A Brief History of Newport RFC

Newport RFC – A Brief History

Newport Rugby Football Club conjures up many memories.  Players such as Keith Jarrett, Ken Jones, Arthur ‘Monkey’ Gould, Roy Burnett, David Watkins and Tommy Vile. ‘Invincible’ seasons, Merit Table wins and Club Championships. Playing arch-rivals Cardiff in 1951 before a then, world-record club crowd of 48,500. Colin Smart lifting the Welsh Cup in 1977.  The 1957 annihilation of Australia, beating South Africa twice and the famous victory over the All Blacks in 1963.

With the advent of professionalism in 1995, the club’s fortunes had changed. The loss of emerging talent to cash-rich clubs, along with financial constraints, had left Newport languishing in the domestic doldrums

Tony Brown’s cash injection in 1999 led to a spending spree on international stars and an upward trajectory. Heroes such as Gary Teichmann, Shane Howarth and Rod Snow led the side to a second Welsh Cup triumph in 2001, regular Heineken Cup appearances and the clout to attract superstars such as South African, Percy Montgomery.

The regionalisation of Welsh rugby, has led to the demise of the once celebrated club scene. The famous Newport RFC became a feeder club to a regional side.

From the Marshes to the Salt Pool

Newport Rugby Club has its origins in Newport’s Victoria Cricket Club, which played on the marshes in what is now an area stretching from Wyndham Street to Shaftesbury Park.

In September 1874, younger members of the cricket club, including the sons of Thomas Phillips of Phillips Brewing Company, met at the Dock Road Brewery to establish a football club.  The club was originally intended to be an Association Football (soccer) club. This was problematic, as there was a lack of soccer fixtures and opponents to play. In light of this, rugby was chosen. Richard Mullock and Edward Bellerby were elected as joint secretaries. Mullock went on to help establish the Welsh Rugby Union.

Newport’s first game was played on April 5th 1875 against Glamorgan. The club played on the Marshes until 1877 when Lord Tredegar was approached and an area known as Clarke’s Garden was acquired. The area was levelled and on 24th May, the Newport Athletic Club was created. A grandstand, playing-field, cricket pavilion and gymnasium were built in the area in front of where the present clubhouse stands on Rodney Parade.

In 1892, the site was extended and a former salt pool was acquired. The pool was drained and levelled and the rugby field moved to its present location. The original rugby field was encircled with a cycling track and the Newport Athletic Club became one the largest and most successful in the country.

Many famous players and teams have graced this site. Welsh international matches were staged at Rodney Parade on five occasions.

Arthur Joseph, GouldThe first superstar of rugby

At his peak, Arthur Joseph Gould was probably the most famous rugby player in the world. Born in Newport in 1864, Arthur Gould was one of six brothers to play rugby for Newport, three of whom also played for Wales. His first his game for the full side was on the 18th of November 1882 at the age of 16. He scored two tries.

Arthur was Newport’s highest scorer in the 1891-2 ‘Invincible Season’. He became the team’s Captain and in the 55 games played between 1893 and 1895 they were only defeated four times.

Between 1885 and 1897, Gould was capped for Wales 27 times and captained them 17 times. His final international appearance was at Rodney Parade on 9th January 1897 when Wales defeated England 11-0.

The public’s desire to reward this hero of Newport and Welsh Rugby plunged Rugby Union into crisis in 1897. It had been decided to organise a testimonial for Arthur and hundreds of pounds in donations arrived from all parts of the country and a handsome sum was to be presented. However, Rugby Union was amateur and both the Rugby Football Union and International Board deemed this to be breach of their regulations – tantamount to making Arthur Gould a professional. The Welsh Football Union (WFU) withdrew a promise of a £50 donation and clubs in other home countries were asked to break connections with Wales.

However, quite defiantly the testimonial went ahead. Arthur was presented with a house ‘Thornbury’ in Clytha Park. The WFU and Newport withdrew from the International Board. International fixtures against Wales were prohibited. The whole confrontation was brought to an end when Arthur agreed to retire early.

Arthur Gould died at the house on the second of January 1919, aged 54. His passing was mourned by rugby players and fans all over the world.

Great Players

Little stories from a great club are many. James Bevan, Newport player (1880-81), born in Australia, became Wales’ first ever captain in 1881 against England. Stanley Williams (1901-11), born in Rogerstone, Welsh trialist and reserve, played for England despite Welsh protests. Roy Burnett (1944-59), made 373 appearances and was carried shoulder high on his retirement to throw his boots off the town bridge into the River Usk!

Over 2,200 players have played for Newport since 1874. Most of these came from Newport and the rest of Gwent. Some came from around the world including Australia, Canada, Fiji, Czech Republic, South Africa and New Zealand. Others came from the Home Nations of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. More than 200 were capped for their country while playing at Newport – over 160 for Wales. 29 became ‘British Lions’. Welsh internationals – David Waters and Rhys Morgan in turn played a record 702 and 539 times for Newport.

