Newport Edged Out

Llandovery RFC v Newport RFC – 11th May 2024 by John Evans

So, it comes down to this. A long, hard season boiled down to one 80-minute winner-take-all game. Whether one agrees with the principle of a play-off competition is a moot point now; these were the rules of the Indigo Premier League last September and we all knew that. S4C were able to stage a program on television against the two best domestic teams in the country and it promised to be a cracker, two teams who let the ball do the work.

Llandovery have been outstanding this season. They have ability to spare and have put teams to the sword within 40 minutes. They have very few weaknesses and are excellently coached. But so are Newport, and the prospect of having a final shot at winning the league had Black & Amber supporters salivating at the prospect.

The Drovers already had the Welsh Cup in their trophy cabinet for this season, having beaten Merthyr in the final at the Principality Stadium, so they were looking at a clean sweep of all domestic competitions. The program notes pointed out that, last season, it was the Drovers that finished second in the league, behind Cardiff, and travelled away to win the league; could that be an omen, perhaps?

It was a beautiful day in mid-Wales as Matt O’Brien lead the Black & Ambers onto the field, marking his 200th appearance for the club. Also of note was that it was Dai Richard’s 50th game for Newport. Llongyfarchiadau, both. A large, vocal travelling support made sure that the squad knew that they had support on the terraces.

Matt O’Brien kicked off in front of S4C’s cameras, Elliot Frewen demonstrating Newport’s intent by chasing the kick, pressuring Llandovery from the off and forcing a kick to touch. Ben Roach took the ball off the top, Che Hope cleaning up the loose ball. It was spilled in contact, but a penalty came Newport’s way when Dai Richards was taken out in mid-air as he caught the ball.

Llandovery had lots of possession, but the Newport defence was terrific, barely letting the green-shirted attackers get across the gain line. Joe Westwood clattered into Drovers 10 Ioan Hughes, the outside half needing some attention afterwards, but the TV cameras proved that the hit was quite legal. Llandovery managed to steal Newport ball, but the long kick was allowed to roll dead by Dai Richards and the Black & Ambers could create again.

Drovers’ skipper Lee Rees, at scrumhalf, ranged around the back of the Newport scrum so far that he left a yawning gap for Ben Roach to pick up and go. Che Hope was up in support, naturally, and he popped the ball out to Elliot Frewen. He scorched towards the tryline, but Macs Page, wearing 14 for the home team, managed to get back and intercept Frewen’s attempted pass out.

Newport were slightly loose as Llandovery broke out their own 22. Lee Rees took a penalty quickly but was nailed equally promptly. The Black & Amber defence held firm as Newport regained possession from a lineout, enabling Matt O’Brien to put Newport back upfield with a terrific 50:22 kick. Newport turned the screw, going phase after phase. Elliot Frewen went close, Nathan Evans even closer but it was left to Josh Reynolds to drive low and pump over the line for the game’s opening try. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make it Llandovery 0 Newport 7 with 12 minutes played.

Che Hope kicked from Ben Roach’s catch, encouraging Elliot Frewen to chase. He snagged fullback Harri Doel, successfully turning the ball over, but the pop pass out from the ruck was fumbled and momentum was lost.

Ioan Hughes put in a wonderful kick to the corner following a penalty, but the Drovers lineout misfired as the ball threw long and the jumping pod went short. Josh Skinner powered away with the ball and Che Hope followed up to boot the ball away from danger.

The Black & Ambers defence was solid as Llandovery tried to push and pull them around the field but yielded a penalty for no release in the tackle. Going for the corner, second row Chris Long took the catch and set up the maul, hooker Taylor Davies latching onto the tail. Lee Rees commanded play as he looked for green runners, but there was gap enough for centre Adam Warren to blast over out wide to score the try. Ioan Hughes added the conversion, equalising the score to Llandovery 7 Newport 7 with 21 minutes played. As good as Newport’s tackling had been, just two penalties put the Drovers in position to score.

Matt O’Brien put in a smart chip to get through the Llandovery defence, which almost came off perfectly, but Elliot Frewen had strayed slightly offside.

Che Hope was creating gaps from nothing as Ben Roach released Chay Foster-Smith. Nathan Evans took the ball into contact, but Osian Davies, the Drovers 6, went high in the tackle and made contact with the big prop’s head. The referee, Mr Rhys Jones, formerly of this parish, consulted the TMO, Mr Keith David who refereed our win against Ebbw Vale last week, and decided that contact had been made, but mitigating circumstances warranted just a yellow card rather than a straight red.

