Newport dazzle under the lights

Bridgend RFC v Newport RFC 14th December 2023 by John Evans

Having been enforced into a couple of weeks off, due to the weather forcing the postponement of the home fixture vs Neath, and an early cup exit at the hands of Cardiff RFC, meant that the Black and Ambers had a chance to regroup before heading into the Christmas period. The game was moved to a Thursday evening at the behest of S4C and their Clic YouTube channel, on which the game was broadcast live.

Ty Morris selected the strongest side that he could muster, and it was a strong looking XV. Harri Ackerman was a welcome returnee in the centre, whilst the addition of second row, Rynard Landman, would be interesting. Landman was with the Dragons then had a couple of seasons with Carcassonne, in the south-east of France, whilst his family remained in the Newport area. He did have a handful of games in Black and Amber whilst recovering his match fitness and played excellently for us; it was good to see him back.

Bridgend were comfortably mid-table at the start of the game, on 25 league points, five wins and five losses, with six teams below them and six above.

It was a cool, still night as Matt O’Brien kicked off the game in front of S4C’s cameras with Newport attacking the ‘town’ end. Mishandling in midfield was seized upon by Bridgend wing Jakob Williams who sprinted clear. Luckily, the speed of Lloyd Lewis was sufficient to catch the Ravens man and haul him down with just metres to go to the line. Newport secured the scrum put in, but the clearance was made easier when home prop Harry Olding folded, and Newport could kick clear.

Elliot Frewen was his characteristic pinballing self, as he seemed to bounce off tacklers, but was eventually stripped of the ball. Ioan Davies took the clearing kick and charged back at the blue and white jerseys, skipping through tackles. Rynard Landman linked effectively to release Jonny Morris, but his kick ahead went directly into touch.

Another scrum penalty on 6 minutes had Che Hope tap, launching Harri Ackerman into contact. Che Hope linked again, launching Lloyd Lewis on the narrow side, but he was tackled into touch just metres short.

Newport won a lineout and whipped the ball across the field, Lloyd Lewis joining the line at speed. However, a sickening clash of heads occurred when Bridgend’s Jakob Williams tried to tackle Lloyd Lewis. The game stopped instantly, both physio teams rushing on to give their players the best possible care. Both were declared unfit to continue, sensibly, so they were replaced, Oli Andrew coming off the bench to take the now vacant wing slot for the Black and Ambers.

Bridgend opened the scoring on 17 minutes when Newport were caught offside in defence around their 22-metre line. Outside half Rhys Williams did the business for the Ravens, putting his team 3-0 ahead.

Bridgend extended their lead just minutes later, when a midfield scrum wheeled enough to give scrum half Chris Williams a half chance to get away. He split right with centre Tommy Morgan in support. Morgan was hauled down just shy of the line. It looked for all the world like it was held up, but Williams managed to wrestle the ball away from the ruck and keep the move going, reaching fullback Mike Powell. He ran back against the tide and came close, but number 8, Jordan Collier, was around to pick up the ball and touch it down for the try. Rhys Williams added the conversion to make it Bridgend 10 Newport 0 on 20 minutes.

Newport were penalised at the scrum, when Dan Suter slipped, but the Ravens couldn’t extend their lead as Rhys Williams’ kick sailed wide on 22 minutes.

Ben Roach carried a long kick back into the Bridgend half, sprinting before kicking long, making Mike Powell turn in defence. He retrieved the ball but was met with Josh Skinner, doing an impression of a freight train as he ploughed into the defender. Powell did remarkably well to retain possession for his team, but Rhys Williams could only hook the ball into touch. Newport visibly upped the tempo, big forwards running onto short passes at pace, notably Henry Palmer as he made ground and set alarms ringing in the home defence. The ball worked right to Harri Ackerman who seemed to spurn a 3-on-1, opting for contact, but Newport recovered as Ioan Davies fed the ball onto Elliot Frewen to cross for a simple try. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make it Bridgend 10 Newport 7 on 31 minutes.

