Tom Hughes reports:
High Llandovery hopes of reeling off a sixth consecutive win in Premiership and Fosters Cup competitions were dashed by a pumped up Newport on Sunday afternoon.
Flanker Phil Day made his 150th appearance for the club at Rodney Parade but was unable to inspire his team mates to the victory that many had expected.
The Drovers had to be content with a losing bonus point which takes them up to 25 points in the Premiership table, level with local rivals Carmarthen Quins. Because of a superior try count – 24 to Carmarthen’s 23 - they are ahead of the Quins in seventh place. Six games remain of the scheduled 15 to determine who qualifies for the top-eight competition in the second part of the season.
All looked rosy at the start when a try from a close range line out by prop Dean Howells plus conversion and penalty by fly half Jack Maynard gave them a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. And it could have been a bigger lead if wing Rhodri Wall had managed to control a rolling ball with the line at his mercy.
But the rest of the half saw the Black and Ambers revive, thanks much to the direction and influence of fly half Matt O’Brien. The pivot kicked a 40 metre penalty and although he missed the conversion of a corner try by full back Geraint O’Driscoll, he put his side into an 11-10 interval lead with a second penalty.
When home lock Rhodri Jones was yellow carded, a Maynard penalty restored the away lead but this was soon matched by one from Man of the Match O’Brien. With a quarter of an hour to go O’Brien left his mark on the game when he jinked in under the posts for a try which with the conversion brought him a personal haul of 16 points.
Maynard brought the Drovers in range with his third penalty with 10 minutes to go, bringing his Premiership tally to 115 points in just nine games.
The Newport defence wobbled as the Drovers went for the win but did enough to inflict on the West Walians their first defeat since losing to Bedwas back on October 1.
“We needed a win to keep up with the race for qualification,” said coach Euros Evans “but we were not up to our recent form in the wins over Ebbw Vale and Pontypridd. Our next game - at home this Saturday to Merthyr – will be a huge test given that the Ironmen are a high flying second in the table, just one point behind leaders Aberavon.”