Newport RFC v Bridgend RFC- 12th April 2023 by John Evans
The Black and Ambers were in the middle of a heavy run of fixtures against quality opponents in the Indigo Premiership. Following the heartening win at Rodney Parade against an accomplished Merthyr side, it was time to host a resurgent Bridgend RFC at Newport Stadium. Newport had been punished by the visitors at their place in January, when the Black and Ambers had failed to perform and were deservedly beaten. The Ravens have cracked on in 2023 and become an opponent very much to be respected.
The pleasant weather of the previous week had morphed into a wintry squall, heavy rain postponing many local games in the previous 24 hours. The thunder and lightning that struck the Newport area around lunchtime had long passed, and the surface was very acceptable for a game under the floodlights.
Bridgend named a vastly changed matchday 23 for tonight’s game, following their comprehensive demolition of Llanelli RFC last weekend.
Matt O’Brien kicked off, with Newport attacking the Cricket Club end. Bridgend fumbled the ball but managed to clear it, after a fashion. Newport sought to exert pressure right away with Che Hope looking for ball-carriers as the Black and Ambers went through the phases. Tom Workman carried hard into contact, followed by more of the big forwards piling in, but Che Hope’s pass wide was hurried; no matter as Newport had a penalty coming. Going to the corner, and Bridgend defended well as a pass to Newport second row Barney Langton was spilled. With Bridgend drifting offside, Newport could roll the dice again. It was more traditional this time as the rolling maul creaked and groaned like an old locomotive before nudging across the line for James Benjamin to claim the 4th minute try. The conversion sailed right of the posts, so the score was Newport 5 Bridgend 0.
Newport infringed at a 7th minute scrum prompting Bridgend’s Harri Ford to opt to kick for the points, from fully 44 metres. As he lined up his kick, the strong, gusting wind toppled the ball of its kicking tee after the run-up had commenced, ensuring that the forced kick went well wide of its intended target. Matt O’Brien’s restart caught itself in a gust which took it out on the full. The restart was to Bridgend’s advantage, an attacking scrum on the Newport 22. Thankfully for Newport, Reuben Tucker, the burly Ravens number 8, formerly of this parish, made a hash of getting the ball away, Lennon Greggains getting a boot to the ball before Matt O’Brien added strength and direction. Che Hope was alive to the possibilities and set off in pursuit of the bobbling ball, getting a hand to it as it crossed the line, but he was judged to have knocked it forward in the act of scoring so the referee, Mr Tom Spurrier, denied the try.
Bridgend had the opportunity to clear their lines but failed to do so. Ben Roach charged a kick down allowing Newport to set up camp in the Bridgend 22 again. The Ravens were rugged defenders, but the weight of numbers, Harri Ackerman blasting into contact, Craig Hudd being held by one leg as he tried to wriggle free, before Lennon Greggains powered in, at an angle, to make the possession count and add a second try. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make it Newport 12 Bridgend 0 on 14 minutes.
Newport were beginning to dominate and that was rewarded with try number three just minutes later. Harri Ackerman sliced through the Bridgend defence with Matt O’Brien and Chay Foster-Smith running in support either side. They trio homed in on the line before Che Hope was picking off runners again. A boomed pass out to Ben Roach, on the left wing, drew all the defender’s attention, before a simple pass infield to Elliot Frewen left enough room for the winger to skip through to score. The wind had picked up enough that the uprights were now constantly moving, so Matt O’Brien’s kick going wide wasn’t a massive surprise. The score now was Newport 17 Bridgend 0.
Bridgend centre Rhys Williams kicked the ball to the corner, but Jonny Morris was on hand to cover. Craig Hudd was, inevitably, close in support before Newport tried to play out of defence. Matt O’Brien looked to create something, but there was nothing really on and, in the confusion as Bridgend pressed, the ball spilled loose for scrumhalf Conor Tantum to pick up the ball and jog across the line for one of the easier tries he’ll ever score. Harry Ford added the two-pointer to make the score Newport 17 Bridgend 7 on 26 minutes.
Harri Ackerman restored the 17-point margin just three minutes later after Matt O’Brien had put a smart kick upfield, helped along by the Bridgend lineout throw being not straight. A big scrum from the Black and Ambers had them going forward, allowing Che Hope the opportunity to whip the ball out to Matt O’Brien and Harri Ackerman before the young man showed remarkable strength and determination to muscle through the Ravens defence and dot the ball down and claim Newport’s try-scoring bonus point. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make it Newport 24 Bridgend 7 on 30 minutes.
