Newport RFC : 1997/8 Season Summary

Season 1997/8
P40 W18 D0 L22 : F1053-A1121

Premier Lge Record : P14 W0 D0 L14 F224 A484 (Tries 23)

Capt : Ian Jones

Steve Fenwick the former Bridgend and Wales centre took on the coaching role and long serving hooker Ian Jones the captaincy in 1997/8. Wales U21 centre Jon Colderley moved to Moseley, centre Adam Palfrey to Neath but Shaun Connor turned down a £30,000 offer to play for Bedford. Former Canadian lock Gareth Rowlands (Bridgend) joined on a 2 year contract. Other signings included utility back Chris John from Cardiff and wing Andrew Lewis rejoined from Treorchy. Realising that the season was going to be difficult, Newport tried to recruit but time was not on their side. Newport had to be thankful to the Vice Presidents without whose support they would not have survived. Amongst the new-comers were Otago centre Paul Cooke, who never lived up to his CV, wing Leigh Faulkner (Newport & Wales Youth), full-back Gareth King (Newport Youth), outside-half / centre Scott Mitchell (Newport U21) who scored 234pts for Newport Youth this season, wing Chester Robinson (St Peters, Cardiff), outside-half Matt Robinson (Newport U21), back Morgan Lovell and future Wales international centre / wing Matthew J Watkins (Newport & Wales Youth). Wing Neil McKim, brother of Ian, also made his debut – he scored 19 tries for Newport Youth in the season – as did scrum-half Alex Clifford, son of former player and coach Roger.

Shock of the season was Newport’s 29-27 win over much fancied Pontypridd at Rodney Parade in the Welsh Cup Q/F. Newport had to be commended for this magnificent and deserved win which did not go down too well with the Pontypridd supporters some of whom booed their players including Wales’ Neil Jenkins. On of the heroes was out-side half Shaun Connor who scored 19 pts including a late match clinching dropped goal which raised the roof at Rodney Parade. They then lost heavily to Ebbw Vale in the S/F when they were seriously hit with front row injuries with former international Mark Davis having to come out of retirement. The backs were often blamed for Newport’s demise but it has to be said that as they were seldom given the chance to hone their skills in real match situations and they were almost inevitably found wanting when they were finally called into action by slow ball from the forwards. Only 23 tries were scored in the 14 league matches while Premier league winners Swansea scored 68. Newport also has their fair share of bad luck eg when Cardiff snatched a win at Rodney Parade with a late long range penalty by out-side half Lee Jarvis.

After losing all 14 of their league matches and finishing 8th and bottom of the league they also realised that they had to appraise their playing staff. However Newport RFC were handed a lifeline by Cardiff and Swansea insisting on playing in England in friendly matches in the hope that they would be part of a future British League and so Allan Lewis (ex-Moseley), who was appointed as new Director of Rugby, found that he would be in charge of a Premier side for the coming season rather than a First Division side. Players of the season were prop Rod Snow and back row Jan Machacek while young player of the season was Ian Gough. Young centre Matthew J Watkins also showed promise while flanker Richard Parks the most improved player. Shaun Connor was leading points scorer with 298pts from 30 games (120pts in League) and leading try scorers were Jan Machacek 19 and wing Martin Llewellyn 12 (5 in League). Jan Machacek made the most appearances with 33 with captain Ian Jones32, Ian Gough 31, mark Workman 31 and Shaun Connor 30.The Boucher award went to Richard Parks and the Webber Bowl to chief coach Steve “Junna” Jones. Players’ Player was Martyn Llewellyn.

Ian Gough played for Wales U21, Wales A and won his full Welsh cap in South Africa in June 1998. Prop Sven Cronk played for the Barbarians as did Jan Machacek and Rod Snow who also played for Czech Rep and Canada respectively.
Matthew J Watkins, Alix Popham and Gareth King all played for Wales Youth (U19’s)

Long serving Campbell Black resigned as Honorary Secretary and Committee member in July 1999 and replaced by Chris Hill. The services of Backs coach Stan Liprot were dispensed with and Steve Fenwick took over on July 1st 1997. Tom David resigned as Director of Rugby due to personal and work commitments on Nov 30th 1997 and former player Jim McCreedy accepted the position of Team Manager.