If asked to write just one phrase to sum up Saturday’s loss at Bridgorth, I would use out-enthused, as Newport most definitely were, but that does not tell the whole story. Bridgnorth, just as in the reverse fixture, at the Old Showground, last November, took the field with a belief that they could dominate the game, and to a man they gave their all for the cause. The importance of local bragging rights should not be underestimated! What they also did though, was starve Newport of possession for extended periods of the game, and also and most tellingly, they kept of the right side of the referee.
Newport’s indiscipline, leading to a totally unacceptable penalty count of seventeen, was a carbon-copy performance of the home fixture and yet again this cost them dearly. Penalties don’t only potentially cost points, they mean a repeated loss of possession, territory and momentum. It’s irrefutable that Newport are still a very good rugby team, with some extremely talented operators, both up front, and in the three quarters, however there is something collectively that is just not quite right. There seems to be an inability to get themselves out of situations, where they have lost control of the game, to go back to a basic game-plan, and use the strategies, that have served them so well over the last three seasons. There also has to be more desire to work harder off the ball. Without doubt Newport put in a huge defensive shift, but to win the tough games, every last man must push beyond physical and psychological pain barriers, nothing less will suffice.
Finally, after periods of being denied possession, they must have capacity to execute in a clinical fashion when opportunities do arise. With Alex Haselock out injured, Toby Mann came in on the wing and the absence of Oli Buckley, meant a positional move for Kirk Robinson, from No 8 to lock, Rhys Morgan taking his spot at the rear of the scrum. A stiff breeze was blowing as the game kicked off, but fortunately the stronger winds of the earlier part of the day had abated. For the entire first twenty minutes, Newport had no meaningful possession whatsoever, and for long periods were camped deep inside their own half. Bridgnorth scrum-half, Gareth Bladen, marshalled wave after wave of attack, and it was only a huge defensive effort, from one to fifteen, that meant that the home side gained only a three point advantage, through a William Bishop penalty. Having soaked up so much pressure, and having prevented Bridgnorth turning territory and possession into points, Newport now began to test their opponents defensive capabilities. Will Roach and Henry Vaka carried hard, as did others, but Newport would have perhaps have been wise to move the ball wide quicker, rather than attacking down route 1. With Bridgnorth down to fourteen men, lock Callum Madden having been sin binned, Newport took advantage and scored a try through Sam Brown. Initially Rhys Morgan had been set loose on the right flank, and after making thirty metres, the ball was transferred to the left flank through a series of well executed carries, before Brown was the beneficiary of good team work, and wriggled over for the try. Monty Maule duly converted and Newport led 7-3.
Although Newport were now in front, it was still the home side who were in the ascendency. Repeated penalties, particularly at the breakdown were killing Newport, and they either didn’t understand what the referee required, or were unable to follow his wishes. The top-class defensive effort continued, and there were back-to-back, standout tackles from Mann and Ricky Bailey that prevented a certain try in the right corner. Bridgnorth were favouring a tight attack, through their big forwards, and repelling this was no doubt an energy sapping task for all concerned. When Newport did have possession, their tempo was far quicker and their play did become more expansive, but all too often the end result was either an infringement, or an error in execution. Late in the half Bridgnorth added a further three points through a routine penalty, and at half-time Newport were shading it, 7-6. Bridgnorth had enjoyed 75% possession and were trailing, a huge testament to Newport’s commitment in defence, but the reality was that they needed to see more of the ball, play an expansive game and run Bridgnorth’s pack around. The second half started much as the first.
Bridgnorth attacked, Newport’s defence stood firm and then transgressed. The resultant early penalty was not converted though, and it remained a one point game. On six minutes Tom Cowell won a penalty at the breakdown. The attempted kick for touch was ambitious, rather than safe and did not hit its target. On catching the ball, full-back Haisaila Afeafe called for a mark, Newport’s advancing players seemed to pause and there was momentary confusion, which allowed him to play the ball and evade contact, before making forty plus metres headway.
This ultimately led to a period of Bridgnorth pressure and finally a well taken try for Llew Williams under the posts. A simple conversion meant that it was now Bridgnorth in front, at 13-7. Newport were still having to work hard in their defensive duties and two scrums, right beneath he posts, did not give an inch, under immense pressure. Newport’s task was to become that much more difficult on twenty minutes, with the departure of Will Roach, to the sin bin, for an illegal challenge in the air, at the lineout. With the local crowd now sensing the kill and adding their vocal support, Bladen attacked the narrow side and found wing, Richard Addison unmarked, and able to scurry over, untouched. At 18-7, Newport now had a mountain to climb. All three replacements were introduced, and throughout the final fifteen minutes, very much as in the home fixture, Newport did have their best period in attack. Sadly though, the moves so often practised, and so lethal when completed with accuracy and speed, were totally absent, and what was produced, although done with effort and good intention, was desperate, chaotic, unstructured and often individualistic.
The final score of 18-7 was a fair result. There was no lack of effort in defence, but Newport have the ability to make rugby look simple when they play at their best. They have the personnel to be able to mix their game up, to carry hard through the middle and then be able move the ball wide, find the space and exploit it. Unfortunately this Saturday they did not perform to the high standards they have set themselves, and as after the home loss, an immediate reaction will demanded. On that occasion Newport produced a high scoring win, on the road at Broadstreet. Nothing less than a bonus point win in the reverse fixture will suffice, as Newport have now slipped to third place behind leaders, Scunthorpe, who are also faltering, and everyone’s favourite team, Luctonians, who are finishing the season very strongly. A top two finish is now not entirely in Newport’s hands, and the next four Saturday’s the RFU results page will be compulsory viewing post match.
All the team can do now is regroup, refocus, recommit, get four bonus point wins and hope for a slip up by the two top teams. It can happen – bottom team Syston, defeated top team Scunthorpe, on Saturday. Newport vs. Broadstreet kicks off at 3pm on Saturday, March 23rd at the Old Showground.
Team: Grass, Cowell (C), Wells, Robinson, Parker, Roach, Price, Morgan, Brown, Maule, Himbury, Vaka, Perry, Mann, Bailey, Leonard, Wilson, Purchase.