Many players gave great service to the club and are already in the Rodney Parade ‘Hall of Fame’. Names such as: Jack Wetter (1912–25) with 245 appearances, Walter Martin (1904-21) with 316 appearances and 301 points; Ian Ford (1949-66), 481 appearances and 102 points; Jeff Watkins (1967-81), 381 appearances and 75 points; Mark Workman (1992-2010), 287 appearances and 135 points and more recently, Dan Griffiths (2003-10), 187 appearances and an all-time Newport record of 1,551 points, breaking Paul Turner’s (1985-1992) record of 1,145 points.

Great Captains

From its beginnings to the present day, Newport has had many great captains who have led and inspired the club to victory. Many were international players.

John Leonard (1875–76) and William Phillips (1877-82) enjoyed four invincible seasons between them. Between 1875 and 1879, the club played 52 matches without defeat! It was 13 more years before another invincible team took to the field, led by Newcastle born Welsh international Tom Graham (1889–93).

Newport born George Llewellyn Lloyd (1899-1903), who played for Wales at 19 years old, captained Newport for four seasons, helping them win 94 of their 119 games, and losing only 11.

Tommy Vile captained Newport for three seasons between 1909 and 1912, winning 87 of their 117 games. Vile captained Wales and toured with the British Lions in a career lasting from 1902 to 1921. He went on to become a famous referee and became President of the Welsh Rugby Union in 1955.

Under the captaincy of Malcolm Thomas (1954 -1957), Newport lost only 10 out of 124 games. Thomas played for Wales in two Grand Slams and toured twice with the British Lions.

Brian Price captained Newport and Wales in the 1960s, including Newport’s historic win over the 1963 All Blacks and Wales’ Triple Crown in 1969. He led Newport to the Championship in 1969 with only 4 defeats in 45 games.

In 1976-77, David Burcher led Newport to both Welsh Merit and Anglo-Welsh Merit table titles and runners-up in the Unofficial Welsh Championship. Newport also won a famous cup final against Cardiff under stand-in captain and England international Colin Smart. South African star Gary Teichmann did the same in 2001 against Neath.

The Invincibles

From the start in 1874, Newport RFC quickly established themselves as the top team in Wales. In the first four seasons under the leadership of William Phillips, Newport won all of their games, playing 59 games scoring 87 goals and 148 tries, with only two goals and eight tries conceded. Challenges were thrown down to clubs outside of Wales.

The most famous club in England – Blackheath, was invited to play at Rodney Parade in November 1879. This game was to end Newport’s invincibility. Newport were beaten by eight goals and four tries to nothing. The creation of a national team and the Welsh Rugby Union can be traced back to this game.

Newport soon learnt from the Blackheath defeat, gaining lots of match play and learning to adapt their game against a wide variety of opponents. Nine years later, Newport embarked upon the greatest period in its history.

The 1891-92 season was the start of the greatest period in the clubs history. Newport were undefeated the whole of that season and at its conclusion in 1896-97, had played 170 matches won 143, drawn 14 and lost 13. It was a period of great captains, great play and great success. Never again have Newport had such a galaxy of great players. Newport RFC’s fame spread far and wide thanks to this fantastic team.

In 1922-23 led by their magnificent forwards, Newport went through a season undefeated for the sixth time under the captaincy of Jack Wetter.

Taming the Tourists

Newport has played over 25 matches with official overseas teams since 1888. From the first game against the New Zealand Native team (Maoris) in 1888, Newport has earned a reputation as being a force to be reckoned with.

Newport recorded their first major victory against South Africa in 1912. Australia was defeated 11-0 in 1957 and this victory was to be the start of an incredible period of five games against touring sides with only one narrow loss. A draw with Australia in 1966 was to be followed by Newport’s second victory over South Africa in 1969.

However, it was on a rain soaked Wednesday in October 1963 that the greatest result in the Club’s history occurred in front of a packed Rodney Parade. Probably the finest New Zealand side to visit these shores was defeated by a John Uzzell drop goal to nil. It was to be their only defeat of the tour. The All Blacks’ manager was among the first to admit that “It was Newport all the way. They were the better side and we did not look like scoring”.

The 1963 New Zealand All Blacks were undefeated in 36 of their 37 tour games. One defeat had prevented them from being hailed as invincible. A crowd of 25,000 at Newport’s Rodney Parade had witnessed that one defeat.

Newport RFC Record of Achievement (1875-2017)

·         11 Welsh Championships

·         5 times South Wales Challenge Cup winners

·         2 Welsh Cup wins in 1977 and 2001

·         10 times Snelling Sevens winners

·         Welsh Merit and Anglo-Welsh Merit table titles

·         Defeated South Africa in 1912 and 1969

·         Defeated Australia in 1957 and drew in 1966

·         Defeated New Zealand in 1963 (the only defeat of their tour)

·         Defeated Tonga in 1974

·         Defeated Uruguay in 2001

·         Welsh Premiership winners 2003-04

·         Tier 2 Champions 2016-17

John Barrett, Newport RFC Historian.