A game of two halves

After a rousing win at Pontypridd in the club’s opening pre-season friendly, it was time to move onto more unfamiliar territory; to Cinderford, and the Beavis Memorial Ground, where Newport had only played once before. That was on August 23rd 2008 when the Black and Ambers secured a 13-24 win after beating the same opponents at Rodney Parade the previous week 18-0.

Cinderford RFC has had some strong links with Gloucester RFC in the past and the city of Gloucester is well represented among the ranks. The club will play in National One this season alongside some well-known rugby clubs as Plymouth Albion, Moseley, Blackheath and Rosslyn Park.

The club setting itself is quite enviable, on the edge of the town centre and surrounded on three sides by a housing estate with a neatly-appointed stand on the fourth. The pitch looked well maintained and in good condition.

Newport were forced into a late change when Geraint O’Driscoll was forced to withdraw due to a niggling injury so Matt O’Brien deputised following his recent trip to South Africa with the Wales Under 18 squad.

Cinderford took to the field in their change strip of navy blue and dark green hoops, black shorts and black socks, their home strip of red, black and yellow being deemed too close a match to the visitors.

Matt O’Brien kicked off with Newport playing towards the town end at shortly after 7.15pm. Newport surged forward and retrieved possession before working left. Jamie Jeune surged forward before the ball went left again. Jeune was heavily involved, making himself available as a neat flick from Josh Reid to Jeune kept the move flowing. Josh Skinner powered into contact before Matt O’Brien could pick a gap for Jeune to burst through and cross for a try in the opening minute. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make it 0-7.

Cinderford over threw a lineout ball on minute four allowing Luke Crane at scrum half to whip the ball way. Jonny Morris, continuing the experiment of playing at ‘13’ scythed through the defence and found Matt O’Brien running in support. He, in turn, had Rhys Jenkins to his right who took the pass around the 22-metre mark to canter in for try number two. Matt O’Brien again added the two-pointer to make it Cinderford 0 Newport 14.

Newport were all over the numerous Cinderford mistakes like a fat kid onto chocolate. Harri Lang chased a long punt forcing Cinderford’s outside half James Butler into a hurried clearance kick. Dan Partridge won the lineout initiating several drives for the line as Garin Harris and Luke Crane stood out. Josh Reid eventually barrelled over the line but was held up. An attacking scrum 5 is usually a handy weapon for the Black and Ambers and so it proved. The Cinderford scrum was eased left allowing Luke Crane to gallop across the line for the club’s third try. Matt O’Brien again added the two pointer to make it Cinderford 0 Newport 21 with just ten minutes gone.

The Newport pack were able to boss the set pieces to the extent that they could deliver whatever ball Luke Crane asked for. A steady scrum allowed Crane to fire the ball out. A punt ahead from Tom Pascoe had the ball rolling end over end up field for Harri Lang to pursue. Lang won the foot race and flicked the ball inside for Jonny Morris to take and perform one of his famous Ninja Warrior finishes as he dotted the ball down while still in mid-air. It was possibly Matt O’Brien’s trickiest kick of the evening so far so there were no complaints when the ball sailed wide of the posts. The score now was Cinderford 0 Newport 26 and Newport supporters were beginning to wonder what exactly was going on. Were Newport THAT good? Were Cinderford THAT poor? All would be revealed.

It took until the 19th minute for the hosts to have any meaningful possession when their big centre, playing ‘12’ managed to skittle a few Black and Amber shirts and encouraged some back row fringe drives. Andrew Mann made a super turnover on the ground but the referee had spotted a high tackle. Cinderford went for the corner. They won the lineout but the drive from number 8 Dan Spencer-Tonks was very upright into contact and Harri Lang had little trouble stripping him of the ball and passing to Matt O’Brien to clear. Incidentally, the referee was notable himself; it was former professional player and England Saxon Nick Wood, the former Gloucester RFC hooker now in a new phase in his rugby career as the man-in-the-middle.

