Newport RFC v Bridgend RFC 9th November 2019 by John Evans
After a nervy, but ultimately splendid, win away at Llandovery, it was essential that the Black and Ambers backed that up with a performance to a visiting Bridgend team that, despite a home win against all-conquering Merthyr and a few narrow losses, were rooted to the foot of the table. This was a ‘game in hand’ following its original postponement after the sad passing of Bridgend RFC chairman Derrick King and the opportunity was taken to play this weekend, a cup weekend, following both team’s first round exits.
The torrential rain that poured onto Newport would have made the Rodney Parade surface quite slippery but, by game time, the rain had desisted to allow both teams the opportunity to actually play some ball-in-hand rugby.
Following an impeccably observed minutes silence on this Armistice weekend, Matt O’Brien got things underway by kicking off towards the North Terrace and Bridgend scrum half Chris Williams. He returned the kick allowing Newport to run back at the Ravens. O’Brien, Dai Richards and Kyle Tayler all managed to make ground but, crucially, Newport were wrapped up by the visitor’s defence who earned the turnover. At the scrum, Newport appeared to have the shove but the front row were penalised for standing up in, allowing Bridgend to clear. Newport soon retrieved possession and booted upfield. Bridgend full back Owen Howe seemed awfully ponderous as he gathered the ball and chose his kick which bounced of the roof of the Hazell stand. Dai Richards, alert and aware, caught the falling ball and took a quick line out to Matt O’Brien. The referee, Mr John Darcey, visibly held his arms aloft, motioning play on, as O’Brien skipped along the tramline as Richards hared along in support. Executing a simple two-on-one, O’Brien made the sympathetic pass to Richards to allow him to sprint across the line for a cracking try. Matt O’Brien’s conversion was unsuccessful making the score Newport 5 Bridgend 0 on three minutes.
Bridgend were awarded a kickable penalty on 6 minutes when Josh Skinner was pinged for not rolling away from a tackle but Owen Howe’s kick sailed harmlessly wide, just as the showers stopped and the sun even threatened to put in an appearance.
Newport demonstrated to Bridgend just how potent their defence has become recently as, following a poor clearance kick, the Ravens set about attacking the Black and Ambers. Newport patiently made their tackles until the opportunity came to isolate the ball-carrier, flood the tackle area, march over the ball en masse, and invite the Bridgend backrow to try and enter the ruck from an offside position and, hey presto! There’s your penalty. Matt O’Brien booted to the corner while Kyle Tayler was hoisted high at the front of the lineout. Newport began battering away at the blue and white-shirted defence, Geraint Watkin popping the ball up to a series of willing runners. Josh Skinner made good ground but the defence was resistant. It took a moment of Matt O’Brien inspiration to unpick the lock; with seemingly a two-on-three situation ahead of him, O’Brien placed a delicate kick using the outside of his foot to set up a race between Jonny Morris and Bridgend’s Dewi Cross. It looked like a tight race but Morris won it, touching down to score Newport’s second try. The conversion went wide making the score Newport 10 Bridgend 0 on ten minutes.
Newport were beginning to have a few problems at scrum-time. It could easily be argued by supporters of both teams as to who was at fault, Bridgend’s Cai Lewis appeared to not be driving straight very often, while Newport’s Tom Piper appeared to be collapsing. It’s difficult to tell from the sidelines just what was happening; was one leading to the other? If so, who was instigating? On 20 minutes, Mr Darcey felt that it was Lewis at fault as he clearly drove across and up in one movement. Matt O’Brien punted to the corner again to set up a series of drives at the Bridgend line. Louis Jones drove hard into the guts of the defence before Kyle Tayler took over. Tayler was halted but he managed to bobble the ball into space and into the path of the onrushing Elliot Frewen. Frewen tapped the ball ahead before being sent sprawling following a deliberate trip. Mr Darcey consulted with his Assistant Referee before calling over Cai Lewis to brandish the yellow card and invite him to take ten minutes on the naughty step.
