by Paul Williams
It was oh, so close, but Aberavon’s second-half onslaught wasn’t quite enough for them to claim the silverware in an absorbing match at the Principality Stadium.
The ‘game of two halves’ cliché was almost certainly echoing through both camps post-match, as Newport eased their way into a 17-6 interval lead through the prolific boot of fly-half Will Reed and a try awarded to right-wing Jonny Morris after a lengthy discussion amongst the match officials who concluded that Morris was onside when the ball was cross-kicked into his path, made the line solely due to his momentum and managed to keep himself the right side of the touchline.
The Wizards, meanwhile, had to make do with a brace of Aled Thomas penalties as their attempts to apply pressure via their scrummaging prowess cut no ice with referee Aled Evans. Frustratingly, their best moments came in open play, with both fly-half Thomas and lock Sam Williams making clean breaks inside the Newport 22 only for the final pass to go to ground on both occasions.
Aberavon finally got into their stride when Thomas, having landed his third penalty just after the interval, put a further penalty into touch five metres out. Lineout ball was predictably won, and crucially a quick switch of the point of attack to the tail of the lineout left Newport short of numbers as the ensuing maul drove forwards at a rate of knots. It came as no surprise when hooker Ieuan Davies emerged from beneath the pile of bodies wearing his customary cheeky grin, having claimed the try.
Thomas’ conversion attempt drifted inches wide, but with the Newport lead cut to just three points it was now certainly a case of ‘game on’, even after a further penalty from Reed had restored the six-point margin. The Aberavon pack had the bit between their teeth and were going hard. Rhodri Cole made a clean break down the blind side and chipped ahead but was agonisingly just millimetres short of regathering to score. However, at the resulting scrum the Newport pack were splintered as the Wizards’ drive came on strong, earning them a penalty. The scrum option was called, and as the drive once again came on the Newport pack folded in on itself, with the referee having no hesitation in awarding a penalty try, putting the Wizards ahead 21-20.
That, however, was as good as it got from an Aberavon viewpoint. Some clever running initiated by Reed during a rare visit into Aberavon territory ended with Newport skipper Matt O’Brien scoring an unconverted try, and for the final ten minutes it was a case of ‘all hands to the pumps’ in the Newport defence as the Wizards tried without success to find a way through.
Aberavon 21 – 25 Newport
Jonathan Phillips (rep Joe Gage half-time); Chris Banfield, Joe Thomas, Will Price, Stef Andrews; Aled Thomas (rep Dan Edwards 59 min), Rhodri Cole (rep Iwan Temblett 69 min); Rowan Jenkins (rep Rhys Fawcett 57 min), Ieuan Davies (rep Luke Davies 57 min), Geraint James (rep Chris Davies 74 min), Shay Smallman (rep Rhodri Hughes 57 min), Sam Williams, Ashton Evans, Andrew Waite, Joe Tomalin-Reeves (capt) (rep Lloyd Evans 54 min).
Dan Edwards appeared from the Ospreys.
T – Ieuan Davies, Penalty Try
PG – Aled Thomas (3)
T – Jon Morris, Matt O’Brien
PG – Will Reed (5)
Man Of The Match:
1 – Andrew Waite
2 – Rhodri Cole
3 – Chris Banfield
03 min: Aberavon – PG – Aled Thomas (3 – 0)
05 min: Newport – PG – Will Reed (3 – 3)
09 min: Newport – T – Jon Morris (3 – 8)
13 min: Newport – PG – Will Reed (3 – 11)
17 min: Aberavon – PG – Aled Thomas (6 – 11)
26 min: Newport – PG – Will Reed (6 – 14)
29 min: Newport – PG – Will Reed (6 – 17)
40 min: Half Time
43 min: Aberavon – PG – Aled Thomas (9 – 17)
48 min: Aberavon – T – Ieuan Davies (14 – 17)
58 min: Newport – PG – Will Reed (14 – 20)
64 min: Aberavon – T – Penalty Try (21 – 20)
65 min: Newport – Yellow Card – Dan Suter
66 min: Newport – T – Matt O’Brien (21 – 25)
80 min: Full Time