Rugby Union: All gloom in the sunshine for Newport

Newport 8 Neath 36
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The Independent Online
IN THE days when Wales could play, matches between Newport and Cardiff would attract crowds of over 40,000. Yesterday about 1,500 people attended Rodney Parade to watch the Black and Ambers open their season in the Welsh Premier Division. It wasn't meant to be like this.

Last season Newport created history by failing to win a single game in the league and were duly relegated. Yesterday, courteously of the first favour ever bestowed on the club by Cardiff, Newport were back in the Premier league, creating another historic footnote.

And they are still nowhere near a victory. After establishing an 8-0 lead, Newport were over-run, conceding five tries in 26 minutes in the second half. As Neath picked up the pace on an extremely warm day, Newport evaporated. There is every sign they will find life in the Premier league difficult again.

In their defence it was only on Monday that they knew for certain they were back in the Premier and on Tuesday that they would play Neath. Thus the apology for rushing out a programme in black and white. It is about the only thing in Welsh rugby that is black and white.

But for the extraordinary breakaway of Cardiff and Swansea, Newport would have been playing their first fixture yesterday against Rhymney. "The original cause of Cardiff and Swansea refusing to play in the Welsh League was as a consequence of their declining to sign the 10-year loyalty agreement tying them to the WRU," Tony Brown, the Newport chief executive said: "Newport were invited into the Premier Division provided we signed the same agreement, in the event that we refused, then Treorchy would be promoted and we would have remained in the First Division. There were some supporters who felt we should have refused to sign, but the general consensus within the club was that we should."

A significant increase in income was one reason and Brown added: "More importantly there can be no doubt that a British league will come into being next season and Newport will have a greater opportunity of participating if it is in the pre-eminent Welsh division."

One of Newport's problems last season is that they did not borrow heavily to buy players. It meant that they were pretty useless but solvent. Had they stayed in the First Division, their income from the WRU would have been pounds 70,000. In the Premier it's pounds 400,000. And they have Europe to look forward to, if that is the correct way of putting it.

Neath, of course, have had problems of their own. They lost pounds 600,000 last season and were bailed out by the WRU. A by-product is that they lost their front row and back row to other clubs. They too are in Europe, not that Europe will lose too much sleep over that.

Newport's early pressure resulted in a penalty from the stand-off Shaun Connor and they increased their lead after 31 minutes when the prop Rod Snow burrowed over for a try following intense pressure.

When the Welsh All Blacks lost their Tongan prop Damian Penesini a minute later things were looking good for Newport. However, on the stroke of half-time, Darren Case, one of the smartest threequarters on the field, set up a try for John Colderley and Newport's advantage at the interval had been cut to a single point. Neath, fitter and more co- ordinated, scored some excellent tries in the second half notably from the Tongan Dave Tiueti, Case himself and the New Zealand flanker Brett Sinkinson. Newport finished demoralised and outplayed. Perhaps Rhymney wouldn't have been so bad after all.

Newport: M Evans; D Smith, M Watkins, L Jones, M Llewellyn (G King, 69); S Connor, N Lloyd (D Burn, 58); R Snow (Z Woodward, 45), G Hicks, S Cronk (capt), G Rowlands, O Booyse, R Stride (R Goodey, 58), J Powell, R Parks.

Neath: G Evans; D Tiueti, J Colderley, T Davies (D Williams, 34), D Case; M McCarthy, P Horgan (capt); L Gerrard, M Davies, D Penesini (M Morgan, 32), D Owen, A Jackson, R Jones (G Newman, 51), S Eggar, B Sinkinson.

Referee: R Davies (Swansea).