A sell-out Rodney Parade for a festive Welsh derby between two in-form teams had all the makings of a cracking game. In reality it was a dreadful encounter between two scrappy sides on a poor pitch with an inconsistent referee. The end result though, a last-gasp win to give us Cardiff fans the best Christmas present.
Coming off the back of 10 days rest through Christmas, the team should have been refreshed and with the confidence that two excellent performances against Montpellier in the Challenge Cup brings. Lloyd Williams was restored to the starting XV, while Cory Allen returned to the squad after his World Cup injury for some extra good news.
Despite all this it was Newport who had the best of the cagey opening exchanges, having more possession in the Cardiff half and settling for an early Dorian Jones drop goal as the game became scrappy quickly. Cardiff indiscipline, alongside increasingly inconsistent refereeing, gave Newport chances to attack throughout the game, and it was from a penalty the home side scored the first try of the match.
The ball was put into the Cardiff 22, and the impressive Newport lock Rynard Landman claimed it athletically. A phase or two of quick ball in midfield gave Dorian Jones the chance to slide a flat miss-pass to young winger Ashton Hewitt who went past pathetic attempts to tackle from Rhys Patchell and Alex Cuthbert to touch down in the corner, meaning Jones missed the tricky conversion attempt.
Cardiff attrition, more than anything, got Patchell two attempts at goal which he gladly kicked and the score was pulled back to 8-6, before a 15-minute point-less period ensued, with Newport playing the better rugby but crucial errors stunting any progress made. Cardiff, incapable of producing any turnovers or using any possession wisely, were left to battle away on the ever worsening Rodney Parade pitch. Dorian Jones did kick a Newport penalty on the stroke of the half-time to send the home side in 11-6 up at the break.
It was much the same story for the first 20 minutes after half-time as Newport dominated possession and territory but, Hewitt aside, seemed nervous in the Cardiff 22. The stream of errors and lack of ability to break down the last ditch Cardiff defence meant Dorian Jones’ boot was again relied on, and he kept the scoreboard ticking over with two penalties stretching the lead to 11 points.
However, times were changing in the Cardiff ranks as Danny Wilson made all eight changes in 16 minutes leading up to a lineout on the Newport 22. The fresh front row with Macauley Cook and Cam Dolan behind them rumbled up to the line. Lloyd Williams tried to get the ball out but Josh Navidi held on, and with the line in sight, home number 8 Lewis Evans wandered around the side of the maul and wrapped Navidi up. Ian Davies had no hesitation going straight under the posts, binning Evans as well, and Patchell’s conversion gave us hope.
Predictably, with Cardiff having a man advantage, it was Newport who scored next as Gethin Jenkins entered the ruck from the side and Jason Tovey, on for Dorian Jones, gladly put his side a converted try ahead again. The changes were telling though and we were starting to play rugby. Quick ball from Lloyd Williams found Dan Fish who’s fresh legs and change of pace fashioned probably our first clear break of the afternoon. Fish pulled in Carl Meyer and fed Tom James on his shoulder who gladly ran in for the score.
Unfortunately, Rhys Patchell missed the conversion to draw the sides level, but we were on the front foot now. Soon we had turned the ball over from deep inside our 22. Again it was quick ball from Lloyd, this time finding Rey Lee Lo at first receiver who slipped a tackle and broke clear. He was brought down on Newport’s 10m line, and quick ball gave us a chance at a try but an overlap was squandered. From the resulting ruck though Newport defenders were caught all on the wrong side and Ian Davies awarded Cardiff the penalty. From a similar position to the missed conversion, Patchell stepped up, but curled this kick in beautifully to give us the lead for the first time.
We held on to see out the game and basically steal the victory, as Montpellier did to us last time out. It was a properly gritty derby win as you’d expect from a trip to Rodney Parade, but it was pleasing to see the team staying in the game when things weren’t going our way. I think Danny Wilson will admit the conservative tactics were probably a mistake, and had we taken the game to Newport from the start it may well have been a bigger win.
However, no need to dwell on those things, the win is important and the added confidence will take us into a really tough New Year’s Day fixture at home to high-flying Scarlets. If we play confident rugby from the start on the front foot we can give them an excellent game, and with Cory Allen returning to boost the squad there’s a chance for all four points and a very merry festive period. Come on Cardiff!!