Bridgend RFC v Newport RFC 4th January 2020 by John Evans
With the Christmas break receding from view it was time to go back to work. It happens to us all and it’s no different for Newport RFC this year. Having an enforced break of two weeks over the holiday meant that the Newport squad could rest, refresh and recharge for the second half of the campaign ahead. The Black and Ambers are perilously close to being involved in a relegation scrap alongside Ebbw Vale and our hosts on this occasion, Bridgend RFC. A win on the road at the Brewery Field would put a little ‘clear blue water’, as the cliché goes, between Newport and the Ravens. One could only hope that the squad had not been tucking away the heroic amounts of Christmas pudding and egg nog that the rest of us seemed to manage.
A reasonable-sized crowd gathered in the main stand at the Brewery Field for this Indigo Group Premiership fixture, which was pleasing to see. It was obvious that there weren’t many neutrals attending either, with colours fixed firmly to the mast for most observers.
A late enforced change by Newport RFC saw Tom Pascoe withdraw after tweaking a hamstring during the warm-up necessitating the use of Connor Edwards from the reserves to start. Adam Jones, attending the game as a spectator and, having paid his £10 entrance, was hastily summoned to fill the empty seat on the bench!
Matt O’Brien kicked off for Newport with the Black and Ambers playing left to right in front of the main stand. The ball was kick-returned allowing Newport to start building an attack. Kyle Tayler took a pass while on his knees but retained possession while Josh Skinner barged ahead with ball in hand. A pass away from Matt O’Brien was spilled so Bridgend could boot the ball clear temporarily.
The Bridgend lineout was showing early signs of trouble as the two ‘pods’ of jumpers split. The ball sailed through the hands of its intended recipient and into the waiting grasp of Josh Skinner. Skinner surged close to the line, hooker Matt Dwyer angled a run to get closer before Dafydd Buckland whipped the ball left from the base of the ruck. Sadly the pass out to Elliot Frewen was too low in front of him. The lineout throw wasn’t straight by Ravens hooker Iestyn Merriman so the pressure remained. The Black and Amber’s front row went to work on their opposition causing them to fold. Matt O’Brien booted to the corner following the penalty award. The catch was taken and the rolling maul set up but Bridgend prop Cai Lewis was over-exuberant in defence, however. He was singled out for collapsing the maul and earned himself a yellow card while the referee, Mr Rhys Jones, jogged under the sticks to award a penalty try. That made the score Bridgend 0 Newport 7 with 10 minutes played.
Bridgend made heavy weather of making ground following the restart. The Newport defence repelled each and every attack forcing the Ravens to boot for position via scrum half Chris Williams. Matt Dwyer’s throw sailed over the heads of the Newport lineout but Bridgend flanker Joe Grabham couldn’t control the ball. Matt O’Brien kicked advantage away prompting Ravens full back Owen Howe to run at the Newport defence. The hosts won the ball back at the ruck but Newport were over-eager in defence themselves and conceded the penalty. Owen Howe stepped forward and slotted the three-pointer to make it Bridgend 3 Newport 7 with 14 minutes gone.
Debutant Ben Carter, a product of the Dragons Academy and Wales Under 19s second row, proved his ability by having an enormous say in the next Newport score. A hand from Carter hauled Ravens scrum half Chris Williams into the close contact he sought to escape. He was relieved of the ball instantly, Elliot Frewen emerging with it before he set off toward the try line. The ball went right finding prop Lewis Smout in the rarefied air of midfield before he passed on to Harri Lang who jinked onwards. Joe Bartlett arrived in support popping a pass to Josh Skinner who popped a pass out of contact to the young man from Caldicot to crash over for a popular score amongst the Newport pack. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make the score Bridgend 3 Newport 14 with 16 minutes played.
Elliot Frewen left his wing to run a line into midfield and support his centres. Jonny Morris took the ball from the ruck and took the shortest route forward before being hauled to ground. Ben Carter secured a loose midfield ball before Dafydd Buckland placed an inch-perfect kick into the corner on the stand side. Again, Bridgend’s lineout wasn’t straight so Newport were awarded an attacking scrum five. Buckland fed O’Brien who waltzed his way towards the line while Kyle Tayler was more agricultural in his approach. Daf Buckland whipped the ball to O’Brien again who had Jonny Morris running onto the ball at speed. Morris, as usual, wouldn’t be denied as he powered through tacklers to claim try number three for the Black and Ambers. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make the score Bridgend 3 Newport 21 on 28 minutes.