As the half wore on, Newport were exerting all the pressure, but Bridgend were always able to get a body part of some description to the ball, frustrating Newport in their attempts to add to their scores. One final flourish to the half saw Chay Foster-Smith try to pop the ball away, whilst dragging a couple of white and blue shirts with him, but the elaborate pass went forward, and Bridgend wing Cameron Ellis could belt the ball away to safety.
Half Time Newport RFC 24 Bridgend RFC 7
Bridgend restarted with replacement Luke Price taking over the 10 role and Harry Ford being utilised deeper in the backs. Newport infringed for no-release in the tackle soon on, Price pumping Newport into the corner, but Ben Roach came up trumps in the lineout with a useful steal to claim possession, while Geraint O’Driscoll returned the kick, with interest, into the Bridgend half.
The Ravens were playing more directly now, and Luke Price was utilising the wind to decent effect as he pinned Newport into the corner again on 47 minutes. Thankfully, the Bridgend lineout failed with Barney Langton claiming the ball for Newport allowing Che Hope the space to boot the ball away. Ben Roach picked Bridgend’s pocket again and Newport were able to work away from trouble once more.
Newport’s first half dominance had been washed away with the cascading rain that drifted across Newport Stadium. Penalties were given away too easily, passes stopped going to hand, which, combined with some determined attacking from the visitors, made it all hands to the pumps for the Black and Ambers. Still, the defensive discipline was terrific, and no penalties were lost in their own 22, an amazing effort.
Newport burst back into life on 55 minutes when a tremendous line by Jonny Morris, the Ninja Warrior back for his first game since January, cut the Bridgend defence wide open. Che Hope was following up rapidly, took the flat pass and glided in to claim the try. Matt O’Brien added the conversion to make it Newport 31 Bridgend 7.
Matt O’Brien was withdrawn to make way for Matt Bancroft on the hour. Sadly, one of Bancroft’s first actions was to get clobbered around the head by Bridgend flanker Dafi Davies. Elliot Frewen had found a yard of space to jink and sprint away before setting up a ruck. Che Hope forwarded the ball to Bancroft, but the clumsy flanker came in, arms swinging and made direct contact to the head. Mr Spurrier wasted no time in his decision and brandished the yellow card at Davies who was given ten minutes to think about what he’d done. Thankfully, Matt Bancroft seemed unruffled by this and carried on.
Bridgend took a well-crafted opportunity on 71 minutes when they had Newport under pressure again. Luke Price spotted a one-on-one between Jonny Morris and his wing, Cameron Ellis. A clever kick bumped and bounced along, sitting up nicely for Ellis allowing him to sprint in to score. The conversion was missed, so the score now was Newport 31 Bridgend 12.
It was the last word to the Black and Ambers, though, as Dafydd Buckland added a bit of burnish to the score. A penalty saw Matt Bancroft punt Newport to the 22-metre line, terrace side. Lennon Greggains, who was certainly in the discussion for Man of the Match, took the lineout while Henry Palmer, on for James Benjamin, latched onto the tail as the rolling maul edged forward. Buckland seized the ball from Palmer’s hip-high position, broke right, jinked right, left, turned the defenders inside out and dotted down for a classic scrumhalf’s try. Matt Bancroft’s conversion was unsuccessful as Mr Spurrier called time on a productive evening for Newport RFC. The win took Newport above Ebbw Vale in the division and into the Play-off spots. Hopefully, Ty Morris and the management team can utilise the resources available and ensure that the club can compete on all fronts right until the very end of the season.
Full Time: Newport RFC 36 Bridgend RFC 12
Newport RFC are next in action on Saturday April 15th when the travel to Llanelli RFC for another Indigo Premiership fixture. Following that is the Big Day Out to Cardiff when we face Cardiff RFC in the Welsh Cup final at the Principality Stadium on Sunday April 23rd, kicking off at 5.35pm and broadcast live on S4C – on the proper telly! They’re two terrific games to look forward to!
Onwards and upwards Newport.
Your City. Your Colours. Your Club
Newport RFC Man of the Match; Craig Hudd
Final Score – Newport RFC 36 Bridgend RFC 12