The last time that Newport RFC clashed with Merthyr was in the Welsh Cup Final in the Principality Stadium in May. The Black and Ambers took a schooling from a well-drilled side that had done its homework on their opponents. Would the shadow of that fearsome battering have any bearing on this fixture?

Following the defeat to Pontypridd the previous weekend there was the regular roll-call of the walking wounded after clashing with both the Sardis Road-based team and their unforgiving pitch. Some squad members aggravated old injuries, some picked up brand new, box fresh, wounds. The squad selected to face Merthyr had a distinctly unfamiliar, but thoroughly capable, look. Newport RFC are, naturally, grateful to The Dragons for the permits of Rhys Lawrence, Huw Taylor and Lennon Greggains.

The misty rain drizzled down as Merthyr’s Gareth Davies kicked off from right to left in front of the main stand only for Newport to instantly concede a penalty. Merthyr, confident in the own abilities, went to the corner. Flanker Nick White jumped at the tail of the line out and had the maul form around him. Newport conceded again for attempting to pull the maul to the ground. Merthyr repeated the process, slightly more successfully this time as they launched a series of drives at the Newport line. Flanker Hemi Barnes powered into the Black and Amber defence before Merthyr captain Craig Locke spilled the ball in contact. Newport, awarded the defensive scrum, improved on that when the referee, Mr Ian Davies, penalised Merthyr for collapsing the scrum and Newport could clear.

Merthyr hooker Matthew Dwyer scooped up a loose ball and started a move off as he found his backs. A long kick rolled into touch on Newport’s 22-metre line. Merthyr then stole Newport’s lineout ball before searching for their first try. Mr Davies seemed to award Merthyr a very long advantage after Josh Reid was singled out as being offside. Merthyr’s Arron Pinches brought players into space well before it was decided that no advantage had been gained. Merthyr repeated their penalty option of the opening moments, down to the same lineout jumper, but didn’t fuss with the series of drives, they just put their juggernaut pack into gear and rumbled forward before the almost inevitable try, fittingly by Matthew Dwyer who started the move. The conversion by Matthew Jarvis made the score Merthyr 7 Newport 0 on 14 minutes.

Newport earned a penalty of their own when Ryan Bates was taken clumsily in mid-air by Merthyr second row Paddy McBride. Geraint O’Driscoll, playing the doubly unfamiliar role on this occasion of inside centre and acting captain of Newport RFC, kicked the ball up to Merthyr’s 22. Morgan Burgess was hoisted aloft to claim the ball before it went across the backline. Wing Harri Lang took it into contact where Merthyr conceded another penalty. Haydn Simons calmly slotted the three-pointer to make it Merthyr 7 Newport 3 on 16 minutes.

Newport were meeting Merthyr’s fire with fire of their own. Josh Reid performed a terrific turnover of possession in midfield allowing Ryan Bates to jink around before feeding Morgan Burgess. Some lightning fast handling between Haydn Simons, Harri Lang and Ryan Bates found enough space for Chay Smith to take the final pass and scorch across the line before turning and heading under the posts. Haydn Simons bagged the easy-looking two-pointer to make it Merthyr 7 Newport 10 on 22 minutes.

Merthyr wing Kyle Evans took the kick return from Newport and tried to evade the double tackle from the Black and Ambers. As he was snared by Harri Lang he contrived to spill the ball. From the scrum, after some previous shenanigans, Mr Davies brandished the yellow card at both hookers, Rhys Lawrence for Newport and Matthew Dwyer for the Ironmen. A quick reshuffle of personnel and Lennon Greggains managed to salvage the ball from the base of a wheeling scrum. The ball made its way right again to Harri Lang who was well tackled. Elliot Frewen was in and battling for the ball and, as he tried to move the ball away, Merthyr were pinged offside. Haydn Simons nailed the penalty to make the score Merthyr 7 Newport 13 on 28 minutes.

Josh Reid was having a storming afternoon in the Black and Amber back row, creative and destructive in equal measure. He performed a second turnover on 30 minutes to get his team moving forward again.

