rugby from both teams. But, as can happen to players in teams desperate for points, somebody does something silly. A good opportunity for Bridgend was snuffed out when Josh Skinner was taken out in midair at a lineout, allowing Newport a route out of their own half. Newport moved the ball around and seemed to be making headway for a killer score but another unsympathetic pass to Elliot Frewen saw the ball bound idly away.
Bridgend took one last roll of the dice. By running the ball from their own half, they were going for gold. Jonny Morris lined up centre Stuart Floyd-Ellis and flattened him but the penalty was conceded as the support went off their feet at the ruck. Bridgend kicked for position, won the lineout and drove. And drove. And drove again. But the Newport defence was immaculate, no penalties conceded as Bridgend quickly ran out of runners and options. Jamie Murphy dropped back for a last gasp drop goal but his attempt was poorly executed, barely getting six feet off the ground, as the ball went dead for full time.
The Newport coaches will have to mull over some injury concerns this week after the ugliest of wins. There are concerns in some key areas for the fixture at home to Neath RFC on Friday 8th March at Rodney Parade, kick off at 7.15pm. Following that game is a difficult away tie at Swansea RFC on Thursday, that’s Thursday, 14th March at St. Helens, kick off at 7.30pm. The Friends of Newport Rugby Trust are looking at running a bus for supporters to this game but it may be dependent on take-up if it runs or not. Please get in touch with Dai Hobbs at the FoNR as soon as possible if you would like to travel with them to this game.
Onwards and upwards Newport.
Your City. Your Colours. Your Club
Final Score Bridgend RFC 15 Newport RFC 17
Newport RFC Man of the Match – Rhys Jenkins