From that penalty Newport went to the corner and tried to set up a rolling maul but that soon collapsed. Newport poured forward again but Bridgend were just about holding out. Geraint Watkin made a lunge for the line but was just short before Bridgend offended again. Matt O’Brien quickly tapped the ball before passing to the unmarked Josh Skinner who crashed over the line near the posts for the Black and Amber’s third try. Matt O’Brien successfully added the conversion to make it Newport 17 Bridgend 0 on 25 minutes.
Bridgend were clearly stung into action. Their kick-off fell to Elliot Frewen who was quickly closed down. The ball moved out to Geraint O’Driscoll who was forced into as last second change of mind as his exit to the left was now blocked. He boomed a pass right to Dai Richards but it fell short of the fair-haired fullback and the Ravens had an attacking scrum just metres from the Newport line. Newport’s pack held firm but the intricate passing from Bridgend’s Jamie Murphy simply ended up on the deck for Geraint O’Driscoll to belt clear. Harry Griffiths was nearly first to the loose ball but Bridgend were back smartly and could regroup.
With a kickable penalty to the Ravens on 29 minutes, the fact that Owen Howe punted to the corner, rather than take the three points, was evidence that the visitors were chasing the game already. During the charges, where Bridgend genuinely looked like they might threaten the Newport line, there was a series of shipped penalties; high tackles, pulling down lineout jumpers, the lot, but Bridgend could do nothing with them other than kick to the corner and hope for the best. These phases petered out when the muscular Newport defence isolated lock Ben Jones and he conceded the penalty for not releasing in the tackle.
Newport went back on the attack and played with an advantage for a while after Matt O’Brien was tackled early following another Ravens penalty. The ball spread wide to Jonny Morris but no real advantage came. O’Brien kicked to the corner as the lineout ball went to Josh Skinner at the tail. The rolling maul soon splintered as Bridgend got amongst it. Newport drove on but Bridgend were defiant. As they rushed up quickly, Matt O’Brien ran out of options. His snatch at a drop-goal was the best he could do with what was in front of him, but it sailed wide of the uprights.
The half ebbed away as Bridgend tried to construct something but multiple knock-ons soon put paid to any ambitions they may have had. There were a few handbags waved between a few players before Mr Darcey had decided that enough was enough and it was time for a break. With a scoreline like that, it would suggest that Newport RFC had done very little wrong.
Half Time Newport RFC 17 Bridgend RFC 0
The significant change at halftime was the entire replacement of the front row. Messrs Jones, Whitson and Piper were off and Messrs. Smout, Dwyer and Harris took the stage. Matt Dwyer, the former Ospreys and Merthyr hooker was drafted in to try to ease the club’s chronic shortage in that position.
Andrew Mann, on at the tail end of the first half for the crocked Dan Partridge, took the restart. Kyle Tayler mopped up around him allowing Geraint Watkin time to put in a box kick back into Bridgend territory. Bridgend knocked on under pressure but the scrum was fluffed as poor control at the base had Geraint Watkin in all sorts of trouble and the visitors could strip him of possession and boot clear. Bridgend then were rewarded further with a free kick following Newport closing the line at the set piece. The visitors drove at the heart of the Newport defence but won a second free kick. They chose to scrum but hadn’t bargained with the new front row. Their scrum splintered as they slid backwards. Scrum half Chris Williams could just about get the ball away to Jamie Murphy but they proved again to be masters of their own downfall.
Bridgend were into what was probably their best phase of the game. They began to threaten properly. They were awarded another penalty at a lineout allowing Jamie Murphy to punt to the corner on the Bisley side. The Ravens hammered away at the Newport defence until centre Stuart Floyd-Ellis appeared to be through with just Elliot Frewen to beat. Frewen, however, was waiting. In one movement, Floyd-Ellis was tackled, stripped of the ball and it was out to Joe Bartlett to set up a ruck. Newport could move forward with intent until Ben Jones, the Bridgend lock, dived across an already tackled Matt O’Brien and conceded a penalty.
