Cross Keys were defeated by Gwent rivals Newport in their opening fixture of this season's Fosters Challenge Cup at Rodney Parade on Wednesday evening.
Keys went in to an 11-0 lead inside the opening 15 minutes when a pair of penalties in the 2nd and then the 10th minute by outside half, James Thomas, who was making his Keys debut, after he signed over the summer. The opening period got even better for Keys when a strong driving lineout put Keys deep in Newport territory and after a burst by Thomas then neat hands from Phil Williams, the ball was swept out wide to winger Nathan Williams who finished well for a try in the corner on 15 minutes, against his old side. Thomas couldn't add the conversion from the touchline.
Gradually the home side began to dominate, against a Keys side that handed debuts to 3 players, in flanker Joe Thomas, full back Jacob Lloyd as well as the aforementioned James Thomas at outside half. Those debuts were combined with first starts of the season for a further 4 players in the Keys lineup. The Black and Ambers got on to the board after just under 20 minutes when centre Chay Smith cut through the Keys defence to score a try which was converted by Matt O'Brien to close the gap on Keys early lead. With just over 10 minutes of the first half remaining the home side took the lead for the first time when Wes Cunliffe was worked in to space to score his side's second try that was again converted by O'Brien.
Half time Score Newport 14 Cross Keys 11
The second half didn't start well for Keys as Max George was sent to the sin bin just 2 minutes in to the half, but despite having a one man advantage the black and ambers couldn't further their lead as most of the action centred around the middle of the park.
This was pretty much to prove the case for much of the opening 20 minutes of the half as neither side was able to breach the opposition defence, although the only score of the second half came with an hour on the clock when Matt O'Brien kicked a penalty from midway in the Keys' half as Keys were punished for not releasing the ball at a ruck.
With the game entering the closing quarter it was Keys who perhaps looked the most likely to score but time and time again any chances went begging with a series of solid defensive work from the home side combined with some unforced errors paving the way for Newport to clear the danger when required. The game was held up for a considerable time in the closing 10 minutes when Newport centre Haydn Palmer suffered a nasty looking injury which required a long period of medical attention. Hopefully the injury is not as bad as it looked and Palmer is back to fitness sooner rather than later.
In the closing stages Keys were camped on the Newport try line and were going through the phases to try and eventually break through a resolute defensive line, but the home side were having none of it and coped well with everything Keys threw at them. Keys second row, Simon Williams saw yellow, for what appeared to be foul play in the dying moments when he was sent to the sin bin as Keys went close to scoring a try near the posts that may well have seen them steal the victory at the death. As it was as Keys conceded the penalty, the game was bought to an end as Newport celebrated their second successive victory in the competition to take control of the group.
Overall Keys, as they did last year are clearly looking to use a mixture of squad players, permit players and a scattering of first team regulars in the competition this season and despite the result those players showed up well last night against a strong Newport side. With players such as Corey Hewlett, Lewis Barnett, Ross Pritchard and Mathew Powell, who all featured for Keys in the competition last season and are now playing in the first team on a regular basis, the importance of bringing through potential first team players in the Fosters Challenge Cup is clear to see and hopefully those players with hopes of making it in the first team will continue to benefit as the Challenge Cup resumes in December.