A second half comeback by Newport not only saw them take the honours over Cross Keys following an entertaining Gwent derby in the sunshine at Rodney Parade last Saturday but also condemned Keys to relegation from the Principality Premiership.
With both sides looking to play at tempo in the opening stages it was a fairly equal opening which neither side creating any clear chances early on, although as the game passed the 10 minute mark Keys were enjoying the lion’s share of possession with centre pairing Corey Nicholls and Tiaan Loots in-particular causing a few issues for the black and ambers’ defence.
With 15 minutes played the home side were reduced to 14 men when former Keys man Josh Skinner, starting at number 8 for the black and ambers’ was guilty of a deliberate knock with Keys again looking to put width on their game around the half way line. Skinner was sent to the sin bin for the offence and Keys almost immediately took advantage. From the resulting penalty Jacob Botica sent play in to the Newport 22 with his penalty kick to touch. Keys secured possession from their own throw and the ball was moved quickly back in field across the Keys’ back line. Tiaan Loots broke free to take Keys over the gain line before he was hauled down 10 metres short of the Newport try line. The ball was recycled quickly from the tackle area and a superb floated pass out to the wing from Botica sent winger Rory Budina in to space and Budina did the rest to score the try in the changing room’s corner to give Keys the lead with 17 minutes on the clock. Botica added the conversion from out wide to extend that lead.
Things got even better for Keys with around 22 minutes on the clock when they secured possession from a scrum on the home side’s 22 metre line. Loots again burst through the would be tackles to put Keys deep in to the Newport 22 before flanker Chris Johnsey and props Richard Cornock and Gary Carpenter took Keys even closer to the try line with their runs. Keys eventually won a penalty after the black and ambers went offside. The penalty was kicked to touch with Keys again winning the ball back on their own throw just 5 metres from the Newport line. Play was again moved in field and Corey Nicholls, Carpenter and skipper Damian Welch each went close to crossing before flanker Chris Johnsey pounced through a gap to cross the white wash for Keys’ second try. Botica was again on target with the conversion.
The home side slowly got back in to the game and went close to scoring their first try with a little over 30 minutes on the clock when they created an overlap out wide but Keys winger Rory Budina played the ball back over the dead ball line as Newport attempted a chip through. Budina was shown a yellow card for his efforts, but Keys didn’t concede and forced the turnover following the penalty and were able to exit their own 22.
The black and ambers got themselves on the scoreboard when they found space out wide which winger Elliot Frewen exploited and dived over to cross for the home side’s opening try in the corner with a little under 5 minutes of the first half remaining. The conversion from Geraint O’Driscoll was unsuccessful.
Half Time Score Newport 5 Cross Keys 14
The home side made a great start to the second half when Elliot Frewen picked up a loose kick and speculatively chipped through toward Keys’ territory. Keys’ full back Iwan Burgwin claimed the ball but was hit back in the tackle which looked like it was in the air by Newport’s Jonny Morris which forced Burgwin to spill the ball backwards and Frewen was following up and with the kick through of the loose ball he won the foot race to touch down for his second try next to the posts to close the gap just 3 minutes in to the second half. Geraint O’Driscoll added the conversion to close the gap to a single score.
The tempo of the game slowed slightly over the next 5 minutes or so with both sides making some unforced errors despite the bone dry conditions.
The game sprung back in to life when Keys’ centre Tiaan Loots made a superb break up the middle of the park from deep inside his own half to take Keys in to the black and ambers’ 22. Loots was hauled down just 5 metres shy of the Newport try line but quick ball and good handling saw Keys move the ball out wide to the opposite wing where prop Gary Carpenter passed out to Rory Budina and the winger was able to cross for his second try of the game after he was again put in to space out wide. Jacob Botica once again added the extras with 30 minutes of the game remaining.
The Keys went futher ahead with 20 minutes remaining when Jacob Botica kicked a long distance penalty from around 40 metres out and just 5 metres in field from the touch line.
The Keys then appeared to implode as the black and ambers upped their game and were able to totally change the course of the game. Firstly with around 17 minutes to go patient build up play saw centre Chay Smith find a gap in the Keys’ defence and cross for under the posts for his side’s 3rd try which O’Driscoll converted.
Almost immediately from the restart the Keys were defending again and when they lost possession all too easily just 5 metres from their own try-line it looked as though the writing was on the wall as Geraint O’Driscoll was on hand to score to level the scores, and secure the 4 try bonus point with a try of his own which he converted to give his side the lead for the first time with 15 minutes to play.
If Keys head hadn’t already dropped they certainly dropped 5 minutes later when from a scrum 5 metres out from the Keys’ try line, Newport replacement Matthew Reed barged his way over for a try with Keys’ scrum in pieces. O’Driscoll adding the conversion from the left of the posts with 10 minutes now remaining. Immediately from the restart the home side crossed for their 6th try when Keys were turned over easily in midfield and the black and ambers attacked immediately with Keys chasing shadows. Despite what looked to be a potential forward pass in the build-up to play went on and full back Jonny Morris was on hand to receive the scoring pass from replacement Haydn Simons who made the burst in to Keys’ 22. O’ Driscoll this time failing to add the conversion from the left of the posts.
The nail in to the Keys’ coffin was delivered with 2 minutes to go as replacement Matthew Reed crossed for his second try after Keys lost control of the ball on their own put in at a scrum and former Keys scrum half Ryan James reacted quickest to pass to Reed who charged over in to the corner for the try which was unconverted as O’Driscoll again was off target.
Overall a brave effort for Keys, certainly for the first 60 minutes but ultimately Newport turned the game around with a strong bench and better fitness showing in the closing quarter as they ran away with it. There is little doubt that the score-line probably flattered the home side somewhat but Keys had no extras in that closing 20 minutes.
Tries: Elliot Frewen (x2), Matthew Reed (x2), Chay Smith, Geraint O’Driscoll & Jonny Morris
Conversions: Geraint O’Driscoll (x4)
Cross Keys Scorers:-
Tries: Rory Budina (x2) & Chris Johnsey
Conversions: Jacob Botica (x3)
Penalty: Jacob Botica