The Black and Ambers kept up the attack, Matt O’Brien punting Newport to 18 metres out after a penalty award. Line out won, Henry Palmer popped on to Harri Ackerman, legs pumping as he carried blue and white shirts with him. Josh Skinner lunged forward, but the ball passed out from Che Hope to Ben Roach to cross in the opposite corner to Frewen’s earlier try. The conversion was missed, so the score now was Bridgend 10 Newport 12.

Tommy Morgan, the home centre, cheekily got himself in the way to snaffle the restart and power the Ravens forward. Chris Williams was on hand again to prod and probe, catching Newport infringing again, earning another kickable penalty from 20 metres in front of the posts. Rhys Williams made no mistake this time, putting his team 13 points to 12 ahead on 36 minutes.

Ben Roach was lying deep again, waiting for the stray kick to run onto. He carried over halfway before setting up the ruck. Jonny Morris passed out to Elliot Frewen, running like an enthusiastic Jack-in-the-box, as he emerged from a clutch of defenders to pop the ball out to Matt O’Brien. Matt spotted Oli Andrew lurking menacingly on the wing and put in a well-weighted crosskick which bounced nicely. Oli Andrew jinked past covering wing Cameron Ellis and raced in for a try, outstripping the corner-flaggers as he did so. Matt O’Brien added the conversion, making it Bridgend 13 Newport 19 on 38 minutes.

Bridgend weren’t done with the half yet. They were awarded a penalty kick, which they punted to the corner. With the lineout complete, a powerful rolling maul formed, inching closer to the line until Evan Yardley, doing what hookers are supposed to, latching onto the tail of the maul and claiming the score. Rhys Williams’ conversion from the touchline was excellent as the Ravens went into halftime with a slim 20-19 lead.

Game on, then.

Half Time Bridgend RFC 20 Newport RFC 19

Rhys Williams restarted the game, Ben Roach taking the catch and Che Hope kicking the ball clear. Fortunately for Newport, Bridgend’s Stuart Floyd-Ellis misjudged the flight of the ball and knocked it into touch off his shoulder. Further fortune went Newport’s way when a midfield fumble by Bridgend saw Che Hope seize the loose ball before Jonny Morris battered his way into contact. The ball spat out to the right, Oli Andrew making ground before Matt O’Brien spotted Elliot Frewen with a yard of space. One accurate pass and Frewen had wrong-footed Mike Powell to cross for a try. Matt O’Brien added the two-pointer to make it Bridgend 20 Newport 26, with just one minute on the clock in this half, and the try-scoring bonus point secured.

A Newport scrum had Che Hope in position to move the ball right, Matt O’Brien offloading to Ioan Davies, breaking the line at pace with Oli Andrew outside him. The ball moved out to Oli as he blazed over for his second try. Matt O’Brien’s conversion made the score Bridgend 20 Newport 33 on 45 minutes.

Newport made a change in the front row, where Dan Suter and Tom Workman made may for Thomas Davies and Nathan Evans.

Newport were definitely shading the contest now, and a further try only confirmed that. Matt O’Brien turned back into contact allowing Che Hope to find Rynard Landman wandering freely. His jink through a tackle and sweet offload put Harri Ackerman into full combat mode as he bustled nearer the line, until the ball popped out to Jonny Morris who crossed and went a little nearer the uprights to make Matt O’Brien’s conversion slightly less tricky. It didn’t pay off, however, as one Assistant Referee raised his flag while the other kept it lowered. The referee, Mr Jason Bessant, declined to award the kick, so the scoreboard read Bridgend 20 Newport 38 on 55 minutes.

Henry Palmer made way for Wade Langley to complete the new front row, whilst Carwyn Penny went to full back, relieving Ioan Davies of duty.

Bridgend finally won their first penalty of the half on 58 minutes. Rhys Williams banged it exactly where his forwards wanted it, just inches from the corner flag. The rolling maul from the lineout was brilliantly held up by the Newport defence forcing Bridgend to go wide. The Black and Amber defence was brave but eventually ran out of numbers as prop Harry Olding crashed over to score. Rhys Williams added the conversion to make it Bridgend 27 Newport 38 on the hour.