Matt O’Brien positioned Newport some 20-metres out from the Llandovery line. As usual, Ben Roach took the lineout ball, Che Hope then executed a move going blind with Roach following. The big number 8 barrelled towards the line but was floored. Josh Reynolds was available to carry the move on, but Matt ‘Brien was flattened as he took the flat pass. Mr Jones seemed to have spotted a knock-on in the process as the fists began to fly, prompting the referee to upgrade Llandovery’s decision to a full penalty for “retaliation”.

A superb 34th minute pass by Matt O’ Brien put Josh Reid into space. Joe Westwood was up in support, but desperate last-ditch defence was keeping Newport at bay, the Drovers celebrating every little victory as if it were a try. Ultimately, Newport were penalised for holding on in the tackle but rather than the orthodox escape route, Lee Rees tapped quickly and set off, offloading to Macs Page as he went. They combined to get 40-metres from their try line before the Black & Amber curtain suffocated them.

The pace of the game was stunning. You daren’t take your eyes off the pitch for a moment.

Newport sustained the pressure but were unable to make it count on the scoreboard. A slightly misplaced kick by Matt O’Brien cannoned off Chay Foster-Smith’s leg, causing chaos in the Llandovery defence, but they dealt with it and scrambled the ball clear.

A long Llandovery kick rolled over the Newport tryline. Elliot Frewen had it well covered, picking the ball up and passing to Dai Richards to deal with. But rather than go long, he tapped the ball over the line, picked it up and ran, surprising even his own mates. Newport streamed forward, attacking well as they entered the home 22. A final pass out looked to be creating a second Newport try for Che Hope, but a green clad arm shot up and knocked the ball forward. There was indignation amongst the travelling support that the offence wasn’t judged as deliberate and at least a penalty awarded, rather than just the scrum. The ball spun out to Matt O’Brien, but he was clattered by Rhodri Jones, the home 12 and Newport conceded for no release in the tackle.

Newport compounded the situation as Chris Long was taken out mid-air in the lineout Ioan Hughes pumped the Drovers into the corner. Long had recovered enough to take the lineout. Osian Davies, restored to the field following his yellow card, drove forward by Elliot Frewen was on hand to get over the tackled man, get hands on the ball and earn Newport the penalty which brought the first half to a close.

The half may have been low-scoring, but it was absolutely compulsive viewing. This was rugby being played in the right way.

Half Time: Llandovery RFC 7 Newport RFC 7

Ioan Hughes restarted the game, Matt O’Brien taking the catch, Josh Skinner retrieved the ball from the ruck allowing Che Hope to kick clear. The surprising shape of Rynard Landman was first on the scene to catch Harri Doel and down him, but Llandovery went through the phases. Lee Rees kept the Drovers moving before flanker Stuart Worrall was released. He passed out to Rhodri Jones who went for the corner. Josh Reynolds put in the tackle, but it looked like Jones had scored the try. Mr Jones went to the TMO for a final judgment. All four referees went through the available TV angles regarding foot in touch and grounding and awarded the score. Ioan Hughes added the conversion to make the score Llandovery 14 Newport 7 on 44 minutes.

Tom Workman and Kyle Tayler took their place on the field, relieving Josh Reynolds and Josh Reid of duty, and young Workman was straight into it as he pounced on a loose ball from Llandovery, earning his team possession. The Drovers were starting to play smart, slowing the game down, giving their big forwards chance to breathe.

Wade Langley came on for Henry Palmer, whole Carwyn Penny replaced Dai Richards on 52 minutes.

Newport appeared to have nailed a Llandovery scrum on 54 minutes, yet conceded a penalty, Ioan Hughes kicking to the corner. The ball worked out from the line out, Kyle Tayler put a hit in on Rhodri Jones, the ball going forward in contact. It popped up into the hands of Adam Warren and he sprinted to the line with Josh Skinner in pursuit to dot down over the line. Mr Jones seemed unsure so, yet again, asked the TMO for assistance. Minutes later, it was decided that it was ‘dim cais’, as they say. The score remained Llandovery 14 Newport 7 with 56 minutes played.

Newport broke from deep on 59 minutes, Chay Foster-Smith sprinting from deep, releasing Elliot Frewen who continued before finding Che Hope to his right. He was caught, but the cavalry had arrived by now, Wade Langley working hard and making himself available, but the rapidness of the attack had evaporated, and Llandovery successfully slowed Newport down to a snail’s pace, eventually isolating Kyle Tayler and reclaiming the ball.

