Both sides came into this game boosted by opening day away wins; Ebbw at Bridgend and Newport with a bonus point defeat of Neath. Confidence would have been high in both camps, with the Black and Ambers – Ebbw’s original colours too, incidentally – further encouraged by a great win at Eugene Cross Park last season.
It was the visitors who started better, forcing a stream of penalties from Ebbw, that led to an attacking lineout drive which was stopped illegally. Quick thinking by Newport freed Barney Nightingale who touched down to give his side a 6-0 lead.
It was now Newport’s turn to annoy referee Craig Evans as the penalty count reached equilibrium. He spoke to both skippers, then yellow carded Newport flanker Craig Attwell. A period of Ebbw pressure followed, resulting in the first ever 6-point ‘catch’n’Kynes’. It was 6-6.
A potential Newport attack, with Aled Brew breaking from his own 22, was thwarted when foul play by Ollie Griffiths saw the former Wales U20s skipper sent to cool down for 10 minutes. Ebbw responded well, putting the Newport pack under tremendous scrummage pressure which was dealt with illegally. Eventually and inevitably, the penalty try was awarded and Ebbw went off to enjoy the oranges (possibly metaphorical ones) 14-6 up.
Ebbw’s players and coaches knew that the game would be won up front and the second half began with one of the most remarkable driving mauls ever seen at ECP; fully 50 metres it went, from 22 to 22, and it could only be stopped illegally. Soon after, Newport were down to 14 again when former Ebbw favourite Jon Lavender went for a little rest having upset Mr Evans once too often at the scrum. Newport upped their game at this stage, and put the Steelmen under some pressure but failed to penetrate the iron tackling and organised drift of the hosts. Dominic Franchi was particularly prominent, enjoying being re-acquainted with former team mates. The next points came from that rarest of treats in the new model Premiership: a penalty kick. It was a sensible move as Dan Haymond’s successful shot took Ebbw 10 points clear. The game was wrapped up two minutes later when Ebbw’s left winger David Williams was alert to Newport’s increasingly urgent attempts to run from deep and pounced like a pouncing thing to intercept and run in under the posts. Haymond added 2 to take Ebbw well clear at 24-6.
Great work by Franchi won Ebbw a penalty inside their own half. Dai Langdon spiralled a miraculous kick into touch just short of the visitors’ line and replacement hooker Rhys Buckley hit his jumper perfectly at the ensuing lineout, before joining the driving maul and claiming the bonus point try. The game finished 30-6.
Newport will look back on their dominance of the first quarter and rue what might have been. They came with a big pack, but, as men have insisted for many years, size isn’t everything. Their backs looked dangerous and had plenty of pace, but you need the ball to win matches – and, even when you don’t have the ball you can still win with aggressive, organised defence of the kind Ebbw showed all afternoon.
Man of the Match was Ross Jones, a fitting recognition of his own efforts and those of his fellow forwards whose scrummaging and mauling was outstanding.