Pontypridd RFC v Newport RFC 29th February 2020 by John Evans
It’s been a funny old month for Newport RFC. A good home win against Swansea followed by our fixture against Llandovery being postponed by order of the Rodney Parade Management, then the away fixture against Merthyr being postponed due to some damage done to their ground during “Storm Dennis” that seemed to only be found the day before the game, despite them playing Swansea during said storm and nobody noticing any damage at the time, then that being announced to the world via social media rather than through the conventional channels. As I say, a funny old month. And now, here we are, playing on a Leap Day against a club that are, arguably, the benchmark club in our division. Pontypridd have performed to such a high level over so many years that their record can only be admired and respected. Their visit to Rodney Parade in November was a hard lesson for the Black and Ambers in closing out games from a winning position as Pontypridd roared back from being 35-22 down to win 35-37 at the death.
The town of Pontypridd had suffered badly during the recent storms with parts of the town centre being flooded and many homes and businesses suffering the effects of water damage, so with more heavy rain in the preceding days, and the advent of Storm Jorge, it was only around 11am on the day of the game that the police gave the all-clear to travel to the area. We encountered hailstones on the journey up the A470 followed, at 1.40pm, by snow then, around 2.10pm, bright sunshine; truly ‘four seasons in a day’. Still, a decent crowd had gathered at Sardis Road to watch the game hoping to be entertained by some good rugby.
Pontypridd kicked off through their outside half, Diggy Bird, with Newport defending the clubhouse end of the pitch. The ball missed most people but evidently skimmed Elliot Frewen’s shinpad as the Touch Judge awarded the hosts an attacking line out. Pontypridd set about building phases in order to suck in the Newport defence. Andrew Mann and Jonny Morris made the attack stay honest as they almost disrupted a ruck and snaffled possession. Pontypridd brought wing Dale Stuckey in at an angle but a defiant tackle from Matt Dwyer stopped him in his tracks. However, Newport encroached, giving the hosts a simple penalty option to start the scoring. Diggy Bird took the points on offer with a kick from 25 metres to make it Pontypridd 3 Newport 0 on 3 minutes.
Elliot Frewen sprinted hard to challenge Pontypridd number 8 Kristian Parker from the restart. Parker managed to overcome the challenge but the kick away went to Geraint O’Driscoll who returned the kick pinning Pontypridd back in their own 22. Pontypridd won their lineout and kicked straight back to Geraint O’Driscoll. O’Driscoll mixed the game up and found Harri Lang wandering off his wing to carry the ball forward. Lang was tackled but Ponty prop Huw Owen couldn’t resist getting his hands in the ruck. Matt O’Brien placed Newport back in the Pontypridd 22 but the lineout ball was lost. Pontypridd kicked the ball away again but more effectively this time as Harri Lang scampered back to retrieve it and was caught in his own 22-metre area. Pontypridd won the ball back and built the pressure up on the Newport defence but were eventually guilty of taking a poor option as they went wide too quickly and the ball was spilled in a tackle, Geraint O’Driscoll put in a mighty relieving kick to get Newport back to forty metres out from their line.
Pontypridd tried spinning the ball wide quickly again and almost paid for it as a loose pass cannoned off Harri Lang’s shoulder. Tom Pascoe scooped the ball up and, rather than kick, did what he does best and run and look for support. Sadly for Newport, Pascoe’s overhead pass back inside to Jonny Morris was slightly delayed causing Morris to over-run it.
Newport earned a 10th minute free kick as the Pontypridd scrum buckled. The pack opted to scrum again and demolished the black and white eight. The ball spun out to Matt O’Brien who kicked ahead while Jonny Morris put his head down and chased. Home full back Ben Jones vitally slipped before collecting the ball then, on gathering it, was nailed by Morris. Mr Ben Whitehouse, the referee on this occasion, saw no release in the tackle and awarded Newport a kickable penalty. That was spurned as Matt O’Brien put his pack into the corner on the stand side of the ground. Joe Bartlett climbed high in the middle as the rolling maul formed around him. Matt Dwyer performed the classic hooker role of latching onto the tail, clamping the ball to his guts as the pack found a gap in the home defence before barging over the line for the opening try of the game. Unfortunately Matt O’Brien was unable to add the conversion so the score was Pontypridd 3 Newport 5.
Pontypridd responded, as one might expect, but a super tackle in midfield by Lewis Smout was spoiled when Mr Whitehouse said that Smout hadn’t done enough to roll away. Diggy Bird put in an excellent kick to the corner as the heavy rain returned. Ponty sent the ball to the middle of the lineout but the referee had seen impeding from the Black and Ambers at the lineout. Diggy Bird pointed at the posts again and put his team back in the lead making it Pontypridd 6 Newport 5 on 15 minutes.