Ariel tennis followed as Newport looked for position while Bridgend seemed reticent to test the Newport defence to destruction. They made a breakthrough on 34 minutes when a kick from centre Connor Edwards cannoned off a Bridgend shin. Whilst Edwards was trying to get back to secure possession he was spotted shirt-pulling by Mr Jones. Outside half Jamie Murphy punted to the corner to set up position. Flanker Dafi Davies peeled and made a dash down the blind side but was simply hauled into touch by Josh Skinner. Newport cleared, after a fashion, but were aided again by Ravens hooker Merriman who was having a poor game at the set piece. Bridgend coach, and former professional Steve Jones, a hooker of some repute, must have been spitting sparks. The story went that the cows in the local area were disturbed by the news that Iestyn Merriman received a banjo from Father Christmas. It now transpires that they, too, see the irony of it.
Bridgend were relying on their kicking game, but that wasn’t working. Owen Howe appeared to be kicking aimlessly while a kick from wing Julian Mogg was just poor as it went straight to Matt O’Brien who heard Dai Richards bellowing up the outside like the Red Dragon Express enabling Newport to attack again. Luckily, for Mogg at least, his team-mates were able to cover him and the threat nullified.
With stoppage time being played, Bridgend were gifted a kickable penalty for a silly misdemeanour as a stray Newport boot kicked the ball in a Bridgend ruck. Owen Howe was called forward, but his kick sailed wide as the half-time whistle sounded.
Half Time Bridgend RFC 3 Newport RFC 21
Bridgend had been undeniably poor. Newport supporters couldn’t, surely, expect the Ravens to provide another forty minute performance that soporific in nature, could they?
Josh Skinner was replaced by Andrew Mann at halftime following an injury. Jamie Murphy restarted the game for Bridgend and there were some signs of improvement as number 8 Morgan Strong broke a tackle and charged into the Newport half. Bridgend threatened to cause trouble for Newport but a weak pass from Bridgend went to ground and was secured by Ben Carter on the deck.
Dai Richards made a good stepping run as he worked Newport up into an attacking position. Matt O’Brien carried the run on but was tackled and stripped of the ball by flanker Joe Grabham. Bridgend cleared to around 24 metres out. Andrew Mann took the lineout ball at the tail before the ball whizzed wide. Harri Lang took an early pass and sprinted towards the line as the cover defence descended on him. Lang’s airily floated pass back inside to Daf Buckland, however, was forward and the opportunity to claim the try bonus point was missed for now.
For now. Newport were attacking strongly, Joe Bartlett carrying the ball into the heart of the Bridgend defence while Dai Richards ran an arcing line as he brought Kyle Tayler in on the angle. Tayler bludgeoned his way forward, over the line and down, with the try awarded despite being draped with blue-shirted defenders, some of whom looked faintly bemused at the score being given. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make the score Bridgend 3 Newport 28 with 45 minutes played.
Bridgend started their scoring in earnest on 49 minutes when centre, and captain, Nathan Edwards grabbed a try. Bridgend worked the ball away from a scrum via Jamie Murphy who crabbed across field looking for a runner. Travis Huntley was that man who punctured the Newport defence before Murphy regathered and popped the ball out to Edwards who crossed out wide. Jacob Chilcott, on as a replacement and wearing jersey number 24, assumed kicking responsibilities and made the score Bridgend 10 Newport 28.
Suddenly, Bridgend appeared to wake up. Good inter-passing from the Ravens along their left flank made ground, prop Rhodri Apsee carrying hard before passing to scrum half Chris Williams to canter in for an easy score. Chilcott’s conversion was remarkable in that it hit the crossbar and the right-hand post before bouncing out, leaving the score at Bridgend 15 Newport 28.
Newport swapped their front rows on 54 minutes, Messrs Smout, Dwyer and Piper could rest while Messrs Preece, Palmer and Harris put in a short shift.
Matt O’Brien put his shoulder into the dirty work on 56 minutes as he effected a turnover. Henry Palmer came away with the ball but the home defence had a new sense of urgency about it and was nowhere near as frail as the first half. Kyle Tayler skipped through a tackle to get to halfway before Newport explored their options to progress further. They tried using the rapier option offered by Elliot Frewen but he spilled the pass. Bridgend winger Dewi Cross was alert to the possibilities but his kick ahead was too heavy and rolled dead for a drop-out 22.
