Newport’s season has been somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster thus far, and after two deflating narrow losses to Scunthorpe and Sheffield, total focus and a collective desire to find the killer instinct to compliment their unquestioned efforts was required for the visit of Bournville. With the opposition secure in mid-table, neither in danger of relegation, or in with an even an outside chance of promotion, a casual observer could be excused for thinking this may be one of the softer of the remaining six games. Those who have watched games between the two teams over the last few seasons will have known that Bournville are a team to never be taken lightly. They have had a run of four wins halted, only by a two point loss to Luctonians last time out, and without going as far as saying there is bad blood between us and them, there is certainly an edge to every game.
As it transpired Bournville certainly did not give Newport an easy ride, and Saturday’s bonus point victory was hard fought, but as well as the welcome five points, the team now know, that under pressure, they can find the extra one or two percent effort and the collective composure, to wrest control of a game and achieve the desired outcome. Newport were forced to make a late change to the starting line-up, with a calf injury to Jack Price in the warm up, meaning that he was sidelined, and Henry Purchase came in on the openside. Ricky Bailey returned at fullback, which allowed the long term centre partnership of Chris Perry and Henry Vaka, to be resumed.
A vicious, whistling, cross-field wind was blowing as Newport kicked off in front of a healthy crowd, buoyed by some vocal travelling support. The first twenty minutes were dominated by Newport in terms of both territory and possession. A good passage of play six minutes in, had seen Monty Maule put the rampaging Oli Buckley through a gap, and the big lock forward made thirty metres towards the posts before being wrapped up. Only three minutes later Newport were 7-0 to the good, after a driving maul was illegally hauled down just short of the Bournville try line. Referee, Callum Watson, had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try. Newport were utilising the boot of Maule to relieve pressure more often than in recent games, but were still willing to back their handling skills and speed, to counter attack from deep, when opportunities arose.
One of these on sixteen minutes, saw ball from a quick throw in deep in Newport’s 22, quickly transferred to Kirk Robinson out on the right flank. Showing an impressive turn of pace for a man not far shy of nineteen stones, he evaded the attempted tackle of ex Coventry hooker, Matt Price and bounced the left wing, Ethan Walker, before being halted near the half way line. The recycled ball allowed Perry to execute a perfectly timed inside pass to Vaka. His run punctured the Bournville defence, and an excellent long pass found Alex Haselock, who sprinted home to score Newport’s second try of the afternoon. Maule added the extras for a 14-0 lead. Only four minutes later and that lead was 21-0, after another tremendous counter attacking effort. Max Himbury initiated the move on the right flank, showing balance, determination and dexterity, to regain his feet after being half-tackled and complete a tricky off-load to the supporting Purchase, who galloped home unchallenged to score. Maule’s conversion made the try a seven pointer.
The bonus point try looked on when Haselock’s nifty footwork had put him through the first line of defence, with fifty metres of open space ahead of him and just the full-back to beat. Strangely the referee blew up and awarded a Newport scrum back in the twenty two, and the opportunity was snatched away. In the latter fifteen minutes of the half, the visitors began to gain a foothold in the game. Former Newport man, Rhys Harrhy was providing quick service at scrum-half, and outside him, fly-half, Mitch McGahan’s running game and distribution, were beginning to pose problems for Newport. Fortunately for Newport, on several occasions throughout the game, Bournville’s promising moves came to nought, with spilt ball in contact and final passes going astray. Buckley, Robinson, Roach and Parker were all working hard, with some big carries and their work-rate throughout the game was admirable, as was the fortitude of skipper, Tom Cowell. Battling a chest infection, he gave his normal one hundred per cent, up-and-at-’em, enthusiastic performance, but his efforts took their toll and he was to be replaced by Craig Wilson at half-time. A 21-0 lead at the break was pleasing, but Bournville had scored 24 unanswered points against Luctonians recently, to run the promotion hopefuls very close, and Newport were aware that they gwould not just roll over. Jake Leonard took over from Sam Brown at scrum-half, giving him a welcome respite from the attentions of the visiting captain, Steve Handy.