Adam Sabri, recently returned to Newport RFC, broke out of defence on the stand side and set up a ruck. Jonny Morris, deputising at 9, was snagged. Cinderford retrieved the ball but their passing was lateral and tired, so much so that they may as well have put an advert in the Forest of Dean Review reading ‘pass coming at 7.38pm to no-one in particular, waist height, it’s yours if you want it’. Harri Lang sprinted in the sixty metres virtually unopposed. Matt O’Brien added the regulation two points to make the score Cinderford 0 Newport 33.

It was a puzzle. Us Black and Amber supporters have no real idea of the make-up of the Cinderford squad, yet they competed on equal terms last years with Ampthill, Rosslyn Park, Blackheath, sides that we have played and know to be no mugs. Yet here was Cinderford, their big forwards walking between set pieces already while our lot gambolled around like week-old lambs.

Newport were in complete control. Matt O’Brien put in a kick downfield that was designed to make Cinderford decide something, anything. They didn’t and were nailed. Newport turned the ball over and, with pleasing empathy, Harri Lang judged Luke Crane’s perfectly weighted kick precisely, latched onto the loose ball and crossed for his second try out wide. Matt O’Brien couldn’t add the two, so the score now read Cinderford 0 Newport 38 on 32 minutes.

By 35 minutes Cinderford had edged back towards the Newport try line but were let down by poor handling allowing Harri Lang to collect and boot clear. Their big number 12 tried running hard and fast but lost possession on the deck again. Jamie Jeune fed the ball to Matt O’Brien who had Llywarch ap Myrddin, aka Larry, a welcome recruit back to us from Cardiff, in support. Llywarch raced forward with support on both sides but when he was tackled with the ball, even around the halfway line, one couldn’t help but feel that was a try-scoring opportunity lost.

Mr Wood seemed to intensify his scrutiny on Newport as a flow of penalties went against the Black and Ambers, with Rhys Jenkins being spoken to. Cinderford kicked one of those penalties to the corner. They were hampered by only having one genuine lineout option but they won their throw and bumped towards the Newport line. The ball worked wide as a wing jinked and jagged closer until number 8, Dan Spencer-Tonks burrowed over from close range. The conversion was missed prompting Mr Wood to blow for halftime with five minutes stoppage time played and the score seemingly insurmountable for Cinderford.

Half Time   Cinderford RFC 5   Newport RFC 38

Suspicions were raised when most of the players that had worn the Forester’s colours in the first half were quickly back out behind the goal chucking a ball around. What was going on?

A new team emerged from the home changing rooms, fourteen fresh players. Only outside half James Butler remained from the devastating first half. And what a transformation. This was the National One team and it showed. There was a hugely different attitude and purpose from the hosts, much more bristling intent.

Josh Reid conceded another penalty on 43 minutes for a tackle on a player without the ball. Cinderford looked to the corner and set up the maul sucking in the Newport fringe defenders. This simply allowed room on the flank for the scrum half to pop the ball out to centre Jack Hayes and on to wing Ed Bouge to cross in the corner. The conversion was missed and the score now was Cinderford 10 Newport 38

Ed Bouge crossed again on 46 minutes as a simple scissors move in midfield cleaved Newport open. James Butler added the conversion to make the score Cinderford 17 Newport 38.

Newport were listing in open seas. With a very competent, very powerful set of forwards running at them, some elusive and creative backs running around them and a stream of penalties against from Mr Wood, the Black and Ambers were having a proper pre-season work out that will stand them in good stead for visits to the Wern, Cardiff and the like. Mr Wood spoke to Luke Crane, motioning ‘chopsing’ as he awarded Cinderford yet another penalty. They went to the corner and set up a series of drives which resulted in them crossing the Newport line but knocking on. A defensive scrum 5 was smashed by the hosts and they retrieved possession. The ball squirted out of the back of the Cinderford scrum allowing a switch with centre Jack Hayes in midfield. Hayes went close until Josh Skinner closed him down under the posts. Cinderford worked the fringes until centre Terence Barbarinsa got hold of the ball and took the most direct route to score, pretty much over the top of the ruck, reminiscent of Burt Reynolds in The Mean Machine. James Butler added the conversion to make the score Cinderford 24 Newport 38 on 56 minutes.