Newport conceded a penalty for ‘hingeing’ at the scrum. Merthyr angled to the corner again but Morgan Burgess was highest and palmed the ball back toward Ryan Bates who fired the ball wide inside his own 22. Elliot Frewen sprinted around to make an extra wing beyond Harri Lang and blazed along the tramline before kicking ahead as the Merthyr cover closed in. As the ball bounced Mr Davies’ arm went towards the Newport end signalling an advantage. When none accrued he went back to 45 metres from the Merthyr line, signalled for a high tackle, and awarded Newport a full penalty. Haydn Simons kick, unfortunately, just grazed wide of the sticks. From the dropout restart the Merthyr pack were oddly static allowing Newport second row Huw Taylor to get amongst them and take the catch. Newport thumped away at the white, green and yellow jerseys to no real gain until a lost ball turned the tables. A tremendous defensive set from Newport limited any potential damage.

From a seemingly harmless position, Merthyr struck again. Prop Louis Jones was put into space and rumbled around the Newport defenders. Jones kept his calm and picked out scrum half Adam Hoskins in support. Hoskins sprinted away clear for a 36th minute try which the deadly Matthew Jarvis had no trouble bettering. This made the score Merthyr 14 Newport 13.

A frantic finalé ensued. A scrum dissolved leading Ryan Bates to believe that the ball was out as he hacked it away. “Not so”, said Mr Davies. Merthyr kicked their penalty to the corner but Dan Partridge got a big hand to the ball to palm it back on Newport’s side. Haydn Simons kicked the ball away to around 38 metres infield. Merthyr’s Arron Pinches again showed some cultured touches as he put Kyle Evans into space. Chay Smith brought Evans down but flanker Jack Perkins was on hand to carry Merthyr’s momentum on. Josh Reid dealt with Perkins efficiently before Elliot Frewen stepped in to relieve Merthyr of possession. Haydn Simons cleared the lines again but only to the Irons number ten, Gareth Davies. Davies spotted an opportunity wide on the right where he had Kyle Evans and Adam Hoskins both on hand. Davies fed Evans but Evans’ flashy pass inside simply cannoned off Hoskins’ thigh. Geraint O’Driscoll took the loose ball and, showing ambition, whipped the ball wide to wing Andy Evans. Evans ran hard to get Newport away from trouble, however, a penalty was conceded by an unseen Black and Amber. Merthyr booted the ball back to thirty metres out but, following the lineout, Newport hooker Rhys Lawrence picked a pass off beautifully to get Newport going forward again. Sadly, the basketball-style overhead pass from Ryan Bates to Harri Lang was forward bringing an end to a breathless spell of rugby.

Half Time   Merthyr RFC 14   Newport RFC 13

Josh Reid’s efforts were at an end as he made way for Matthew Reed in the second half. Haydn Simons restarted the game and Ryan Bates caught the return kick well. Newport kept the ball well but the Merthyr defence gently squeezed Newport backwards. Ryan Bates did his very best to inject some variety into the Newport attack but that squeeze was difficult to break. Newport lost possession enabling Merthyr’s Gareth Davies to kick to the corner. Elliot Frewen managed to return the ball a little way but it barely mattered as the lineout throw was not straight. The Ironmen then compounded the situation by shoving early at the scrum. Matthew Reed didn’t need a second invitation to get his backs running. He found Chay Smith who put Elliot Frewen in space before he reached the halfway line. Geraint O’Driscoll kicked long before Merthyr’s Kyle Evans returned it even longer. Ryan Bates was covering the touchline, and everywhere else it seemed, as he gathered the ball and ran back at the Ironmen drawing a high tackle as he went. Haydn Simons kicked to the corner for the lineout but Newport failed to keep control of the pill and the position was lost.

Newport were wide awake on 49 minutes when the ball worked right from a Merthyr lineout. The usually impeccable Arron Pinches put in a loose pass which Harri Lang plucked off the floor to sprint clean and clear for the try line without a hand being laid on him. Haydn Simons added the two-pointer to make the score Merthyr 14 Newport 20.