Rynard Landman and Rhys Jenkins were relieved of duty, so Jon Verrier and Lewis David took their places.

Bridgend flanker Reuben Tucker, formerly of this parish, earned Mr Bessant’s ire on 63 minutes for an agricultural challenge on Elliot Frewen that looked more suited to the football field. He was invited to the naughty step while Newport stepped up a gear. The Black and Ambers pushed hard, Lewis David carrying forcefully before Matt O’Brien put in a neat grubber for Oli Andrew to pursue. Mr Bessant disallowed that effort, going back to admonish Tucker, but with the penalty awarded and with quicksilver awareness, Matt O’Brien spotted Bridgend with their collective backs turned, put in a cross-kick for Oli Andrew to latch on and complete the young man’s hat-trick. The score now was Bridgend 27 Newport 43 with 64 minutes played.

A powerful Newport scrum had their opponents on roller-skates on 66 minutes earning the visitors a penalty. Again, Matt O’Brien punted Newport to, roughly, 18 metres out on the Stand side. Matt O’Brien was going through his rolodex of tricks, a no-look reverse spin pass on this occasion, out to Carwyn Penny who bustled forward but lost control of the ball as he got close to the line. Bridgend hoofed it long, but Jonny Morris fielded the kick and set about attacking. Carwyn Penny had resumed his position and was eager to make an impression before Matt O’Brien utilised the kick-pass again, out to Elliot Frewen, who pivoted, left Mike Powell standing and crossed for his third try of the evening. Matt O’Brien added the two points to make it Bridgend 27 Newport 50.

The Bridgend restart went long and, eventually, dead, but Newport couldn’t profit from the scrum, shipping a free kick for an early shove. One more try would have earned Bridgend a bonus point and they set about achieving that. However, the Black and Ambers threw up a solid defensive wall. Jon Verrier was judged guilty of not rolling away from a tackle on 74 minutes and yellow carded, but, even with 14 players, the defence remained resolute. Newport burgled the attacking lineout and belted the ball long. Mike Powell, the adventurous home fullback sought to run back at Newport, but he was nailed, turned over and the ball spirited away to Oli Andrew who displayed jaw-dropping speed as he outpaced most of the Bridgend cover, only being hauled down just short of the line.

Luke Crane had replaced Che Hope by now, and he tried to get Newport scoring again with a quickly taken tap penalty, in the shadow of the posts. He passed left, but the next pass out to Harri Ackerman was too far forward for the big centre to hold and the chance was lost.

As fulltime approached, Matt O’Brien was toying with the defensive line like a cat with a mouse, almost an indifference about his demeanour, placing effortless chip kicks in for Harri Ackerman to run onto, slip passes for Jonny Morris to wreak havoc with until the final denouement; a late penalty which Luke Crane tapped, Bridgend tried their best to stem the tide, but it was Matt O’Brien who jogged around the left of the ruck, took Crane’s pass and virtually strolled in to score the try. He then wandered back, banged over the conversion, and prepared to be interviewed on live telly.

The S4C commentators had given their Seren Y Gem to Matt O’Brien and who could argue with that? Phil Steele purred about his performance on the English language commentary too, later tweeting “I’ve just seen one of the most complete fly half performances for several seasons….Matt O’Brien…hands and a boot so sweet they could have put Willy Wonka out of business”.

As clinical as the team were tonight, and there were excellent performances throughout, tonight was the Matt O’Brien Show.

Newport RFC are next in action on Saturday 23rd December, when a festive visit to our old mates at Pontypool Park is in order. Kick-off against Pontypool RFC is at 2.30pm. Following that, we’re away at Swansea RFC on January 13th, 2024. Our next home game is the week after, on January 20th, 2024, when the Wizards of Aberavon RFC come visiting. Come along and support the boys!

Come on, Newport!

Onwards and upwards Newport.

Your City. Your Colours. Your Club


Final Score – Bridgend RFC 27 Newport RFC 57

Newport RFC Player of the Match – Matt O’Brien