Cardiff fell to a narrow defeat at the Arms Park on Friday night as Newport scored a late try to do the double over us and stay top of the Indigo Group Premiership Cup’s eastern pool.
Steve Law had made nine changes to the side that beat RGC two weeks previously as a number of familiar faces returned to the starting XV, alongside Alun Lawrence on his Rags debut and Cameron Winnett who started for the first time.
That more settled feel to the side paid dividends early on as the Blue and Blacks got off to a flying start. Firstly, winger Theo Cabango scored a scorcher as he returned a clearance kick 60 metres leaving the opposition for dead, and then Jacob Beetham covered a nudged kick through superbly, breaking the line on the counter attack and finding Dan Fish in support who put Tom Hoppe over.
Beetham converted both tries for a 14-0 lead, but Newport were always in the game as they had a try ruled out for a double movement between the Cardiff scores before drawing level after a driving maul got them over the line and then a superb counter attack took them down field and eventually pushing over from close, both tries being converted.
It was the Rags’ turn to have a try ruled out as Cameron Winnett was adjudged to have made a double movement, but after that frantic opening quarter the game suffered a break in momentum as serious injuries to Nathan Evans (head) and Sean Moore (knee) resulted in long stoppages saw us limp to half-time with the scores level.
The game picked up again after half-time with the Blue and Blacks just getting the upper edge as a Cabango try saving tackle was turned into a 50/22 through a Fish turnover and Beetham kick. Newport got their hands in a breakdown and Beetham added three to the score.
However, straight from kick-off Cardiff were pinged for holding on at the tackle and the Black and Ambers went to the corner and knocked at the door until they powered over from close range for a converted try.
As the game entered the final quarter it was all the home side as the pendulum swung back in our favour, camped in the Newport 22. It seemed the danger had been averted when they won a maul turnover but a huge eight-man shove from the Rags won the ball against the head and it went wide through Ioan Evans for Winnett to offload to Beetham.
The full-back couldn’t quite convert his own score but nailed a halfway line penalty a few minutes later to make the score 25-21, as the game became rather stop-start and scrappy. Numerous Black and Ambers went down struggling with cramp while handling errors and ill-discipline from the hosts resulted in too many turnovers being conceded.
Eventually those led to Newport heading back into our 22 and despite a committed defensive set they managed to power over from close range again, adding the conversion to make it 25-28 with little time left. To add insult to injury, James Richards was shown a red card for comments made to the referee following the try.
Down to 14-men the Blue and Blacks pushed for a crucial score and did make it to a lineout in the corner, but a controversial decision to award the visitors a scrum when they had gone off their feet while counter rucking saw the game come to an end.
A losing bonus point for the Rags but Newport’s bonus point win sees their lead at the top of the table go out to five points with three games of the competition left. Cardiff will need favours from elsewhere and to win all of our games, starting at home to Ebbw Vale next Friday night, if we are to progress to the Final against the best in the west.