It took 22 minutes of the second half for Newport to get anything from Mr Wood and that was only because Matt O’Brien was so blatantly taken out in mid-air that he couldn’t really ignore it. Quite what Cinderford felt aggrieved about as Mr Wood marched them back ten metres for chopsing will probably remain a mystery. Newport kicked for position as Morgan Burgess went up at the tail of the lineout to win the ball. Newport set up a ruck in midfield but a stray boot kicked the ball out onto Cinderford’s side and they kicked away. Reuben Tucker was back to help clear up and Matt O’Brien kicked the ball in return. Sam Smith on the wing for Cinderford made a basic error fielding O’Brien’s kick affording Newport a half-decent position but, predictably, Mr Wood found something to negate that and awarded the hosts another penalty.

Cinderford crossed again on 72 minutes when, bustling with verve and intent and Newport somewhat shapeless, Cinderford thrust at the heart of Newport’s embattled defence. The Foresters probed and pushed until Jack Hayes broke clear and passed to wing Sam Smith who wriggled through a tackle to score. James Butler added the conversion to make it Cinderford 31 Newport 38.

Could Newport hang on to the win?

The hosts were in charge, there was no denying that, and James Butler was allowed time and space to pick his line, burst the Black and Amber defence and pick out the effective Jack Hayes to cross for another try. Butler added his conversion to level the scores up to 38 points apiece.

Could Newport hang on and not lose?

It was fairly evident that if any more scoring were to be done then it wouldn’t be done by a Black and Amber. Sam Smith on the wing for Cinderford managed to round Haydn Simons but his pass to support was spilled. As the game entered added time Newport went on the attack. Reuben Tucker and Lewis Smout made determined drives but Haydn Simons was tackled as he kicked and the ball bobbled harmlessly into Cinderford hands. Black and Amber supporters thought the game was up when another penalty was awarded to the hosts in the fifth minute of stoppage as an arm emerged from a ruck to dislodge the ball from the scrum half, compounded by another ten metres for chopsing. Cinderford opted to play ball, rather than kick for goal and the win, but Newport stiffened themselves enough to repel the attack and boot the ball to touch in the seventh minute of stoppage.

Mr Wood decided that enough was enough and a draw was a creditable result for both teams.

This was a thoroughly vigorous exercise that will be much more productive than putting eighty points on a local club side. It allowed the coaches to look at the attacking drills and, more importantly, the defence which, to be truthful, could probably have been better. But that is what pre-season friendlies are for, ironing out these wrinkles so that the club can hit the first Indigo Group Premiership game fully charged and ready for a physical battle.

Thanks go to Cinderford RFC for the fixture and we hope that they got as much out of the clash as Newport did. Good luck to them for their season ahead. They are an excellent club, super clubhouse and very friendly and welcoming. If ever you’re in the area when they’re playing pop along and give them a look. You’ll be entertained

Newport’s pre-season program draws to a close next weekend when they travel across the Severn Bridge to play Dings Crusaders. They are located in the Frenchay area of Bristol and have not faced Newport RFC before. Cinderford supporters spoke very highly of the people and welcome at Dings so why not pop over and support Newport RFC as they finalise preparations for a tough season ahead. Kick-off is at 3pm on Saturday August 31st. There is no supporter’s bus for this game but the club has excellent public transport links, we’re told. See you there!

Onwards and upwards Newport.

Your City. Your Colours. Your Club


Final Score Cinderford RFC 38 Newport RFC 38