Neath 9 Newport 19
THE onwards and upwards theme continued for high-flying Newport at former Welsh Premiership giants Neath, writes Tony Poole.
A third successive league win for the Black and Ambers – and a fifth when the British & Irish Cup is taken into consideration – allowed them to leapfrog old rivals Cardiff, and take possession of seventh spot.
The autumn transformation in fortunes at Rodney Parade has been remarkable, and to put things in perspective this formed only a third Gnoll win since 1982/83 under Colin Smart.
Head coach Sven Cronk was part of the side that triumphed 25-23 at Neath back in 1994/95, while a 19-11 success in September 2001 represented their last win at the ground.
A try from utility-back Emyr Lewis along with 14 points from the boot of Shane Howarth did the trick in the last success.
"We were aware that Newport possessed a very poor record at Neath, but in fairness to the current squad they were keen to make their own history," explained a delighted Cronk.
He continued: "Coming on the back of league wins over Pontypridd and Swansea, this was another fantastic result.
"The boys are buying into something special – and more to the point, working their socks off to achieve success.
"We brought in 20 players during the close season, and in hindsight it has taken longer than anticipated for coaches and players to get to grips with the situation.
"However, there is now real strength in depth in the squad – resulting in four players going out on loan – and we no longer have to scratch around for players.
"By taking every game as it comes we can continue to improve during a demanding run of fixtures.
"We are aware Aberavon on Sunday will be no pushovers, then there’s a derby clash at Bedwas followed by the double-header with Newcastle in the British & Irish Cup.
"But during the next fortnight we should receive another boost with the return of centre Dan Robinson from a kneeinjury.’’ The Black and Ambers built a rare Gnoll victory around an industrious pack display with back-row men Sam Waldron and captain Craig Attwell tireless workhorses.
And the victory was all the more meritorious because playmaker Scott Sneddon hobbled off with a dead leg in the 56th minute.
With Newport 13-9 to the good, a reshuffled back line saw full-back James Leadbetter move to fly-half, while Andrew Quick switched from scrum-half to wing to accommodate the introduction of ex-Pontypridd scrum-half Rhys Downes.
But with the Black and Ambers in complete control – Neath only entered the Newport 22 once after the 43rd minute – it was a case of being patient and winding down the clock.
NEATH: A Bramwell; K James, J Leyshon, R Evans, E Jones (B Jones 73 mins); D Langdon, C Morgans; N Downs (O Ford 76), R Clancy (A W Davies 73), M Jones (T Price 73), J Griffiths, E Evans (R Jones 55), L Evans (capt), R Williams, E Williams (L Ward 34, M Rees 78).
Scorer: Pens – D Langdon (3) NEWPORT: J Leadbetter; E Frewen, G O’Driscoll, W Richards (D Franchi 47), M Poole (A Awcock h-t); S Sneddon (R Downes 56), A Quick; N Williams (J Jeune 63), A Brown (R Prosser 63), T Ryan (A Jeffries 55), R Jones (B Lampitt 54), A Frampton, S Waldron, R Coombs (D Rosser 63), C Attwell (capt).
Scorers: Try - M Poole; Con: S Sneddon; Pens: S Sneddon (2), G O’Driscoll (2) Referee: Neil Perkins (Pontypridd) Newport star choice: Sam Waldron.