Merthyr were stung and upped their intensity in attacking Newport. The Black and Ambers matched their efforts resulting in a fabulous possession turnover by Lennon Greggains. It was heartening to see the players backing and encouraging each other during the game. Four points were suddenly not so far away.

Newport suffered a setback on 59 minutes when Huw Taylor was sent to the bin by Mr Davies. Lennon Greggains had become isolated and conceded a penalty for hanging onto the ball. Merthyr kicked to the Newport 22 metre line as The Wern floodlights flickered into life. The juggernaut maul got into gear again and Huw Taylor found the temptation to drag the maul to the floor too much. With Newport now a forward light, the rolling maul try was, once again, inevitable. Indeed, it was Louis Jones who found himself at the tail of a muscular rolling maul to cross for the score. Matthew Jarvis added the conversion to make the score Merthyr 21 Newport 20 on the hour.

Newport got their noses back in front just two minutes later when the Ironmen wandered offside around 35 metres from their line. Haydn Simons made sure of the kick to move the scoreboard up to Merthyr 21 Newport 23.

Merthyr were exploiting the lack of beef in the Newport pack in Huw Taylor’s absence; a Newport scrum folded giving the Ironmen a penalty which was booted to the corner again. The rolling maul was effectively used again and it was hooker Matthew Dwyer who coupled to the rear of the maul to score his second try, and his team’s bonus point try. Matthew Jarvis added the extras to make the score Merthyr 28 Newport 23 on 68 minutes.

The rain got a little heavier again, to the point where a technician like Merthyr’s Richard Powell struggled with a pass and bounced the ball forward. Geraint Watkin, on at scrum half for Ryan Bates, secured the ball at the scrum but the over-eager Merthyr loose forwards conceded a penalty. Haydn Simons kicked Newport to the Merthyr 22, main stand side. Morgan Burgess was up at the tail of the line to deliver quick, clean line out ball to Geraint Watkin. The ball passed left out to Chay Smith but the Ironmen’s defence failed to spot Elliot Frewen gaining speed and traction from full back. He scythed through the line, taking Chay Smith’s pass at full tilt and cleaved Merthyr wide open to score a wonderful try worked out on the training grounds at Rougemont school. Haydn Simons added the conversion to make the score Merthyr 28 Newport 30 with 77 minutes played.

If the end of the first half was frantic then this was something else. Newport put in massive defensive efforts to keep Merthyr at bay. The Ironmen kept possession for fully two minutes until they spilt the greasy ball under pressure. Matthew Reed played the ball out to Geraint O’Driscoll, probably the calmest head at The Wern, who belted the ball downfield to give Merthyr a lineout on their own 22 with barely seconds on the clock. Merthyr demonstrated their desire to win by trying to run the ball from deep with little end result until Newport conceded a penalty. Merthyr booted themselves back up to the Newport 22-metre line. The Merthyr juggernaut got going again but found that their full-blooded rolling maul was unsuccessful. They launched a series of drives at the Newport line, each seeming to get marginally closer to the Newport line than the last, until the ball worked itself free of a Merthyr hand and onto the end of hooker Henry Palmer’s boot to be hacked into touch to bring the game to a close.

That was some performance by the Black and Ambers, complete commitment and desire from each player, 1 to 23. It was clear that the Cup Final aftermath had absolutely zero bearing on this fixture, that’s gone and in the past. Most players on that occasion were absent on this. This was its own ‘thing’, a demonstration of the spirit and talent amongst our players that can only bode well in this most perilous of seasons. There was some debate about the Man of the Match award but, among a series of headline performances, Geraint O’Driscoll was outstanding, a colossus, and rightly deserved the accolade.

Newport RFC are next in action on Saturday 8th December when we have yet another tough assignment, a road trip to Llandovery RFC to face the Drovers in a Principality Premiership fixture. The weekend after, Newport are at home on Sunday 16th December when we welcome Carmarthen Quins to Rodney Parade. Kick off time for both games is at 2.30pm. The Friends of Newport Rugby Trust have organised a bus for supporters to travel to Llandovery. If you would like to book a seat please get in touch with the Trust as soon as possible.

Onwards and upwards Newport.

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