Geraint Watkin gave way to Luke Crane on 55 minutes. Crane began to fizz passes around, Matt O’Brien had all the time and room to go through his repertoire as he tried to pick open the Bridgend defence to earn Newport’s bonus point try. Geraint O’Driscoll put in a smart kick for Jonny Morris to chase into the in-goal area but it was too close to Bridgend’s Julian Mogg to be a real competition.
Even with twenty minutes to go, the natural pessimist Newport supporter that I am made a note that “Dwyer throwing well at lineout, not looking like they’ll slip now”. Which is quite remarkable of itself as it’s usually assumed that Newport can lose a game from anywhere. But worse, much worse, was to follow for Bridgend. A huge 62nd minute scrum from the Black and Ambers shattered the visitors. The ball squirted loose for Josh Skinner to pounce on and claim. Lewis Smout was soon on hand only for the sound of skin-on-skin contact and the sight of Smout rubbing the back of his head. In frustration, no doubt, but number eight Iestyn Merriman had punched Smout in full view of the Assistant Referee and the entire Bisley Stand. There could only be one card colour for that and Mr Darcey soon flourished a straight red at Merriman. Any ambitions that Bridgend had of salvaging anything at all from this fixture had just jumped on the Megabus out of town.
Newport had a spell of being utterly dominant in all facets. The Bridgend scrum was now barely clinging on for dear life while Luke Crane pulled players onto him to run. Jonny Morris ran into the visitor’s 22-metre area, Crane recycled and pulled off a super underarm and back-inside pass to Elliot Frewen, tireless Joe Bartlett was on hand to set up again allowing room for Llywarch ap Myrrdin, a replacement for Dai Richards, to skate around the outside of the defence and cross for the all-important bonus point try in the corner. The conversion was missed making the score Newport 22 Bridgend 0 on 70 minutes.
The scrum was evened up on 72 minutes when Matt Dwyer was yellow carded for a tip tackle. From the penalty, James Little, the other Bridgend lock on show, took the ball well and allowed his team a platform to try and rid themselves of the ‘nil’. They went through phases but ultimately knocked on again. A late scrum was somewhat ragged but Bridgend managed to extract the ball from there briefly until Joe Bartlett shut it down and regained possession for Newport. Luke Crane was half-caught by Jamie Murphy, the Ravens 10, but Julian Mogg fumbled. The ball popped up to Harri Lang, on as a replacement on the wing, and he had acres to run into with Llywarch ap Myrrdin in support. Lang’s run meandered infield as he reached Bridgend’s 40-metre line and ultimately spluttered as his pass to Elliot Frewen was mis-timed and the flying fullback over-ran it.
Even in stoppage time, Bridgend couldn’t get the basics right as a lineout move called simply went to the hands of a static and earthbound Andrew Mann. Newport thrust at the Bridgend backline but, following, a knock-on by Newport, it was effectively ‘job done’.
This pleasing result for the Black and Ambers fully backed-up the win at Llandovery last time out, proving that it wasn’t a fluke. Equally pleasing was the nil handed out to Bridgend. It’s been nearly four years since an opponent was last ‘nilled’ in a league game, back on December 5th 2015, when a hapless Neath RFC were trounced 44-0. The fact that Newport have conceded no tries over two games is quite remarkable too, demonstrating a terrific defensive effort by the squad.
Tougher tests await and that starts next Sunday when Pontypridd RFC come to town for an Indigo Group Premiership fixture. Kick-off is at 2.30pm again. If we could replicate the support that the team had against Bridgend for the rest of the season then it may well prove to be a season to remember. Bring your mates, have a few beers and shout out for your Black and Ambers!
Onwards and upwards Newport.
Your City. Your Colours. Your Club
Newport RFC Man of the Match – Joe Bartlett
Final Score – Newport RFC 22 Bridgend RFC 0