Derek Brockway said that it would be like this. By mid-afternoon the sky above Newport had become menacingly dark. By tea time it was joined by lashing rain and high winds. Rodney Parade would be no place for the faint-hearted,
Come kick-off time the rain was coming in almost directly off the Severn estuary being driven in pulses across the glistening surface of the pitch while the posts bowed and bent in the wind. It became clear that we were not about to witness a game of rugby, more a lottery of ‘who could concede the least penalties in the most dangerous positions’. Scoring tries was a far-fetched notion that may only be possible by a five metre set piece or being awarded directly by the referee.
Matt O’Brien kicked off for Newport as the Black and Ambers attacked the North Terrace. Swansea, less ‘the Whites’ and more ‘the Maroons’ on this occasion, tried to bump the ball out of defence but didn’t make much ground before opting for touch. Kyle Tayler jumped at the front of the line, any other jumping position being rendered virtually redundant in these conditions, and Newport spread the ball. Josh Skinner was scythed down by Swansea prop Greg Cunniffe and was penalised for holding on in the tackle. The wind was strong enough to ensure that the kick to touch on the Hazell side had almost zero distance and went straight into touch. The poor hookers were having the Devil’s own job of getting the ball into the line out straight. Newport conceded another penalty, this time Swansea outside half Steff Williams opted to fizz the ball low and hard along the surface of the pitch to try to enable some distance. Again the lineout ball veered wildly giving Newport a scrum which Matthew Reed exited well, handing off challengers before releasing Elliot Frewen, but he was soon dragged into touch.
A powerful 14th minute scrum from Newport squeezed their opponents and had the ball squirt out at the side. Geraint Watkin, restored to start at scrum half for Newport, seized the opportunity and set play up. The Black and Ambers thundered into the Swansea defence, Matthew Reed and Kyle Tayler, especially, determined to leave an imprint of the Newport badge on the Swansea jerseys. Jonny Morris attempted to change things around and almost sliced through before being swallowed up, but the ball soon changed sides again. Swansea number 8 Morgan Morris placed a cute kick for wing Ryan Griffiths to chase, with some success, before Geraint O’Driscoll kicked the ball back from whence it came, and then some.
It was becoming a series of scrums with some other stuff in between. The front rowers certainly earned their pasta and protein shakes on this occasion.
Newport did manage to get to a decent position on 18 minutes after Josh Skinner hacked a loose, bobbling ball ahead. Swansea full back Josh Thomas tried to clear but put a foot in touch as he did so. However, another penalty was conceded when Newport seemed to fail to release the ball in the tackle and the position was lost. The Black and Ambers were haemorrhaging penalties somewhat, some in tricky positions too.
A jump by Andrew Mann on opposition ball appeared to have been well stolen by him but the referee, Mr Aled Evans, saw a knock-on and Swansea were in a half-decent place on the field. From an attacking scrum on the Newport 22 metre line, Steff Williams, the outside half for Swansea, attempted a drop goal that sailed well right of the posts.
It took until the 26th minute to trouble the scoreboard operator. A silly, needless penalty by Swansea captain Jon Fox, when he barged a Newport player out of the way on his own 22, was suitably punished by Matt O’Brien to make the score Newport 3 Swansea 0.
Almost from the restart Swansea conceded again. The conditions were such that a 55 metre shot at goal wasn’t impossible and merited a go. Matt O’Brien’s attempt had the distance but not the accuracy, sadly.
Swansea had been playing a decent game of foul weather rugby, kicking for corners, short passes, making Newport work. Where they seemed to struggle occasionally was in the scrum. A massive Newport shove on 31 minutes was rewarded with another penalty. Matt O’Brien opted to kick to the corner but the ball missed touch and rolled harmlessly dead. Newport then compounded the error by conceding a free kick at the scrum for an early shove.
Another opportunity to add points came on 36 minutes when Swansea flanker Jon Vaughan was penalised for not releasing the ball in the tackle. Matt O’Brien took the kick to double the lead to Newport 6 Swansea 0.