His almost obsessive, constant niggling at Brown, a former team-mate at Bournville, throughout the entire game, meant that he was ineffective in defence, attack, and as a leader, and ultimately played massively into Newport’s hands. Bournville started the second half fired up and they bossed all the early exchanges. A poor Newport clearance kick on five minutes was fielded and taken into contact. At the resulting ruck, full-back, Paul Sumner, exposed poor defence and went straight through the middle to score under the posts. A successful conversion by Harrhy, reduced the lead to fourteen points. Newport did continue to threaten occasionally in attack – a lineout mis-throw, gathered by Jack Wells at the tail, allowed the prop forward to charge into the defensive line, before Bailey was released on the left flank.
This and other moves were thwarted by Bournville, who were next to score with a Harrhy penalty, and they were definitely in the ascendancy throughout the third quarter. Newport’s defence was managing to scramble and Perry in particular put in some huge tackles at critical moments. Midway through the half, Haselock, still averaging a try a game, since his debut in December, left the field injured. Brown returned at scrum-half, Leonard moved to full-back and Bailey out to the left wing. With the wind picking up and now really blowing, and the clouds darkening above the Old Showground, Newport knew that they had to score next and extinguish any hopes of an incredible comeback. Roach, never one to shy away from making some hard yards, made two immense carries.
The first pole axed tackler, Ejike Uzoigwe, and the second, a twenty metre effort, was held up under the Bournville posts. From the resulting five metre scrum, Newport attacked the narrow side, but eventually lost possession and Bournville were able to clear their lines. Newport were without doubt, guilty of being over-eager at this stage, but they were regaining gradually control of proceedings and the bonus point try wouldn’t be long in coming. It began with ‘off the top’ ball from Buckley, which saw Vaka make good ground, before Perry, off balance, managed to field the pass, and release the ever-dangerous, Bailey. The attack was taken up by the forwards, before a huge pass by Brown to Maule, and the deputising captain’s vision, allowed him to hit Vaka at full tilt. He may not have scored as frequently this season as in the previous three or four, but he is a big game player, and at crucial moments he is one who can nearly always be relied upon to come up with the goods. Maule added his fourth conversion and Newport were now 28-10 to the good. The final ten minutes saw Newport continue to threaten. Perry, with Maule, yet again the provider, went close. Morgan, on for Purchase had a few of his trademark destructive charges, and pleasingly Newport looked to play the territory game on occasion and relieve pressure. Maule had two late penalty attempts.
The first, an ambitious attempt, considering the strong wind, from 37 metres, went close and the second from in front of the posts was successful. The final score of 31-10, meant that challenge one of six, has been overcome. Overall it was a satisfying performance against a physical and determined opposition. All four front row players in particular, deserve a pat on the back for a stellar effort at scrum time. Bournville boast Terry Sigley, a former Premiership prop and Matt Price, with over 150 appearances at hooker for Coventry, in their front row. They may not be as quick around the paddock as they once were, but these veterans of the dark arts, know their stuff at scrum time and Newport’s four certainly held their own. Mercurial Sandbach, did Newport a big favour and defeated Scunthorpe, denying them even a bonus point, and so the gap at the top has been reduced to two points.
Broadstreet and Luctonians won, and are still hot on Newport’s heels. Next up a visit to the Edgar Davis Ground in Bridgnorth. Their promotion challenge is all but gone, but there is no doubt they will be trying to do the double over Newport and retain local bragging rights. Your support would be very much appreciated.
Team: Grass, Cowell (C), Wells, Buckley, Parker, Roach, Purchase, Robinson, Brown, Maule, Haselock, Vaka, Perry, Himbury, Bailey, Leonard, Wilson, Morgan.