Rugby Union: Newport parade line of purpose

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The Independent Online
Newport. . .17

Neath. . . . 0

THEY had to pinch themselves at Rodney Parade to make sure it was not a dream - 10 minutes of near faultless rugby, commitment, harmony and, most important of all, the first Heineken League points since 31 October.

Heady stuff, yet all predicted by the under-siege Newport team manager, David Watkins, two days before the game. At long last, he felt, the off-the-field bickering had subsided enough for the true talent and potential of a near fully fit squad to shine through.

It was fitting that things should take an upturn on the day that David 'Muddy' Waters celebrated his 650th appearance for the Black and Ambers. No greater servant on the field could there have been at any club in world rugby.

Moreover, he is still a match at the line-out for the best around and made a telling contribution to a team performance that at times belied belief. Was this the same Newport that went down 79-10 to Llanelli and lost at Maesteg in their last league outing?

Perhaps the hard talking, and team re-building, that Watkins and his fellow coaches, Roger Powell and Rhys Morgan, have been forced to undertake is finally paying dividends. It was not a perfect performance by any means, but it was as vastly improved as Neath's was off key.

Having seen Llanelli throw the title chase wide open by beating Swansea on Friday night, the Neath players seemed to feel all they had to do was turn up at Rodney Parade on Saturday and win. Had they done so, they would have been four points off the top with home games to come against the top three teams.

That they failed to do so, or rather capitulated, left their captain, Gareth Llewellyn, admitting their title hopes are now blown. He does still reckon, however, that his side could determine where the title ends up.

With the table-topping Cardiff, Swansea and Llanelli all still having to visit The Gnoll, Neath have a chance to redeem themselves for their Newport failure, but not to the tune of the six points they currently trail the First Division leaders.

They never got to grips with the pace of the game as Newport scored 10 points in four minutes. It was always going to be hard for the home side to carry on at that rate, yet for 10 minutes they played dream rugby.

Unfortunately, it did not bring them any more points at that stage and the game, which was expertly handled by the referee, Alan Ware, deteriorated into something of a dogfight before Andrew Lewis dribbled a loose ball to the Neath posts, gathering the ball for his 15th try of the season and making a much-needed victory secure.

Newport: Tries Roderick, Lewis; Conversion: Westwood 2; Penalty Westwood.

Newport: J Westwood; I Jeffreys, R Bidgood (capt), M Yendle, A Lewis; J Williams, M Roderick; A Peacock, I Jones, S Duggan, M Voyle, D Waters, A Carter, K Withey, C Scott.

Neath: M Singer; J Reynolds, D Jones, J Bird, S Bowling; M McCarthy, R Jones; L Gerrard, A Thomas, J Davies, M Whitson, Glyn Llewellyn, S Williams (M Morris, 19), Gareth Llewellyn (capt), A Varney.

Referee: A Ware (Pontypridd).