Chay Foster-Smith was remarkably effective isolating Aaron Warren, the Llandovery 11, on 63 minutes, earning the Black & Ambers a penalty for not releasing. From the lineout, tackles rained in on the Newport players. Wade Langley made the ball available, Joe Westwood powered half through a tackle before providing a pass for Chay Foster-Smith to scamper over and score, but he was flattened by an Adam Warren tackle from behind and spilled the ball.

Llandovery earned themselves a free-kick from the ensuing scrum and kicked long. Carwyn Penny fielded the kick and set up the ruck. Elliot Frewen darted along the left-hand side of the field, before the ball worked back right. Barney Langton-Cryer fought hard to get in position to keep the move going before Joe Westwood punctured a hole in the Drovers defence allowing Lloyd Lewis to sprint forward, getting to within a few metres of the line. Che Hope got hold of the ball and fashioned a pass out to Ben Roach to cross in the corner. Yet again, Mr Jones wanted a second opinion and found a reason not to give the try as there was obstruction in the build-up. Again, dim cais. The score remained Llandovery 14 Newport 7 with 66 minutes played.

Newport earned a freekick themselves on 72 minutes following a dummy throw at the lineout. Garin Harris, on for Nathan Evans trucked the ball up, but Newport were suddenly looking weary. They continued working hard, Che Hope pivoting around to provide ball for Josh Skinner. Anyone available was used as a carrier, Joe Westwood, Garin Harris, Elliot Ferriman and Kyle Tayler were all utilised. Barney Langton-Cryer was isolated in possession, though, as Llandovery booted the ball forward. Carwyn Penny and Lloyd Lewis combined to run out of defence, but Lloyd Lewis was caught. Again, the cavalry were back in strength and succeeded in garnering a penalty in a potentially sticky situation.

The last changes were made as Jonny Morris came on for Elliot Frewen, while Dafydd Buckland replaced Che Hope.

Into added time, and Newport earned a scrum penalty as a Llandovery prop hinged. Matt O’Brien kicked to the corner. Ben Roach went up for the ball and the rolling maul set on him. Wade Langley got the ball on his hip as backs joined the maul, but Llandovery did exceptionally well to hold up the maul and wrap it up, earning the turnover.

Time was running out for Newport. Llandovery were slamming the defensive doors on the Black & Ambers and, at times, Lee Rees appeared to be playing Newport on his own, such was his ability to pop up and direct the green shirts around him.

Llandovery had the trophy in their sights and Newport were being made to rue their missed opportunities in the first half, in particular. An 87th minute penalty, with Newport lying across the ball prompted Lee Rees to ask Ioan Hughes if it was within his goalkicking range, He nodded and lined up the shot which was long enough but bounced off the left-hand post. Ben Roach took the free ball, trucked it up, Dafydd Buckland carried the move on, as did Carwyn Penny, until Matt O’Brien lofted across a kick to Jonny Morris, but the replacement wing had his foot in touch.

The Drovers eased their way to the end of the match, setting phase upon phase as pods of forwards just kept the ball and prevented Newport from getting near it. Finally, Lee Rees passed the ball back to Ioan Hughes who belted the ball into touch to ensure the Indigo Premier trophy stayed at Church Bank for another season.

Congratulations to all at Llandovery RFC, worthy winners and demonstrably the best team in the league this year.

Full Time: Llandovery RFC 14 Newport RFC 7

The only real difference, ultimately, was that Llandovery have found a way to win, to edge out games like these. Experience gained from actually playing in games like these. Hopefully, this can act as a springboard for our club to do the same. We’ve made huge strides in the last few years, firstly under Craig Warlow, then even further under Ty Morris and his staff. We need to start learning the little steps that can win us prizes like this in the future. The future is bright, the future is Black & Amber.

On Friday May 17th, Newport RFC are holding their End of Season function at the Pen and Wig, on Stow Hill. There will be hot food and live music, along with the usual prize-giving. Please email for more information.

On Saturday September 7th, we celebrate the club’s 150th season! There is a gala dinner arranged at the Celtic Manor. Phil Steele will host the evening, which will also feature live music from Big Mac’s Wholly Soul Band. The Gold tables have already sold out, so again, please email for more information.

Thanks for sticking with the club. Have a good summer, see you in August!

And, more than ever, onwards and upwards Newport.

Your City. Your Colours. Your Club


Newport RFC Man of the Match; Ben Roach

Final Score – Llandovery RFC 14 Newport RFC 7