A powerful Newport scrum on 59 minutes splintered the Bridgend pack on the halfway line. Matt O’Brien’s penalty kick to the corner landed with laser-guided precision and settled around the six metre mark from the Bridgend line. Joe Bartlett took the ball without jumping to set up the rolling maul but Bridgend shipped a penalty. Newport relaunched the lineout with Bartlett jumping front. Kyle Tayler took a dip at the line before Daf Buckland whizzed the ball out to Dan Preece to batter forward before Buckland recycled the ball on to Matt O’Brien to dive across for the try. He converted his own score to make it Bridgend 15 Newport 35. That would be win in the bag, thought us Newport supporters. Not necessarily.
Bridgend had switched hookers with Garin Lloyd now filling that role, while Jacob Chilcott relieved Jamie Murphy of outside half duty. Suddenly, the Ravens were revitalised. Newport conceded a penalty for side entry to a ruck on 64 minutes. Bridgend went to the corner for second row Ben Jones to take the catch and set the roiling maul up. Centre Nathan Edwards burst onto the ball while Murphy looped around and threatened the Newport line. A long pass went left from the ruck out to wing Dewi Cross to pick up and coast in for a try. Jacob Chilcott added the conversion to make the score Bridgend 22 Newport 35.
Bridgend were fighting hard for something, anything, from this fixture. They were going through a long spell of multi-phase play, carrying hard and easing the Black and Ambers nearer to their own line. Jacob Chilcott spotted that Newport were lying flat in defence and put in a cross-kick for Dewi Cross to run onto and sprint around towards the posts for their bonus point try. Chilcott added the conversion to make the score Bridgend 29 Newport 35 with 72 minutes played.
All Newport had to do now was give this resurgent Raven a cold shower, shut up shop and walk away with the five league points. A ruck on the Bridgend 22 metre line on 75 minutes saw the ball kicked directly to touch. Joe Bartlett took the line out but, perplexingly, Mr Jones spotted an infringement by the Black and Ambers and awarded Bridgend a penalty. The crowd roared their approval and encouragement as Bridgend looked on course to pinch an unlikely victory, unthinkable from being 3-28 adrift. It was squeaky bum time, as they say at Old Trafford. The lineout was completed but Bridgend lost possession and Newport had a scrum. On 78 minutes, Newport lost that scrum against the head as Bridgend wheeled, which was further compounded when Newport stood up in the scrum and shipped a penalty. With stoppage time being played, the kick went to the corner. Sadly for Newport, Garin Lloyd’s throwing in was about 80% more efficient that Iestyn Merriman’s. The rolling maul rocked and rumbled and looked for a weakness before firing the ball wide only for Harri Lang to intercept and kill the danger. Unfortunately for Newport, Mr Jones had spotedt another Newport penalty. The lineout was completed again but the Newport forwards made the weakness themselves this time as Mr Jones spotted deliberate collapsing, awarded Bridgend the penalty try and yellow-carded Henry Palmer with 80+1 minutes played. The score was Bridgend 36 Newport 35.
There was still time to play. Newport, with a sense of desperation were trying to create things, Matt O’Brien was bringing players onto his passes but the blue defence was firm. Newport progressed to forty metres out, roughly along the ten metre tram-line when a Bridgend forward, clearly over-excited at the prospect of a win, tried to gather the ball. Mr Jones had no hesitation in awarding a penalty to Newport, but, with five minutes of stoppage played, there was little option other than for Matt O’Brien to take a shot at goal. He was clearly in the groove, so it was Death or Glory.
The silent ground heard the sweet strike of boot on leather as the ball climbed straight and bisected the posts to a collective exhale as the Bridgend supporters realised that their hopes of clinging onto a win had been snatched away due to one silly mistake and one fantastic goal-kick. Sport can be very cruel at times, but what drama.
Newport RFC are next in Indigo Group Premiership action next Friday when they host Aberavon RFC in a game to be televised by BBC Wales. Why not come along and make some noise for your mighty Black and Ambers! Following that, Newport have a run of home fixtures. On Sunday 19th January the host Swansea RFC then, on Friday January 31st, we host Ebbw Vale RFC. This is a decent run of home games for our club and, hopefully, will help us climb away from the lower reaches of the league.
Onwards and upwards Newport.
Your City. Your Colours. Your Club
Newport RFC Man of the Match – Rhys Jenkins
Final Score – Bridgend RFC 36 Newport RFC 38