Tom Pascoe and Matt O’Brien both found pockets of space to run into as the Pontypridd defence appeared hesitant. Louis Jones was allowed to pass out of contact as Newport pushed toward the home 22 metre line but flanker Rhodri Jones was late to the party and penalised off being off his feet at a ruck.
Pontypridd pieced together their neatest attack so far when a neat kick from Diggy Bird had wing Dale Stuckey in pursuit but he stepped into touch before he had flicked the ball back inside to centre Alex Knott; a let-off for the Black and Ambers.
Kyle Tayler effected a magnificent steal as he retrieved possession for Newport but it wasn’t capitalised on as an unsympathetic pass cannoned off Andrew Mann’s chest.
Elliot Frewen kicked a ball long after he had appraised that there was nothing really on. Pontypridd’s Diggy Bird took the ball and kicked ahead, chasing his own effort. Mr Whitehouse was adamant that Rhodri Jones shoulder-charged Bird as he ran without the ball. Bird again motioned at the posts and extended his side’s lead by three points to Pontypridd 9 Newport 5 with half an hour gone.
Newport conceded another penalty on 35 minutes for wheeling a scrum. From 45 metres out, Diggy Bird again opted to go to the posts. His kick was long enough but wandered off course.
With the light suddenly fading the Newport pack regained the upper hand by powering through a Pontypridd scrum and winning a penalty as the black and whites pedalled backwards. Matt O’Brien kicked Newport to 30 metres out from where Rhodri Jones palmed the ball down from the tail of the lineout. Luke Crane fired the ball out to Andrew Mann at second receiver to form a ruck. Pontypridd strayed offside so, with the advantage, Matt O’Brien boomed a high kick towards home full back Ben Jones. Imagine, if you will, Jones’ predicament. It’s sheeting down with hailstones, you’re looking for a white ball against a grey background and then, as you spot it, you realise that you’re about to be hammered by Jonny Morris and Geraint O’Driscoll with Andrew Mann about half a second behind them. The ball bobbled from Jones’ grasp and went backwards, the clever bit being O’Driscoll’s awareness to spot this and slap the ball into Mann’s path. Andrew Mann barely broke his stride as he glided in for a well-earned try that Matt O’Brien converted. Mr Whitehouse did speak with his Assistants to make sure there was no knock-on in the tackle and, satisfied that there wasn’t, awarded the try. That made the score Pontypridd 9 Newport 12 as the half-time whistle blew.
Half Time Pontypridd RFC 9 Newport RFC 12
Matt O’Brien restarted the game but Newport had a problem after just 38 seconds of this half when Elliot Frewen misjudged a tackle and fell foul of the updated tackle laws. Mr Whitehouse saw no option other than to yellow card Frewen; Newport would have to cope short-handed for ten minutes. Pontypridd launched themselves at Newport but the Black and Amber defence was proving sound. Suspicions were raised that this was an off-colour Pontypridd straight away as wing Alex Webber virtually strolled into contact and coughed up a penalty for holding on in the tackle. Pontypridd players usually wallop into contact, not walk. Newport were able to clear to 45 metres out. Rhodri Jones supplied tail ball again while Andrew Mann was still trying to run himself to a standstill as Newport made light of Frewen’s absence.
Pontypridd tried to rally but to little effect. Their main tactic appeared to be ‘give the ball to Dafydd Lockyer and let’s see what happens’, which is all well and good but Lockyer was fairly well bottled up by Newport for most of the afternoon. A loose pass out to Alex Knott for Pontypridd saw the ball pop into Jonny Morris’ grasp. Some neat interplay between Joe Bartlett, Harri Lang and Morris progressed Newport upfield before the ball worked out to Matt O’Brien, but his cheeky pop pass to Tom Pascoe bursting through was judged to have been forward.
Newport coughed up another scrum penalty on 49 minutes. Pontypridd kicked to thirty metres out on the terrace side. Joe Bartlett got a hand to the ball but knocked on as he did so. Ponty then edged the scrum and won themselves another penalty into the bargain. Diggy Bird pointed the ball at the sticks again but his effort sailed wide leaving the score at Pontypridd 9 Newport 12.
It’s pretty easy to tell when things aren’t going so well at Sardis Road for the home team. The locals turn their fire onto their own players, so the sight of Harri Lang wrapping up centre Alex Knott in a tackle, dislodging the ball and hacking it forward didn’t go down massively well in the stand.
Elliot Frewen was back on for Newport and, with zero points conceded during his absence, Newport looked to knuckle down and see out the game. Pontypridd, as lethargic as they had been, still had enough firepower to hurt Newport and, as we saw at Rodney Parade, a three-point margin is nowhere near comfortable enough. But the game was slowly looking like it was Newport’s to lose.
