Cross Keys defeated Newport on Saturday with a dominant forward display, in the second half in particular paving the way for the victory against the fellow play-off hopefuls.
The Keys probably just shaded the opening 20 minutes of the game but lost the ball and wasted chances all too often to give the visitors hope. Keys had a chance to take an early lead when full back Owen Howe lined up a penalty with just over 2 minutes played but the kick was off target so the score remained pointless, just as it did for the next 30 minutes or so.
Keys were slowly but surely increasing the pressure on the black and ambers and after a string of penalties were conceded by the visitors at the breakdown Keys were looking to use a number of forceful driving lineouts to deliver the goods by regularly kicking to the corners. To their credit the black and ambers defence coped well. With 30 minutes on the clock Keys’ skipper Scott Matthews came close to scoring from a rolling maul but he was kept out by some resolute defence by the visitors. Keys looked to shift the ball to the opposite side quickly but again the Newport defence was well organised as Keys found no favours on the opposite side of the pitch. The ball was again shifted back to the opposite side and this time with around 32 minutes on the clock, the black and ambers ran out of numbers in defence with Keys creating the overlap and Josh Skinner drew in 2 defenders and fed the ball to hooker Ellis Shipp who did the rest to cross for his first ever Keys try. Full back Owen Howe converted as Keys deservedly led 8-0 after a long period of pressure deep in Newport territory.
Newport’s response was quick and with a first meaningful attack of the game they were soon level when Keys fell off too many tackles in defence and allowed Black and Ambers winger Jon Morris to make a clinical burst up field and cross for a well taken try with just 5 minutes of the first half remaining. Outside half Matt O’Brien added the extras and of a sudden despite Keys spending so much of the half in the Newport half, the visitors were level.
With the first half entering the closing minutes of stoppage time the black and ambers were reduced to 14 men when flanker Rhys Jenkins was sent to the sin bin for an offence at a breakdown, and probably more as a result of the number of penalties that were conceded by his side throughout the first half.
Half Time Score Cross Keys 8 Newport 8
Cross Keys started the second half well and from yet another penalty conceded by the black and ambers almost immediately from the restart they set about gaining good field position in the Newport half. The early chances came to nothing despite Keys still having a one man advantage, with Rhys Jenkins still in the bin for the visitors for the early stages of the second half.
No sooner were the black and ambers back to their full complement with the return of Jenkins from the bin, than they were back down to 14 men with Tom Piper this time singled out for a breakdown offence and seeing yellow as a result. Together with a one man advantage and bringing on fresh legs Keys began to dominate up front. These changes seemed to be crucial when Keys used their powerful scrum to camp deep in the Newport 22 for a good 10 to 15 minutes although initially to no avail, despite at least half a dozen penalties being conceded by the black and ambers after countless scrums were impeded illegally, with the game now approaching the hour mark.
Time and time again Keys opted for a scrum rather kick to the corners for a lineout but despite the offences by the black and ambers at scrum time the referee seemed reluctant to go under the posts to award Keys a penalty try.
Keys finally looked to have broken through the defensive wall when the ball came away from another dominant scrum and James Leadbeater crashed over for a try that seemed to take an age to come. The try was initially awarded by the referee but with Owen Howe lining up the conversion and Keys ready to receive the kick off they were called back toward the Newport tryline as the linesman had spotted an infringement by Keys in the scrum just prior to Leadbeater crossing the line and so the try was then disallowed. The resulting penalty allowed Newport to thankfully relieve the pressure somewhat and, remarkably despite such a long period of pressure on the Newport line the scores remained tied at 8 all, with a little over 10 minutes now remaining.
Keys won the ball back and swiftly made their way back toward the Newport tryline. Yet again they dominated any resulting scrum and finally referee Adam Jones lost patience with the offences from Newport at the scrum and went under the posts for a penalty try, with automatic conversion. With another Keys attack toward the Newport 22 it was to prove a case of déjà vu for the black and ambers as Keys again set up camp on their line, this time back in the scoreboard corner with just a couple of minutes remaining. Again the scrum was too powerful for the black and ambers to halt and a second penalty try was the only option for referee Mr. Jones as the Newport scrummage destructed under endless Keys pressure once more for Mr. Jones to go under the posts once again.
With the victory all but secure for Keys they set about getting a 4th try but to their credit Newport attacked well from deep as the game entered stoppage time. Keys full back Owen Howe failed to roll away from the tackle area, just inside the Keys 22 with Newport on the attack and was sent to the sin bin as a result. Newport kicked the penalty to the corner to try to salvage at least a losing bonus point with a converted try with time ticking away. They looked to have crossed in the corner and in the act of scoring Keys’ replacement hooker Darren Hughes used his foot to try and stop the try but appeared to make contact with the Newport try scorer’s head and Hughes was then shown a red card for reckless use of the boot and Newport were not only awarded a converted penalty try to bring up their losing point, but were also awarded a penalty at the restart.
With Keys now down to 13 men Newport kicked the penalty deep in to the 22 and Keys had to defend for their lives to deny Newport what would have proved to be an unlikely draw such was Keys forward dominance for so much of the second half. Keys did defend well and replacement Barney Nightingale won the ball at the contact area for Keys and the ball was kicked dead for Keys to celebrate the victory that really should never been in as much doubt as it seemed to be in the closing moments as a result of poor discipline.
Overall after a week of 2 tough Gwent derby fixtures Keys can reflect on a job well done. With Leon Andrews returning to fitness and Leon Brown and Ethan Davies set to return to action in readiness for next week’s Swalec Cup semi final against Carmarthen Quins things are looking good for Keys at present for what promises to be a frantic schedule over the coming weeks. For some the season may now be drawing to a close, for Keys it may now only just be beginning with so many huge matches to come!!
Cross Keys Scorers:-
Tries: Ellis Shipp & Penalty Try (x2)
Conversions: Owen Howe & Penalty Try Conversion (x2)
Tries: Jonathan Morris & Penalty Try
Conversions: Matt O’Brien & Penalty Try Conversion
Keys man of the match: Ieuan Jones