Approaching half time, Swansea lofted a high ball which Geraint O’Driscoll took before trying to wriggle free of tacklers. The ball went left when Matt O’Brien worked a three-on-one overlap. He had Jonny Morris sprinting to his right and passed to him. Morris arrowed forward before being tackled around 35 metres out, sadly unable to reposition the ball in his hands to make a further pass. Swansea, though, conceded another penalty which Matt O’Brien nailed on 40+2 minutes to make it Newport 9 Swansea 0 on the stroke of half time.
Halftime – Newport RFC 9 Swansea RFC 0
Just as Swansea trotted back out to resume the game expecting the strong wind at their backs, it had dropped to barely a breath compared to the earlier howling gale. Even the rain stopped for a few minutes. Steff Williams, making his debut for the Whites, restarted. Swansea patiently built phases before centre J. Rhys Williams kicked ahead. With Elliot Frewen and Geraint O’Driscoll both covering there appeared little danger, but O’Driscoll’s finger-tips let him down as the ball fumbled forward as he tried to gather it. Swansea scrum half Josh Guy broke right from the scrum. There followed a super defensive effort from the Black and Ambers which slowly eased Swansea away from the danger zone. Centre R. Rhys Williams tried to break away but met Matt McGovern full on. Both teams showed good patience in their efforts and it was Newport who blinked first as Swansea earned a penalty. They fluffed their lines though when Josh Guy tried to tap and go, passed to flanker Jon Vaughan who fumbled and let Newport off the hook.
Swansea had a 49th minute penalty for Newport entering a ruck from the side but Steff Williams pulled his kick across the face of the posts.
Chay Smith did well to isolate Swansea wing Ryan Griffiths and earn his side the turnover ball which Swansea then improved on by collapsing the scrum. Matt O’Brien kicked to touch but the conditions were still tricky enough to make progress difficult.
Newport gave a penalty on 59 minutes which Steff Williams kicked into the Newport 22 metre area. The Whites kept the ball well, though with little headway being made, until yet another Black and Amber penalty was given. Steff Williams made sure with this kick making the score Newport 9 Swansea 3 on the hour.
Matt O’Brien set up a Newport line out which replacement Dan Partridge took. The ball spun out, via O’Brien, to Matt McGovern who put in an excellent touch finding kick, bouncing and slithering into touch on Swansea’s five-metre line. Swansea second row Matt Dodd claimed the ball in mid-air but, on landing, the ball squirted under his body and onto the Newport side, scrum to the Black and Ambers. New props Lewis Smout and Garin Harris piled on the pressure, buckling the Swansea scrum and earning another penalty. “Scrum again” was the option called. The ball went right this time, David Richards, Matt McGovern and Matt O’Brien going close, seemingly close enough to touch the post protecting pads, but sadly the ball slipped from Ryan James’ grasp as he was about to launch the next wave of attack; the first genuine try scoring chance of the game for Newport.
Newport tried to return to attacking ways when Joe Bartlett took a line out well before Ryan James kicked to the corner to make Swansea’s Duane Eager retreat to cover. Swansea cleared the ball and were awarded a penalty where the ball landed for a late tackle. Steff Williams nursed the touchlines with his kick and conceded a penalty themselves. There was still danger for Newport, with just a six-point margin. One slip in this position and the win would be heading west, literally. Newport wrapped it up when a Farrell-esque challenge from Swansea centre J. Rhys Williams had Mr Evans award a penalty to Newport on their own 22. Matt O’Brien consulted with the referee before booting the ball into touch and putting the four points in the bank.
From about half an hour before kick-off, it was clear that this was not a game for miss one passes, looping runs and Matt O’Brien’s usual trickery. This was about getting numbers in the rucks, dominating collisions, tackle, tackle, tackle. It worked. It was a win, four points, move on.
Next up for Newport is a series of tough away fixtures. Next Friday, November 16th, we visit Eugene Cross Park, the home of Ebbw Vale RFC for another Principality Premiership Fixture. Following that is a journey to Sardis Road to visit Pontypridd RFC on November 23rd. The Friends of Newport Rugby will be running buses to both of these fixtures. Buses will depart at 5.30pm from outside the Riverfront Theatre. Come along and give the Black and Ambers your support!
Newport Man Of The Match – Kyle Tayler
FINAL SCORE _ Newport RFC 9 Swansea RFC 3