Luke Crane had a last-second change of mind as he turned to boom a long pass out to Matt O’Brien. O’Brien had presence of mind enough to duck under the pass as he was about to receive the full force of a flanker’s shoulder. Geraint O’Driscoll blazed along the flank before passing out to the flying Frewen who was downed but Pontypridd were over eager in defence conceding a penalty. Matt O’Brien’s attempt was unsuccessful so the score remained, on 61 minutes, Pontypridd 9 Newport 12.
Pontypridd, whilst showing the intent to attack, were terribly ponderous in the execution. They almost needed Newport mistakes to make any territory at all. And so, as usual, Newport helped them along. A slapped down ball was enough to earn a penalty which Diggy Bird hoofed to the corner. Credit to Tom Pascoe for saving the ball going into touch but credit removed for the clearing kick that followed. Newport supporters could only look through their fingers as the kick banana-ed across field, away from cover and into the hands of the Pontypridd back line. Maybe the Friends of Newport Rugby could launch a crowdfunder to microchip Tom so that when he gets the urge to kick he hears head coach Ty Morris shout “NO!” and then some swear words. Thankfully, the Newport defence reset quickly, Pascoe’s midfield mucker hit the ball carrier over as an ineffective grubber kick was mopped up by Matt O’Brien who waltzed out of danger before the ever-reliable Geraint O’Driscoll banged the ball away to safety. Pontypridd then tried to emulate Tom Pascoe’s kicking performance by kicking across field at a shallow angle. The ball fell to Harri Lang who, with a three-on-two overlap, should have sparked a try but, to their credit, flanker Sion Parry made a terrific tackle and killed the move stone dead.
The game was opening up but there was still a fear that indiscipline by the Black and Ambers could cost them the win and gift it to the hosts who had really done very little to deserve it.
Pontypridd were well off the pace. A long, searching kick sat up horribly on the artificial surface at Sardis Road. The covering defender had time to pass infield to support but the kick into touch was horribly skewed. Newport, in contrast, were reasonably crisp in their attacks. Replacement flanker Morgan Burgess dragged himself across the 22 metre line on his elbows, Garin Harris, on for Louis Jones, battered at the belly of the defence before Pontypridd conceded a penalty in a promising position. Matt O’Brien kicked to the corner allowing Joe Bartlett to demonstrate his lineout prowess. The rolling maul set up on him again as the Black and Ambers rumbled and rocked into a position where Garin Harris could claim the third try as he crashed over to the delight of his mates. Matt O’Brien was unable to improve on the try so the score now, on 71 minutes, was Pontypridd 9 Newport 17.
From the restart, replacement flanker Josh Reid conceded a needless penalty to gift Pontypridd one of the two scores that they needed to nick the game as fullback Ben Jones made the score Pontypridd 12 Newport 17 with a kick from about thirty metres.
A big finish was likely to ensue as Mr Whitehouse declared that there were four minutes extra to be played. Pontypridd were within striking distance but many of the Sardis faithful had seen enough and were already headed back to the clubhouse. Pontypridd slung the ball to their right as Jonny Morris tackled aggressively but Elliot Frewen attracted Mr Whitehouse’s attention again when a pass out was slapped down.
This was deemed as intentional and left him with no option other than a second yellow card. Pontypridd took this a sign, but hadn’t reckoned with a confident Black and Ambers pack that made a beautiful turnover, as important as a try at this juncture, before Matt O’Brien pegged Pontypridd back into their own corner. Newport even stole the lineout and, with those four minutes up, Geraint Watkin slung a pass back to Matt O’Brien who jogged towards his own tryline before calmly kicking the ball into touch for an excellent win on the road.
Sardis Road is probably the most difficult ground to get a win for Newport. The pre-season friendly last August notwithstanding, the last competitive win here for the Black and Ambers was back in October 2006 with tries scored by Gethin Robinson, Nathan Williams and Jason Tovey and kicks by James Dixon. Furthermore, the last time that Newport denied Pontypridd a try at Sardis Road was way back at Christmas 2001 when the Black and Ambers won 6-33 with tries by Matt Pini, Jon Pritchard, Jason Forster and two by the mighty Rod Snow.
Newport are next in Indigo Group Premiership action on Friday 13th March when they host Llanelli RFC at Rodney Parade. Kick-off is at 8pm, a fraction later than usual, so come along, bring your big voice and shout for the Black and Ambers. Your support is always appreciated.
Onwards and upwards Newport.
Your City. Your Colours. Your Club
Newport RFC Man of the Match – Andrew Mann
Final Score – Pontypridd RFC 12 Newport RFC 17